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Making fire from water is a seemingly insoluble contradiction – but in 2014 the project will hit the markets.

Instead of propane or acetylene, hydrogen is burnt, which in turn is produced from water in an electrolyzer. Also, the oxygen for the combustion arises from the chemical decomposition. The portable unit requires a standard 220 volt outlet and plenty of water. Therefore, no pressure cylinders for fuel gas and oxygen are required.

Safe-Flame

In addition, the flame burns much more smoothly and the hot spot is located outside of the burner head. The first tests, brazing aluminum, have been completed successfully.

The Safe Flame project is supported by the EU and actively supported by 11 partners, including EABS (The European Association for Brazing and Soldering).

Solvay supporting EABS technical awareness days for the joining of aluminium and copper piping in the huge global HVACR market. These will commence in January 2014 and run through out the year and will include ALL flames for brazing Al/Al, Al/Cu and Cu/Cu together with appropriate brazing alloys and fluxes.

For further information either contact Solvay or EABS.

Safe-Flame-Logo

A video and more information can be found on Euronews.com

euronews-video

Technical Information by Daniel Lauzon

Manufacturing Processes

By the early nineties, aluminum had already almost completely replaced copper/brass in radiators at the Ford Motor Company. Ford had gone through mass production of mechanically assembled radiators starting in 1982 and introduced vacuum brazing in 1983. In 1989, Winterbottom reported,

…”the manufacturing capability and the superior corrosion resistance of aluminum was well established, and the competition between copper/brass and aluminum in the radiator application essentially ended.” (5)

By the mid-nineties, vacuum brazing was becoming less popular due to its high maintenance furnaces and less forgiving nature. Vacuum brazing was giving way to the more popular noncorrosive flux brazing process, also known as Controlled Atmosphere Brazing or CAB. Today, CAB brazing is the preferred process for manufacturing automotive heat exchangers worldwide. In Solvay’s estimate, there are now more than 600 CAB brazing furnaces in the world with more than 100 more in plan.

No discussion on the differences between copper/brass and aluminum radiator manufacturing processes would be complete without bringing up the topic of CuproBraze®. It is a new process for manufacturing copper/brass radiators developed by the International Copper Association (ICA) in conjunction with Outokumpu Copper Strip AB of Sweden (6). This process was surely developed to combat copper’s decline in the automotive heat exchanger markets and does appear to offer many advantages over the traditional copper/brass “soft-soldering” technology. But alas, no in-roads have been made in passenger vehicle radiators and the new technology is has found a niche in some truck and off-road vehicle markets.

Environmental and Recyclability Considerations

From an environmental perspective, there are no special considerations for adopting the noncorrosive flux brazing process. Unlike conventional Cu/brass radiator technology, there are no heavy metals employed in any part of the process, including the flux, lubricants, cleaning solutions and alloys. The wastewater stream contains some fluorides and the exhaust effluent from the furnace must be scrubbed due to the low level (ppm level) formation of HF gas, but these have not prevented the worldwide successful commercialization of the technology.

There are also no major recycling issues with aluminum radiators. The filler metal or ‘solder’ used in aluminum heat exchanger manufacturing is, after all, just another aluminum alloy. The common alloying elements such as silicon in the filler metal do not pose any issues and brazed aluminum heat exchangers are recyclable for use in the secondary aluminum industry (e.g., castings) or at the very least as high-value scrap.

Performance and Reliability

There are very few references in the literature showing side by side comparisons of reliability and performance characteristics of Cu/brass and aluminum heat exchangers for the automotive industry. Years ago, Calsonic introduced aluminum radiators to the agricultural machinery market in Japan and did publish some side by side reliability data (7). Calsonic’s comparison study included corrosion testing, pressure cycling, vibration testing and cooling system performance. The results showed a 30 percent reduction in weight compared to conventional copper radiators and better performance in actual use conditions.

Other Applications

Non-corrosive flux brazing of aluminum is used primarily for automotive heat exchanger manufacturing. However, there are several other small markets where non-corrosive flux brazing is used:

  • In the manufacturing of small household appliances where the aluminum heating elements for coffee makers, electric tea kettles, clothes dryers and clothes irons are brazed to a substrate.
  • In the manufacturing of high-end pots and pans where the stainless steel pot/pan is brazed to an aluminum base plate.
  • In refrigerators where copper or aluminum tubing is brazed to aluminum roll-bond panels.
  • In heat sinks for electronics

Future Developments

It is this author’s opinion, based on more than 30 years experience in the automotive heat exchanger industry that aluminum is here to stay. There is no indication from the passenger vehicle OEM market that copper/brass will make a comeback. On the materials side, the aluminum suppliers will continue to look for ways to improve strength and corrosion resistance to down-gauge even further. On the manufacturing side, there is no sign that flux usage will disappear. What is foreseen is a more efficient use of flux in terms of selective deposition – prefluxing of select components using binders – in order to minimize waste and flux consumption. In 1995 when one spoke of non-corrosive type fluxes, there was really one type of flux chemistry available. Today, several types of fluxes are available, from fluxes capable of tackling higher magnesium contents, to fluxes capable of generating sacrificial corrosion layers in-situ. There are fluxes capable of generating filler metal in-situ and there are fluxes dedicated for electrostatic fluxing equipment and so on. There are also continuous improvements made to controlled atmosphere brazing furnaces for aluminum to improve efficiency and throughput. We will continue to see aluminum radiators made cheaper, smaller and stronger.


References:

  1. Gray, Alan., The Growth of Aluminium in Automotive Heat Exchangers, 3rd International Congress – Aluminium Brazing, Düsseldorf, 2004.
  2. Ross, Gary R, Curtindale, William D, Controlled Atmosphere Brazing of Roll-formed Folded Aluminum Heat Exchanger Tubes, Therm Alliance International Invitational Aluminum Brazing Seminar, 1999.
  3. Jackson, A., Price H.C.R., High Performance Core Technology for Brazed Automotive Radiators, VTMS C496 / 076, 1995.
  4. Scott, Arthur C., Corrosion Performance of Long-Life Automobile Radiators, VTMS3, 971857, 1997.
  5. Winterbottom, Walter L., The aluminum auto radiator comes of age, Advanced Material and Processes, pp 55-56, Vol. 5, 1990.
  6. www.cuprobraze.com
  7. Ochiai, H., Hataura, K., Application of Non-Corrosive Flux Brazing Aluminum Radiator to Agricultural Machinery, SAE Conference paper 911298, 1991.

Technical Information by Daniel Lauzon

Synopsis

The use of aluminum alloys in automotive heat exchanger applications has steadily increased over the nearly 3 decades, particularly in engine cooling and air conditioning systems for passenger vehicles. This paper will briefly review what precipitated the transition from traditional copper/brass to aluminum radiators by outlining the technical merits such as weight savings, performance, corrosion resistance and manufacturing processes.

Introduction

In the early eighties, copper/brass enjoyed approximately 95% of the radiator market in North America. Since the mid-eighties, the aluminum content of passenger vehicles has nearly doubled in order to satisfy environmental considerations such as reducing emissions and improving fuel efficiency through weight savings. By the end of 2005, it is expected that at the OEM level, roughly 100% of passenger car radiators, heater cores, condensers and evaporators will be manufactured from aluminum (1).

Weight Savings

It is common knowledge that copper has superior thermal conductivity than aluminum. And it is also known that aluminum is about one third the density of copper (2.7 g/cm³ for Al and 8.9 g/cm³ for Cu). One might conclude then that you use copper/brass when you want heat transfer efficiency (good cooling) and use aluminum when you want weight savings. However, as will be explained in more detail in the section below, aluminum radiators can be significantly lighter than similar copper/brass units and still provide better cooling.

Performance

The performance characteristics of a radiator must take into consideration more than just the thermal conductivity properties of the metal. The radiator tubes transfer heat from the coolant to the fins. Air passing through the fins carries heat away. It stands to reason then that the more contact area between the fins and tubes, the more efficient the radiator will be at dissipating heat. Figure 1 (bottom) shows a typical cross-section for a 4 row copper/brass radiator. Area “A” is where maximum heat transfer occurs, i.e., where the fins make contact with the tube. Area “B” on the other hand is considered dead-space, where no heat transfer takes place.

Figure 1: Fin-to-Tube Contact Area in Aluminum and Copper/Brass Radiators

Figure 1: Fin-to-Tube Contact Area in Aluminum and Copper/Brass Radiators

Therefore, better heat transfer efficiency would result if the tubes were wider, thereby increasing the fin-to-tube contact area as shown at the top of Figure 1. A typical copper radiator uses 3/8” to 5/8” wide tubes. However, increasing the width of the tubes would also require an increase in tube wall thickness to prevent ballooning and for copper, the penalty in weight gain could be severe. Increasing the tube wall width to 1” would require double the wall thickness of 5/8” tube resulting in a radiator weighing up to 60 lbs.

The answer to the above dilemma is to use aluminum. Using the example in Figure 1, a radiator could be manufactured with 1” to 1 ¼ “ wide tubes with a suitable wall thickness to prevent ballooning and still be up to 60% lighter than the same radiator built from copper. Furthermore, the increased tube-to-fin contact area in this example increases cooling capacity by roughly 25%.

The ability to use wider tubes also means that one can achieve the same cooling capacity in a one-row aluminum design compared to a multi-row copper/brass design. Single row radiator cores also have a huge advantage in being able to reduce air-side pressure drop as a result of much less resistance to air flow through the thickness of the core. The limitations in copper/brass multi-row designs combined with advantages of improved heat transfer from wide-tube, singlerow designs have focused the industry’s attention to improving the single row aluminum heat exchanger. The industry’s attention thus turned to increasing the fin-to-tube contact area by widening the tubes even more, thereby maximizing the heat transfer efficiency of a single row core.

This led to the development of the rolled formed aluminum tube or “B-tube”. This manufacturing process adds a mid-section supporting member (see Figure 2) which effectively reduces the major axis tube width by 50%. This allows the width of the tube to increase without the need to increase the tube wall thickness. The details of radiator B-tubes is beyond the scope of this article and are discussed elsewhere (2, 3)

Figure 2: Generic Configuration of a Radiator Folded “B-tube”

Alloy Developments – Strength and Corrosion Resistance

Radiators and condensers face the most corrosive environment of all the automotive heat exchangers. Sea salt from coastal regions, acid rain in industrial cities, road salts in regions with snow and ice all contribute to fin and tube corrosion. In the early eighties when aluminum was just making its mark on the heat exchanger industry, there was a legitimate concern over corrosion resistance (4). At the same time, even with the switch to lighter weight aluminum, there was still a drive toward down-gauging for cost and weight savings. While standard aluminum alloys such as AA3003 are still used widely in the heat exchanger industry today, the result has been a push towards higher strength, higher corrosion resistance alloys for more than two decades.

The requirement for the ‘ten year’ radiator was soon met with a variety of alloy developments and sacrificial corrosion protection schemes. In fact, so great was the push for newer, stronger and more corrosion resistant alloys (too numerous to mention here) that tube wall and finstock thicknesses down-gauged from 0.020” and 0.008” in 1985, to as low as 0.010” and 0.002”, respectively, in 2004 (1). It is difficult to imagine even more down-gauging beyond the current 0.010” and 0.002” for tube and finstock respectively, but the trend is still evident. It is even more difficult to imagine similar trends with copper/brass in the same timeframe!


References:

  1. Gray, Alan., The Growth of Aluminium in Automotive Heat Exchangers, 3rd International Congress – Aluminium Brazing, Düsseldorf, 2004.
  2. Ross, Gary R, Curtindale, William D, Controlled Atmosphere Brazing of Roll-formed Folded Aluminum Heat Exchanger Tubes, Therm Alliance International Invitational Aluminum Brazing Seminar, 1999.
  3. Jackson, A., Price H.C.R., High Performance Core Technology for Brazed Automotive Radiators, VTMS C496 / 076, 1995.
  4. Scott, Arthur C., Corrosion Performance of Long-Life Automobile Radiators, VTMS3, 971857, 1997.
  5. Winterbottom, Walter L., The aluminum auto radiator comes of age, Advanced Material and Processes, pp 55-56, Vol. 5, 1990.
  6. www.cuprobraze.com
  7. Ochiai, H., Hataura, K., Application of Non-Corrosive Flux Brazing Aluminum Radiator to Agricultural Machinery, SAE Conference paper 911298, 1991.

Summary

The article was written on the basis of frequently asked questions from companies which either wanted to start a new all-aluminium brazing production of heat exchangers or wanted to convert from copper and aluminium mechanical assembly design to all-aluminium brazed parts. The questions were grouped into three main categories: Equipment (emphasis on assembling process), Process (emphasis on different fluxes and fluxing methods) and Corrosion.

Specific production challenges are also presented, which are important not only to newcomers of all-aluminium brazed heat exchangers, but to established companies as well. These include typical brazing problems such as managing leaks and the basics of brazing copper to aluminium. These topics are discussed by their relevance to the brazing parameters and their role in successful brazing.

Content:

  1. Introduction (Part 1, issue July 2013)
  2. Equipment (Part 1, issue July 2013)
  3. Brazing process (Part 2, issue August 2013)
  4. Brazing copper to aluminium (in this issue)
  5. Corrosion resistance (in this issue)
  6. Summary (in this issue)

4. Brazing copper to aluminium

When replacing a heat exchanger in an existing design, very often the connecting pipes are made from copper. Therefore the typical question: ”Is it possible to braze aluminium pipe to a copper one?” The answer is: Yes, it is possible by flame brazing. At 548°C there is the formation of a eutectic between copper and aluminium. This reaction is very rapid; therefore accurate temperature control and short process times such as with flame brazing are required. It is easier to braze at a temperature below the eutectic formation, thus lower melting point filler alloy and flux are required. In this case the recommended filler alloy would be ZnAl and Cs-Al-F flux. When copper remains in contact with aluminium for a longer period of time, such as in furnace brazing, an intensive dissolution of aluminium is observed. Therefore, for any factory which has production of copper and aluminium brazed exchangers, it is of very high importance to keep those two activities well separated from each other. A result of contamination of a condenser tube with a small chip of copper is shown in fig 7.

Fig. 7: Hole in a brazed tube surface burned through by a copper chip

Fig. 7: Hole in a brazed tube surface burned through by a copper chip

When joining copper to aluminium it must be remembered that extreme galvanic corrosion can take place when the joint is exposed to a humid or wet environment. It is therefore obligatory to make sure that Cu-Al joints are not exposed to water during service. This can be achieved for example by using temperature shrinking plastic sleeves over the tube joint.

5. Corrosion resistance

Corrosion resistance of condensers for air conditioning system is one of the major utility properties. Thus the first question: ”Is there any approved test for determining the corrosion resistance requirements for HVAC heat exchangers?” Unfortunately the HVAC industry has not yet developed a commonly accepted test standard for assessing corrosion resistance. In the automotive world, the most common tests used by manufacturers are:

  • SWAAT (ASTM G85 annex A3) – seawater acidified test, cyclic; it is an aggressive corrosion test commonly used in the automotive industry, but the characteristic of the test does not correspond well to the working conditions of stationary units.
  • Salt Spray Test (ASTM-B-117, ISO 9227), it is a test better reflecting the working conditions of stationary units, but it is not sufficiently aggressive (too long time for completion).

Other methods developed in response to observed corrosion due to rain or condensation water remaining on the units for a prolonged time, is the socalled soaking or water-exposure test. In this experiment a small cut-out heat exchanger section is immersed in demineralized water for a certain period of time and the concentration of ions in the water after soaking is analyzed. The procedure has not been standardized, therefore it is not really possible to compare results obtained by different companies, but the test can be used for direct comparison of different fluxes and materials. For now no correlation between its results and real life time has been established.

Invariably many companies when considering production of brazed aluminium heat exchange ask a question: ”What sort of alloys should be chosen for the best corrosion performance?” This topic is quite complex and there is no single “best answer”. In the authors’ opinion the best method is to discuss the subject with the aluminium suppliers who have a lot of knowledge and experience in choosing the optimal aluminium alloys. Every heat exchanger is an assembly of different components and when considering its corrosion resistance, the alloys of individual elements should be looked at as a unit in which mutual interactions between each component are taking place.

There are many different working environments which will significantly influence the corrosion behaviour of the parts. According to [8] the following major types can be distinguished:

Coastal/Marine:
This environment is characterized by an abundance of sodium chloride and sulphur compounds carried by spray, fog or winds.

Industrial:
This environment can be much diversified, where sulphur and nitrogen contaminants are most notable.. Many of the gases emitted during different combustion processes come back to the ground in form of acid rain. Also this environment produces a lot of different small particles in the form of dust which covers the equipment creating potential increased corrosion hazards.

Combination Marine/Industrial:
A combination of the above two factor create the harshest environment for any HVAC equipment.

Urban:
This environment is characterized by high level of automobile and house heating emissions. These are mainly SO2 and NOx compounds resulting also in acid rains.

Rural:
Usually these are unpolluted areas; however in some cases pollution may appear with higher a concentration of ammonia and nitrogen originating from animal excrement and fertilizer use.

The best solution would be to choose the alloys according to the different working environments; this however has hardly ever been possible.

As a mater of fact, [8] suggests that in particularly aggressive environment the coils should always have additional protection layer/coating.

6. Summary

Thanks to technical advantages of brazed heat exchangers over the mechanical ones and driven by high copper prices, it seems that a change into all aluminium heat exchangers in the HVAC&R industry is inevitable. Though the process of conversion from copper and /or mechanically assembled heat exchangers is in most cases a significant challenge, when properly planned it can be done smoothly without any unpredictable surprises. The major aspects which should be considered are equipment choices with a special emphasis on the assembly method, selection of proper alloys and the most optimal fluxing technology. The required data for the project and investment decisions can be obtained by direct contacts with equipment and consumables manufacturers.


References:

8. Selection Guide: Environmental Corrosion Protec-tion, Carrier Corporation, Syracuse, New York, July 2009

Process related causes

The service life of a heat exchanger may be shortened due to corrosion caused by process related events. Some examples are listed below:

Excessively high brazing temperature or too long time at temperature will lead to excessive Si diffusion in the core. Si diffuses along grain boundaries and this can increase the susceptibility to intergranular corrosion. By maintaining proper time-temperature cycles and thereby minimizing Si diffusion, intergranular attack can also be minimized.

Copper in contact with aluminum will cause a corrosion related failure very quickly. Copper is noble (cathodic) to aluminum and when these two metals are in contact in the presence of an electrolyte, the aluminum will be consumed rapidly. This may occur in a heat exchanger manufacturing facility where both Al and Cu heat exchangers are produced and there is cross-contamination of process routes. It only takes one small Cu chip to land on the surface of Al during some part of the manufacturing process to cause a short-term failure in the Al heat exchanger. If both Al and Cu heat exchangers are to manufactured under the same roof, it is recommended (and practiced) to physically separate the two production routes with a wall and take extensive steps to avoid cross-contamination.

Carbonaceous residues can be generated on the heat exchanger surfaces during the heat cycle from residual lubricants, excessive use of surfactants, binders in flux or braze pastes etc. Carbon plays very much the same role as Cu in that it is noble to Al. In a corrosive environment, carbon residues act as a cathode and Al as an anode, leading to the galvanic corrosion of Al. The best preventative measure is to ensure that the heat exchangers are thoroughly and properly cleaned and degreased prior to brazing. This includes monitoring the flux slurry bath for any signs of organic contamination (for instance oil slicks).

Coatings

Painting a heat exchanger offers some level of corrosion protection, but is primarily used for cosmetic purposes. Painting will enhance corrosion protection if it covers the entire heat exchanger uniformly and is free from defects. In fact, paint defects or stone chips will accelerate corrosion locally. Many Al producers believe it is better to leave the heat exchanger unpainted to prolong its service life.

Conversion coatings such as chromate or phosphate conversion coatings work differently than painted surfaces. Conversion coatings enhance the natural oxide film on Al, essentially making it thicker and more resistant to hydrolysis. These types of coatings are most often used with automotive evaporators.

Aluminum alloys are classified according to their alloying elements. The Aluminum Association designations are listed in the table below:

Designation System for wrought aluminum alloys
Alloys series   Description or major alloying element
1xxx                  99.00% minimum Aluminum
2xxx                 Copper
3xxx                 Manganese
4xxx                 Silicon
5xxx                 Magnesium
6xxx                 Magnesium and Silicon
7xxx                 Zinc
8xxx                 Other Element
9xxx                 Unused Series

The chemical composition of each AA alloy is registered by the Aluminum Association and a few examples are listed:

Example of aluminum alloy composition limits in weight percent*

[table id=1 /]

*Maximum, unless shown as a range

Brazing aluminium to copper is common in the refrigeration industry where copper tubes are brazed to aluminium roll-bond panels or tubes. To join aluminium and copper using brazing technology and standard NOCOLOK® Flux, flame brazing would be applicable (as well as using a low-melting flux with a low-melting filler metal). It is very similar to brazing aluminium to aluminium, but some precautions are necessary.

However, when copper is brazed to aluminium and the heating process takes too long, the copper will diffuse into the aluminium at the joints. A low melting Al-Cu alloy (Al-Cu33 eutectic temperature 548°C) is thus formatted, and this could lead to erosion by perforation.

Therefore, during the brazing process, the flame should never be directly applied to the joint, because the heat should be transferred by conduction through the parts to be brazed. As soon as the filler metal begins to melt, the flame must be quickly removed.

A second issue with brazing copper to aluminium is that the aluminium has a much lower melting point than copper (Al: app. 650°C; and Cu: above 1000°C). Therefore, the flame is usually directed on the copper. Nevertheless, once the heat transferred from the copper to the aluminium reaches the melting range of aluminium, it will start to burn down very fast, while the copper is still taking the heat. The formation of the above mentioned low melting Al-Cu alloy accelerates the destruction of the aluminium components.

Consequently, flame Brazing of aluminium to copper is a delicate process and requires some experience. But it is used by many companies for large scale production. But it is next to impossible in furnace brazing. There are no conventional furnace designs which will cool quickly enough to halt the continual formation of the aluminium-copper eutectic. For this reason, brazing copper to aluminium in a furnace is not practiced.

There are three different ways to provide (or generate) filler metal in flame brazing of aluminium to copper.

  • Use of Al-Si filler alloy (Al-Si 12 – AA4047). Standard procedure like in flame brazing of aluminium to aluminium – just a little bit faster to avoid burn-through.
  • Rely on the formation of Al-Cu alloy during the brazing cycle. If this method is used, a support provided by a thin Stainless Steel tube along the interior joint area can provide additional structural integrity.
  • A pre-heated copper tube is inserted very fast into an aluminium tube. The mechanical energy released will generate additional heat. Abrasion of surface oxide by the inserted tube promotes the formation of Al-Cu filler alloy. This process works with and without flux (however, results are better with flux).