Building space heating consumes approximately one-third of all global natural gas end use. Higher-efficiency (i.e., condensing) furnaces constitute only about 30% of the annual furnace shipments in the United States because the condensing heat exchangers must use highly expensive, corrosion-resistant materials to be protected from acidic components in the furnace flue gas stream. Increasing the market share of high-efficiency furnaces will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This study developed and tested a benchtop prototype of a novel membrane-based heat exchanger (MHX) for high-efficiency furnaces to achieve nonacidic condensation via nanoporous membranes.
Test results show that both sensible and latent heat were recovered by the MHX, and the fraction of latent heat recovery ranged from about 25% to 45% over the range of operating conditions evaluated. The amount of water condensed through the MHX increased with the increase of flue gas flow rate and decreased with increasing coolant temperature. The fraction of latent heat recovery decreased with the increase of flue gas flow rate and coolant temperature. The pH value of condensed water from the MHX was only mildly acidic, varying from 5.3 to 5.6 without any additional treatment, about 2.0 to 2.3 pH points higher (i.e., less acidic) than typical values for the condensate from conventional condensing furnaces. Therefore, feasibility of the MHX was experimentally verified, and the MHX could enable wider market penetration of highly energy-efficient condensing furnaces by reducing costs associated with managing the acid condensation compared with conventional condensing furnaces, possibly enabling the use of existing vent systems when replacing noncondensing furnaces (due to higher flue gas exit temperatures), and possibly reducing furnace first costs.