What is the difference between an airblast cooler and a recirculating chiller?

Airblast coolers and recirculating chillers are two types of cooling systems commonly used in industrial and commercial applications. Each system has its unique operational principles, advantages, and areas of application. Understanding the differences between these two systems is crucial for selecting the appropriate cooling solution for specific needs.

Airblast Coolers

Airblast coolers, also known as air-cooled heat exchangers, air to water, or air to liquid heat exchangers, utilise forced air to dissipate heat. These coolers have a simple design, typically consisting of a heat exchanger through which the process fluid flows. Fans are used to force air over these, which facilitates the transfer of heat from the fluid to the air.

Advantages of Airblast Coolers:

Low Cost

  • Airblast coolers are generally less expensive to install and operate compared to recirculating chillers. This cost-effectiveness stems from their simpler design and the absence of complex components like compressors and refrigerants. Recirculating chillers that are installed in outdoor environments often require additional protection from the sun, something which airblast coolers do not need.

Compact Size with Efficient Cooling

  • Airblast coolers can offer a greater cooling capacity from the same machine envelope. This reduced footprint makes them an excellent choice for space-constrained environments.

No High-Pressure Limitations

  • Unlike recirculating chillers that use refrigeration cycles, airblast coolers are not constrained by high-pressure switches. This characteristic allows them to operate more reliably. This means they can operate in higher ambient temperatures.

No Refrigeration Circuit 

  • The absence of refrigeration components in airblast coolers not only reduces maintenance requirements but also avoids the complexities associated with managing refrigerants, such as compliance with environmental regulations and handling refrigerant leaks.

Disadvantages of Airblast Coolers 

Noise Levels

  • Airblast coolers can be noisier compared to other cooling systems like recirculating chillers, particularly at higher cooling capacities. This increased noise is primarily due to the fans used to force air over the heat exchanger. The size and speed of these fans, necessary for efficient heat dissipation, contribute to the overall noise. The noise factor is a crucial consideration in environments where lower noise levels are required, such as in residential areas or specific industrial settings where workers are in close proximity to the cooling equipment.

Ambient Temperature Limitations

  • Airblast coolers are limited by the ambient temperature, as they cannot cool the process fluid below the surrounding air temperature. This limitation can be a significant drawback in hot climates or during peak summer seasons. In environments where the ambient temperature is consistently high, airblast coolers may struggle to provide adequate cooling, especially for applications requiring temperatures significantly lower than the ambient. This limitation also means that the efficiency of airblast coolers fluctuates with changes in the external temperature, potentially leading to inconsistent cooling performance.

Applications of Airblast Coolers

Airblast coolers are widely used in industries where the removal of heat is more critical than precise temperature or where the process temperature is above ambient.

Recirculating Chillers

Recirculating chillers are more complex systems that use a refrigeration cycle to remove heat from a process fluid. These systems circulate the process fluid through a heat exchanger, where it is cooled by a refrigerant. The refrigerant absorbs the heat and is then compressed, condensed, and recycled within the chiller.

Advantages of Recirculating Chillers

Effectiveness in Cooling 

  • Chillers are generally more effective than airblast coolers in managing high heat loads. This effectiveness is crucial in applications where a significant amount of heat needs to be removed consistently. Despite consuming more power, the superior performance of chillers in terms of heat removal rate and maintaining stable operating conditions is a key benefit.

Tighter Temperature Control

  • Chillers offer precise temperature control, which is essential in processes where maintaining a specific temperature range is crucial. The ability to closely monitor and adjust the temperature allows for more consistent process conditions, which is vital in sensitive applications like laboratory environments, medical equipment cooling, and certain industrial processes.

Performance in High Ambient Temperatures

  • Chillers maintain their cooling effectiveness even in high ambient temperature conditions. This advantage is particularly important in environments where external temperatures can significantly impact the cooling process. This makes chillers a preferred choice in regions with hot climates or for indoor applications where ambient temperatures may be higher.

Wider Settable Temperature Range

  • One of the key advantages of chillers is their ability to achieve a wide range of temperatures, including cooling below ambient temperature. This flexibility allows chillers to be used in a variety of applications where specific temperature ranges are required, offering greater versatility than airblast coolers.

Disadvantages of Recirculating Chillers 

Higher Cost 

  • Recirculating chillers tend to be more expensive than airblast coolers, both in terms of initial investment and operational costs. The higher cost is attributable to the complex components involved in a chiller, such as compressors, refrigeration circuits, and precise control mechanisms. Additionally, the maintenance costs for chillers can be higher due to the need for regular servicing of these complex components and potential refrigerant management.

Environmental Susceptibility 

  • Recirculating chillers are more susceptible to environmental conditions. In areas with poor water quality, chillers may require additional filtration or water treatment systems to prevent scaling, corrosion, and other issues that can reduce efficiency and increase maintenance needs. Extreme environmental conditions, like very high or low ambient temperatures, can also impact the performance and reliability of chillers, necessitating additional protective measures or environmental controls.

Applications of Recirculating Chillers

Recirculating chillers are commonly used in laboratory settings, medical equipment cooling, and industrial processes where precise temperature control is necessary. They are also ideal for locations with high ambient temperatures where air cooling would be less effective.


The choice between an airblast cooler and a recirculating chiller depends on various factors, including the specific cooling requirements, ambient conditions, environmental considerations, and budget constraints. Airblast coolers are ideal for low maintenance and lower power consumption, while recirculating chillers are better for applications requiring precise temperature control and high heat load management. Understanding these differences is key to selecting the most suitable cooling solution for any given application.

Applied Thermal Control Ltd.
39 Hayhill Industrial Estate, Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, LE12 8LD.
Telephone: +44 (0) 1530 83 99 98
E-Mail: sales@app-therm.com
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