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Feature | December 2013

Transferring heat

The global cooling towers market is set to reach $1.8 billion by 2015 and competition has heated up with the presence of low-cost Asian manufactures like India and China, says PROJECTS INFO.

Cooling towers are found rather ubiquitously encompassing an integral part of the stark industrial landscape. As the universal solvent, water is capable of dissolving a variety of materials as well as holding comparatively high concentrations of dissolved matter in solution. Cooling towers are a key component of various chemical plants and manufacturing facilities. The primary task of a cooling tower is to reject heat into the atmosphere. They represent a relatively inexpensive and dependable means of removing low-grade heat from cooling water. The make-up water source is used to replenish water lost to evaporation. Hot water from heat exchangers is sent to the cooling tower. The water exits the cooling tower and is sent back to the exchangers or to other units for further cooling. Typical closed loop cooling tower system is shown in the conceptual illustration below.


In the Indian context, the key sectors for cooling towers are Power, Steel and Refineries since these involve processes that generate a tremendous amount of heat. Considering that India and China are both emerging economies there is tremendous potential for growth here. India is transitioning into the next phase of the growth cycle.


Manufacturing will likely play a leading role in this growth trajectory. While the country leads the world ranking as a shared services destination, it is rapidly emerging as a manufacturing location for many foreign corporations.


"One of the key sectors affecting growth has been undoubtedly the power sector. Cooling Towers are extensively used in power projects with NTPC projects comprising a bulk of our business. However the sluggish growth has indeed impacted our business since turnover has declined considerably", avers Ravishankar Modi, Managing Director, Bygging India Limited.


There are several projects on the anvil. The impetus on nuclear energy has served to further impel the prospects of this sector.


"We are currently working on the 1320 MW Solapur project, "adds Modi.


It is expected that more stringent environmental regulations shall further impel growth in this sector. Government regulations mandating use of closed-loop systems for cooling will therefore drive demand for cooling towers in a range of industry segments. Growing focus on greener buildings is also helping drive replacement of aging cooling equipment with new, more energy efficient models. "Opening of the economy has helped infuse private participation into power projects and effectively helped to multiply the growth of the power sector and thereby the cooling towers industry", asserts Suresh Sarma, COO, Gactel Turnkey Projects Ltd.


Government regulations mandating use of closed-loop systems for cooling will therefore drive demand for cooling towers in a range of industry segments. Growing focus on greener buildings is also helping drive replacement of aging cooling equipment with new, more energy efficient models.


Delineating market potential
 India being a tropical country espouses a warm weather environment for the greater part of the year. Therefore, industrial setups rely heavily on cooling technology and that is why cooling towers have become so very popular for industrial applications. While initially cooling towers were manufactured from wood, but owing to environmental concerns, towers are now made from fibreglass reinforced plastic (FRP) as well as roller compacted concrete (RCC). As yet, cooling towers find use in an assortment of industrial and commerce applications.


Cooling tower maintenance is also a significant factor. It is essential that the quality of water used for cooling remains free of algae and bacteria, which otherwise could be dangerous to health and hygiene. Thus, water treatment in these towers has spawned to become an extensive industry in its own right.


T Parashuram,President and CEO, GEA Cooling Tower Technolgies India, says "The annual market size is estimated to be Rs 25 billion and our organisation holds a 10-12 per cent market share. " There are about nine firms which supply medium and large capacity cooling towers that are used in industries and power plants. Of these, five firms are civil contractors who entered the cooling tower field in the '80s.


"With such a buoyant power market ahead and future plans of in-house manufacturing of critical cooling tower components, the company now places emphasis on increasing its market share to 25 per cent in the next 2-3 years.", Parashuram adds further. There are around 27 suppliers of small cooling towers normally required for air-conditioning plants. Paharpur Cooling Towers. Bygging India Limited and Gammon India Limited are the leading names. Both the companies have been around for three decades now. A few of the cooling tower contractors also enjoy foreign collaborations. These tie-ups have brought in superior technology to our cooling towers. Gammon India, for instance, had collaboration with Hamon Sobelco of Belgium till 1985. The tie-up, however, was not extended by the Indian government beyond that year. L&T, too, had a tie-up with Film Cooling Towers of UK between 1962 and 1967. These tie-ups ensured that innovative technology flowed into India. A few contractors have also indigenized the manufacture of components and the construction of cooling towers. A notable point is that the industry has been able to meet the present demand.


 There are various challenges pertaining to legislation and projects not taking off.However one of the key idiosyncratic challenges for cooling towers has to do with environmental compliance. It is upon the manufacturers behest to ensure that waste water is diffused in an effective fashion. The materials used today are prevent corrosion, fouling, scaling and microbiological activity. Also several factors can contribute to cooling tower efficiency, including proper sizing of the tower (most cooling towers are undersized to save money), the age of the tower (older towers often degrade over time), using more effective fill materials, using variable frequency drive fan motors and replacing old spray nozzles. When it comes to the market for cooling towers, the influx of other companies in this field has increased competition, it has also allowed for the availability of skilled manpower in the industry. The reduction of geographical boundaries has led to the foray of advanced technology.


"R&D grants and incentives and waivers alloted by the government will give a big boost to technology" avers Suresh Sarma, COO, Gactel Turnkey Projects Ltd.


 The facilitation of technological collaboration between Indian players and their foreign counterparts has made this field smarter by adding several novel innovations. This has led to the availability of R&D efforts being made accessible at a global stage while paving the way towards cutting edge technology being developed indigenously. There has been a paradigm shift in the material being used. Though the very first towers were made of wood, now one finds towers made from fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) as well as roller compacted concrete (RCC).Some technologies that GTPL & GIL implement to increase the effectiveness of cooling towers are mentioned below:

  • Use of high-efficiency AMCA tested fans in mechanical draft cooling towers to help ensure sufficient air flow to the tower.
  • Use of composite drive shafts effectively reduce the weight of this component and make the tower maintenance-friendly.
  • Application of advance heat and mass transfer media with high efficiencies allow power saving for both the fan motor and for pumping water specifically in the range of dirty water and sea water application.
  • The use of PM motors would enable direct coupling of fan to the motor, thus rendering the drive shaft and gearbox redundant.

Since cooling towers are unpredictable due to their total dependency on atmospheric conditions, it has been difficult for clients and owners of cooling towers to completely understand the implication of cooling towers to their systems and plants. Cooling towers carry the trenchant impact towards it use in any facility. Proper maintenance is a pivotal area of concern since a malfunction could be disastrous apart from derailing the entire manufacturing process. While the tangibles can be detected and taken care of, intangible implications are the ones that require a higher level of professional expertise.


 Since the country is an emerging economy there is still tremendous potential for growth. However much of this would rest on conducive polices to foster the growth of this segment. . Repairs and innovations are likely to drive growth in the short run. That is primarily because of the environmental regulations compliance is still a pertinent area of concern.


In the future, however, focus is likely to shift towards construction materials positioning and energy consumption of fans, reduced noise levels, and the use of natural cleaning systems to restrain bacterial growth The growing environmental concerns are also expected to affect demand.. The market will have to produce towers that will not release plumes. Besides, the growth in the cooling tower market is likely to be constrained due to less frequent investments in end-user segments such as HVAC and power. The global market will also see modular cooling towers eating into the market for conventional cooling towers. That is primarily because they reduce the cost of setting up the cooling tower by enabling customers to buy the product in stages and reduce the up-front costs. Currently, cooling by water through cooling towers is cheaper and is, therefore, the preferred alternative the world over. However, regulatory restrictions on discharge of heated water into waterways andreduced availability of water are expected to drive the market towards dry cooling units. The focus on establishment of nuclear power plants in India is likely to boost the cooling tower market here.


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