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76-500C

THE TECHNICAL TIMES


Bulletin No. TT-03-89 Heating Division Reprinted December 1995 Complimentary Issue

Heat Exchanger Corrosion - Gas Fired Heating Equipment


The cold weather is just around the corner and all those unit heaters that kept things snug and warm last winter will be started up again. Now is the time that start-up maintenance will be done and general inspections of the units will be made. It will come as no surprise that some of these units will have to be replaced for various reasons, one of which may be a failed heat exchanger due to corrosion. When replacing a unit with a failed heat exchanger, the cause of the corrosion should be determined so steps may be taken to prevent future failures and to assure long equipment life. There are two major causes of corrosion. These are: 1. Corrosion caused by the presence of chlorinated and fluorinated compounds in the combustion air atmosphere. 2. Corrosion (rust) caused by high humidity levels and the resultant condensation of moisture on the heat exchanger surfaces over a long period of time. A brief description of each of these two types of corrosion will better enable the user to understand what is happening to the equipment, and what steps, if any, can be taken to minimize equipment loss due to corrosion. Corrosion caused by the presence of chlorinated or fluorinated compounds in the air occurs as a result of the heating equipment actually manufacturing acidic compounds during the combustion process, due to the contaminated air. This phenomenon is inherent in all gas-fired and oil-fired heating equipment. When natural or propane gas is burned certain products of combustion are produced. These products of combustion are for the most part, water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) and carbon monoxide (CO). By far the largest product of the combustion process is water vapor. Under normal conditions the products of combustion produced in gas-fired equipment during the process of burning natural or propane gas are vented out of the building and go further though is given to them. However, if chlorinated or fluorinated contaminants are present in the combustion air it is a different story. With the high flame temperature present at the burner, chlorinated and fluorinated compounds (usually organic) break apart to form hydrogen chloride and fluoride among other things. The water vapor produced in the combustion process can then combine with these gases to form hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acids. Both of these acids are highly corrosive and will damage or destroy a heat exchanger. These acids will attack stainless steel heat exchangers as well as aluminized steel heat exchangers. Complete failure of the heat exchanger can occur in a surprisingly short period of time. Basically, there are only two steps which can be taken to prevent corrosion caused by contaminated combustion air. The first is to eliminate the harmful contaminants from the atmosphere, and the second is to locate the heating unit outside of the contaminated area and duct the heat to the space. Blower unit heaters, or duct furnaces, are often used as remote heating sources to heat contaminated areas.
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It should be kept in mind that surprisingly small concentrations of offending compounds can cause failure of heating equipment. Often these concentrations are below the odor threshold. Therefore, contaminants can be present and cause damage without the user being aware that he has a contaminated atmosphere problem. Several commonly encountered chlorinated hydrocarbons, along with their Safe Health Threshold Limit, Odor Threshold Values, and Corrosion Causing Concentrations are shown in Table 1. The sources of chlorinated contaminants are widespread and can be traced to such things as solvents, adhesives, degreasers, paint removers, paints, dry cleaning solvents, propellants for aerosol sprays, lubricants, pesticides, fumacides etc...

Corrosion caused by a contaminated atmosphere can often be recognized by the way in which the heat exchanger has failed, and the appearance of cent pipes and vent caps connected to the equipment. Frequently the vent pipe leading up to the roof and the vent cap itself, will show signs of corrosion, as well as the heat exchanger of the heater. In some instances, the vent cap may be eaten away entirely. However, there are cases when the vent system is not damaged, so this is mot always a conclusive detection method, but does assist in determining the cause of failure.

TABLE 1 - COMMON CORROSIVE CONTAMINANTS


Generic Name & Chemical Formula Carbon Tetrachloride (CC14) Methyl Chloroform (CH3CC13) Methylene Chloride (CH2C12) Perchloroethylene (C2C14) Trichloroethylene (C2HC13) Refrigerant - 11 (CC13F) Refrigerant - 12 (CC12F2) Refrigerant - 21 (CHC12F) Refrigerant - 114 (C2C12F4 ) Safe Health Threshold Limit 25 ppm Odor Threshold 25 ppm Corrosion Causing Air Concentrations 5 - 50 ppm (estimated) 5 - 50 ppm (estimated) 50 ppm

500 ppm

Below Safe Health Limit 25 - 50 ppm

500 ppm

100 ppm

50 ppm

20 - 75 ppm

100 ppm

50 ppm

5 - 23 ppm

1000 ppm

Almost Odorless

1 - 100 ppm

1000 ppm

Almost Odorless

1 - 100 ppm

1000 ppm

Almost Odorless

1 - 100 ppm

1000 ppm

Almost Odorless

1 - 100 ppm

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A more reliable sign of corrosion caused by a contaminated atmosphere is the way the heat exchanger is damaged. Usually corrosion caused by halogenated contaminants will start at the top of the heat exchanger. The corrosion starts on the inside surface of the heat exchanger and eats its way out. Often the heat exchanger material can be so weakened that it is possible to push a pencil right through the heat exchanger at the point of corrosion. The reason that failure most often starts at the top and air entering side of the heat exchanger is because this is normally the coolest part of the heat exchanger. As the flue gasses are cooled, the potential for condensing out the moisture in a flue gas is increased, and condensed acidic products of combustion can be deposited on the inside surface of the heat exchanger. Therefore, it is more likely that the top portion of the heat exchanger will be more severely damaged than the bottom portion. Corrosion caused by contaminated atmospheres can also be recognized by the fact that the heat exchanger will show signs of rust, or rust through, on the smooth surfaces of the exchangers, away from welded areas, as well as the welds. The second area of corrosion, mentioned earlier, is corrosion due to high humidity and moisture, commonly referred to as rust. Keeping in mind that the majority of the products of combustion by volume is water vapor, it is not hard to imagine how wet the flue gasses can become when humidity is added to the combustion air before the gas is burned. The more humidity that is present in the atmosphere, the greater the potential is for condensing moisture out of the flue gasses. Condensation can occur in the vent system, resulting in water running back down the vent and into the unit, or it can occur in the heat exchanger itself. Corrosion caused by high humidity can also be detected in the way that the heat exchanger has failed. Because the condensed water vapor is for the most part only mildly acidic, it does not eat away at the entire heat exchanger surface as is the case with corrosion caused by a contaminated atmosphere.

Instead, areas, which are not as well protected, such as raw edges or weld joints, are attacked first. With corrosion caused by high humidity and moisture, it is not uncommon to see the weld areas rusted away while the rest of the heat exchanger looks relatively unaffected. The industrial gas-fired equipment market has long been aware of the potential problems associated with high humidity and the resultant corrosion which can be formed on the inside of the heat exchanger. This comes from their experience with makeup air systems and air conditioning systems. These applications can commonly result in extreme moisture problems and stainless steel heat exchangers are often specified to present premature equipment failure, Stainless steel, because of its chromium content can better resist rust caused by moisture and can provide longer equipment life. While some grades of stainless may still lose corrosion resistance due to the heat of welding, the types used in heat exchangers frequently have special elements added to retain weld corrosion resistance. In summary, corrosion caused by chlorinated or fluorinated contaminants in the combustion air cannot be corrected by using stainless steel heat exchangers in place of aluminized steel components. The highly acidic nature of the products of combustion in these cases will corrode both steels in a relatively short period of time, depending on the level or concentration of the contaminants. In these cases, the contaminant source must be found and removed, or the heating equipment must be remotely located outside of the contaminated atmosphere. Problems associated with corrosion or rust caused by high humidity can be protected against by using stainless steel components in place of aluminized steel components.

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Keep in mind that although the two types of corrosion discussed here are common types of corrosion, their frequency is relatively low compared to the number of unit heaters installed. Most installations are such that heating equipment with conventional aluminized steel heat exchangers will serve their intended purpose very well and will provide more than adequate equipment life. However, if either contaminated atmosphere, of high humidity atmospheres are expected, it will be necessary to take the proper steps to protect the heating equipment against attack and premature failure. If the source of corrosion can not be determined by visual inspection, a chemical analysis should be made to determine that cause of failure prior to investing money in replacement equipment. Remember, there is no advantage in putting in new equipment if it is going to suffer the same corrosive damage as the equipment it has replaced.

Commercial HVAC&R Division Modine Manufacturing Company 1500 DeKoven Avenue Racine, Wisconsin 53403-2552 Phone: 1.800.828.4328 (HEAT) Fax: 1.262.636.1665 www.modine.com
Modine Manufacturing Company, 2002, 2/02 - Litho in USA

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