What are Cooling Towers and How Do They Work?

Evaporative cooling towers

All cooling towers are designed to remove waste heat from water and transfer it into the atmosphere, but there are a lot of different ways to accomplish this task. These towers can be categorized in a number of different ways, because there are so many differences between the different types of cooling towers.

Certain processes require closed loop cooling systems, where the process water for cooling does not come in contact with the atmospheric air. A direct or open circuit cooling tower is an enclosed structure with an internal means to distribute the warm water fed to it over a labyrinth-like structure packing or fill.

Towers are also characterized by how the air is moved. Forced draft cooling towers rely on power-driven fans to draw or force the air through the tower. Natural draft towers use the buoyancy of the exhaust air rising in a tall chimney to provide the draft. Many early towers only relied on prevailing wind to generate the draft of air.

Cooling towers also vary quite a bit in size. The largest towers, called hyperbolic towers, may be the first kind that pops into your head, as they are such large features in any landscape. But the most common type of towers are those that cool the water used in air conditioning systems for buildings. These cooling towers are small enough to be on the roof of a building, or immediately next to it.

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