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Mitigating fouling of heat exchangers with fluoropolymer coatings

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Magens, Ole Mathis 


Fouling is a chronic problem in many heat transfer systems and results in the need for frequent heat exchanger (HEX) cleaning. In the dairy industry, the associated operating cost and environmental impact are substantial. Antifouling coatings are one mitigation option. In this work, the fouling behaviour of fluoropolymer, polypropylene and stainless steel heat transfer surfaces in processing raw milk and whey protein solution are studied. Methodologies to assess the economics of antifouling coatings are developed and applied.

Two experimental apparatuses were designed and constructed to study fouling at surface temperatures around 90 °C. A microfluidic system with a 650 x 2000 µm flow channel enables fouling studies to be carried out by recirculating 2 l of raw milk. The apparatus operates in the laminar flow regime and the capability to probe the local composition of delicate fouling deposit in-situ with histological techniques employing confocal laser scanning microscopy. A larger bench-scale apparatus with a 10 x 42 mm flow channel was built to recirculate 17 l of solution in the turbulent flow regime which is more representative of conditions in an industrial plate HEX.

Experimental results demonstrate that fluoropolymer coatings can reduce fouling masses from raw milk and whey protein solution by up to 50 %. Surface properties affect the structure and composition of the deposit. At the interface with apolar surfaces raw milk fouling layers are high in protein, whereas a strongly attached mineral-rich layer is present at the interface with steel. Whey protein deposits generated on apolar surfaces are more spongy and have a lower thermal conductivity and/or density than deposits on steel. The attraction of denatured protein towards apolar surfaces and the formation of a calcium phosphate layer on steel at later stages of fouling are explained with arguments based on the interfacial free energy of these materials in water.

The financial attractiveness of coatings is considered for HEX subject to linearly and asymptotically increasing fouling resistance and using a spatially resolved fouling model. An explicit solution to the cleaning-scheduling problem is presented for the case of equal heat capacity flow rates in a counter-current HEX. Scenarios where the use of coatings may be attractive or where there is no financial benefit in cleaning a fouled exchanger are identified. Finally, experimental data are used to estimate the economic potential of fluoropolymer coated HEXs in the ultra-high-temperature treatment of milk. In the considered case, the value of a fluoropolymer coating inferred from the reduction in fouling is estimated to be around 2000 US$/m².





Wilson, D. Ian


fouling, antifouling, anti-fouling, milk, heat exchanger, fluoropolymer, PTFE, FEP, PFA, adhesion, surface free energy, free energy of interaction, protein fouling, beta-lactoglobulin


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
The sponsorship of this work by Chemours is appreciated.