What is the best material for a heat exchanger tube?


From oil refineries, pharmaceutical plants and gas stations to fertiliser production plants and power generation stations, heat exchangers are great for a huge range of industrial applications –  and selecting the right material is key to getting the best from your heat exchanger.

Choosing the right material for heat exchanger tubes requires careful consideration. You need to think about:

  • operating environment
  • applications
  • properties of materials

Once you’ve assessed these factors, you can narrow your options down, making the selection process easier. 

For outdoor operations in a processing plant, a heat exchanger with high corrosion resistance is best. It’s also important to consider the fluid being carried through the exchanger. At pharmaceutical plants, pure substances are likely to be passed through a shell and tube heat exchanger. If this is the case, tubes made from inert materials are ideal.

The two most commonly used materials for heat exchanger tubes are aluminium and copper. Both ensure optimum thermal properties and corrosion resistance but the differences tend to be application-specific.

Copper heat exchangers

Copper is the most thermally conductive metal on the periodic table. It also has a relatively low specific heat, meaning little heat energy is required to increase temperature, which underpins its popularity in heat exchangers.

With so many beneficial properties, copper heat exchangers come at an elevated price – which often makes them more suitable for smaller-scale projects.

One of the drawbacks of copper is that it offers lower flexibility than aluminium – making it difficult to form into certain shapes. Copper heat exchanger tubes also offer high density – making them unsuitable for delicate applications that require lightweight materials.

Aluminium heat exchangers

Aluminium is the metal of choice for engineers who require a lightweight, thermally efficient material. Aluminium heat exchangers are also great if you only have a limited design budget as they come at a more affordable price than copper tubes.

Aluminium is the third most conductive metal on the market but arguably the most cost-effective. Heat exchangers made from aluminium are not only lighter, they also offer more flexibility and make up for the practical issues engineers commonly encounter with copper.

The malleability of aluminium makes it great for engineers designing a plate-fin exchanger as the metal is suitable for the intricacies of fins. However, the downside to aluminium is that is has a lower resistance to sag – meaning it’s prone to deformation during the brazing process.

Best heat exchanger tubes at USEL Tubular Division

When it comes to finding heat exchangers – made from the best materials – you’re in capable hands with the USEL Tubular Division team. As leading UK stockists, they supply quality heat exchanger tubes and finned tubes in aluminium, copper and steel, including:

  • alloy steel furnace tubes
  • helical high finned tubes
  • HF welded finned tubes
  • integrally finned tubes
  • longitudinal finned tubes
  • stock heat exchangers
  • U-tubes
  • welded tubes

By purchasing from USEL Tubular Division, you have the peace of mind that all products are manufactured to the highest standard, from the very best materials. They even tailor their products to suit your exact requirements and are always on hand to help, so if you’d like to know more, call 0191 587 1777 or email tubesales@usel.uk.com.