Condenser (heat transfer)

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For condensers not involving heat transfer, see Condenser (disambiguation).
The condenser coil of a refrigerator

In systems involving heat transfer, a condenser is a device or unit used to condense a substance from its gaseous to its liquid state, by cooling it. In so doing, the latent heat is given up by the substance, and will transfer to the condenser coolant. Condensers are typically heat exchangers which have various designs and come in many sizes ranging from rather small (hand-held) to very large industrial-scale units used in plant processes. For example, a refrigerator uses a condenser to get rid of heat extracted from the interior of the unit to the outside air. Condensers are used in air conditioning, industrial chemical processes such as distillation, steam power plants and other heat-exchange systems. Use of cooling water or surrounding air as the coolant is common in many condensers.[1]

Examples of condensers[edit]

  • A surface condenser is an example of such a heat-exchange system. It is a shell and tube heat exchanger installed at the outlet of every steam turbine in thermal power stations. Commonly, the cooling water flows through the tube side and the steam enters the shell side where the condensation occurs on the outside of the heat transfer tubes. The condensate drips down and collects at the bottom, often in a built-in pan called a hotwell. The shell side often operates at a vacuum or partial vacuum, often produced by attached air ejectors. Conversely, the vapor can be fed through the tubes with the coolant water or air flowing around the outside.
In laboratory distillation, reflux, and rotary evaporators, several types of condensers are commonly used. The Liebig condenser is simply a straight tube within a cooling water jacket, and is the simplest (and relatively least expensive) form of condenser. The Graham condenser is a spiral tube within a water jacket, and the Allihn condenser has a series of large and small constrictions on the inside tube, each increasing the surface area upon which the vapor constituents may condense. Being more complex shapes to manufacture, these latter types are also more expensive to purchase. These three types of condensers are laboratory glassware items since they are typically made of glass. Commercially available condensers usually are fitted with ground glass joints and come in standard lengths of 100, 200, and 400 mm. Air-cooled condensers are unjacketed, while water-cooled condensers contain a jacket for the water.
  • Larger condensers are also used in industrial-scale distillation processes to cool distilled vapor into liquid distillate. Commonly, the coolant flows through the tube side and distilled vapor through the shell side with distillate collecting at or flowing out the bottom.
Condenser unit for central air conditioning for a typical house
  • A condenser unit used in central air conditioning systems typically has a heat exchanger section to cool down and condense incoming refrigerant vapor into liquid, a compressor to raise the pressure of the refrigerant and move it along, and a fan for blowing outside air through the heat exchanger section to cool the refrigerant inside. A typical configuration of such a condenser unit is as follows: The heat exchanger section wraps around the sides of the unit with the compressor inside. In this heat exchanger section, the refrigerant goes through multiple tube passes, which are surrounded by heat transfer fins through which cooling air can move from outside to inside the unit. There is a motorized fan inside the condenser unit near the top, which is covered by some grating to keep any objects from accidentally falling inside on the fan. The fan is used to blow the outside cooling air in through the heat exchange section at the sides and out the top through the grating. These condenser units are located on the outside of the building they are trying to cool, with tubing between the unit and building, one for vapor refrigerant entering and another for liquid refrigerant leaving the unit. Of course, an electric power supply is needed for the compressor and fan inside the unit.
  • Direct contact condenser
In this type of condenser, vapors are poured into the liquid directly. The vapors lose their latent heat of vaporization; hence, vapors transfer their heat into liquid and the liquid becomes hot. In this type of condensation, the vapor and liquid are of same type of substance. In another type of direct contact condenser, cold water is sprayed into the vapour to be condensed.

Other Types of Condensers

In the world of Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), condensers happen to be a topic of great importance. Instead of confusing information, the goal is to provide some basic information on the different types of condensers and their applications.

There are three other condensers used in HVAC systems

  • Water-cooled
  • Air-cooled
  • Evaporative


  • Air cooled – If the condenser is located on the outside of the unit, the air cooled condenser can provide the easiest arrangement. These types of condensers eject heat to the outdoors and are simple to install.

   Most common uses for this condenser are domestic refrigerators, upright freezers and in residential packaged air conditioning units. A great feature of the air cooled condenser is they are very easy to clean. Since dirt can cause serious issues with the condensers performance, it is highly recommended that these be kept clear of dirt.

  • Water cooled – Although a little more pricey to install, these condensers are the more efficient type. Commonly used for swimming pools and condensers piped for city water flow, these condensers require regular service and maintenance.

    They also require a cooling tower to conserve water. To prevent corrosion and the forming of algae, water cooled condensers require a constant supply of makeup water along with water treatment.

    Depending on the application you can choose from tube in tube, shell and coil or shell and tube condensers. All are essentially made to produce the same outcome, but each in a different way.

  • Evaporative – While these remain the least popular choice, evaporative condensers can be used inside or outside of a building and under typical conditions, operate at a low condensing temperature.

    Typically these are used in large commercial air-conditioning units. Although effective, they are not necessarily the most efficient.

    Prior to beginning your install, make sure you choose a condenser that will provide you with the most efficient use.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hindelang, Maureen; Palazzolo, Joseph; Robertson, Matthew, "Condensers", Encyclopedia of CHemical Engineering Equipment, University of Michigan, retrieved May 13, 2012