Materials Recommended for Heat Exchanger & Condenser Tubes

By Tony Oldhand
Heat exchangers transfer heat from one side to the other.
heat sink image by Sonar from Fotolia.com

Heat exchanger and condenser tubes are a vital part of many energy systems. Boilers, home heating and air-+conditioning, and many other heat transfer applications all use heat exchanger and condenser tubes. A condenser tube cools liquids or gases down, in effect being the opposite of a heat exchanger. Heat exchangers and condenser tubes, however, are very similar in material criteria. Designers and engineers have determined what the best metals are to use for these devices.

Copper Alloys

Copper alloys transfer heat well but pure copper is a soft metal, prone to dings and dents. For this reason, other trace metals are added in, making it harder. The type of copper alloy used is also dependent on the fluid being used. For example, for sea water, an alloy called CuSn7Zn2Ni5 is used. This means the metal is predominately copper, 7 percent tin (Sn), 2 percent zinc (Zn) and 5 percent nickel (Ni). The downside of copper is it is not corrosion resistant, making it unsuitable for high corrosive fluids like highly acidic water.

Steel

Steel is cheap, relatively easy to form and conducts heat well. The downside is it very rust prone, and is unsuitable for even mildly corrosive fluids like water with high mineral content. High carbon, or hard steel, is recommended by engineers for crude oil applications.

Aluminum

Aluminum is plentiful, lightweight and easily formed, but it is very soft, so other metals --- such as nickel, iron and bronze ---are added to the molten aluminum to make an alloy.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is steel with chrome and nickel added in to make it rust proof. A special type of stainless steel, called 410, is recommended for heavy gases and oils containing gases.

About the Author

Tony Oldhand has been technical writing since 1995. He has worked in the skilled trades and diversified into Human Services in 1998, working with the developmentally disabled. He is also heavily involved in auto restoration and in the do-it-yourself sector of craftsman trades. Oldhand has an associate degree in electronics and has studied management at the State University of New York.