When the time comes to replace a cooling tower, all too often the recommendation is to source an identical replacement, which is ironic because most people wouldn’t settle for old, outdated technology when buying a TV or cell phone. The same logic holds true for HVAC equipment. With cooling tower technologies always advancing, it makes sense to research what cutting-edge options offer the biggest return on your investment.
For Frostburg State University (FSU), the time came in 2017 when its representatives faced the task of replacing a failing cooling tower as part of an HVAC system overhaul. The system comfort-cools one of the campus dining halls during warm weather. Initially, the engineering and maintenance team examined two basic options: switch to an air-cooled system or purchase another metal-clad cooling tower to replace the rusted-out unit that university representatives struggled to maintain.
In search of a better option, FSU’s in-house engineering staff turned to Casto Technical Services, Charleston, W.Va., and its contracting operations manager, Paul Lancaster, who had assisted them on several projects over the years. Casto Technical Services specializes in delivering mechanical services for commercial, institutional, and industrial building systems, including HVAC services, energy systems and automation systems.
A Technology Dilemma
Lancaster was quick to recognize that converting to an air-cooled system would require installing it on the roof of the cafeteria and equipping it with weight constraints, plus running piping outside the building—likely problematic in freezing weather—as well as an excessive hit to the budget. In addition, an air-cooled system requires 40 to 50 percent more energy consumption than water-cooled systems.
On the other hand, replacing the existing system with another metal option would have led to more cooling tower maintenance costs.
“The university’s staff was very uneasy about replacing the cooling tower with another metal-clad unit because of the built-in deterioration of the tower due to rust and corrosion, along with high maintenance costs,” says Lancaster.
Even with the objection stated, Lancaster notes that many of the service contractors bidding on the project were proposing doing just that—replacing the equipment with identical units—even in the face of frequent costly repairs and service interruptions.
Escaping Outdated Solutions
Lancaster’s team pursued a durable and affordable solution that is transforming HVAC and industrial applications: the engineered plastic cooling tower. Constructed of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), this technology was first developed by Delta Cooling Towers and has demonstrated durability and performance characteristics.
HDPE cooling towers are impervious to caustic environmental elements, ranging from marine air and airborne process exhausts to harsh gases from wastewater treatment. These engineered plastic cooling towers are unaffected by pH from water sources, including evaporation makeup water and water-treatment chemicals.
“I gave [university representatives] a brochure on HDPE cooling towers and they looked it over and said they loved the idea,” Lancaster explains. “As a result, we were able to proceed without a total redesign of the package; we simply did a replacement, which kept the costs much lower. And by incorporating the HDPE technology, there will be very little maintenance, so we created an optimum solution that would last for a long time to come.”
The cooling tower that Casto Technical Services and FSU settled on was a Delta Paragon model with 200 cooling tons.
A Firsthand Look
Located in Maryland, Frostburg University has an enrollment of approximately 5,400 students on a 40-acre campus. It also happens to be within driving distance to Delta Cooling Towers’ Philippi, W.Va., manufacturing and assembly plant. Lancaster and some of the team took a field trip to the facility to see firsthand the manufacturing process of the one-piece, corrosion-proof shell.
“I’ve been in this business for 38 years, and I know a good solution when I see one. They showed us all the steps in the manufacturing of these cooling towers and pointed out the variety of options. It was well worth the visit,” says Lancaster.