Heat Transfer Fluids: Who and What Are They For?

Heat transfer fluids serve a wide variety of industrial needs, including very simple, static designs as well as complex multi-loop systems that perform multiple functions in a manufacturing process.

As many variations as there are in the utilization and design of processes using heat transfer fluids, there are nearly as many industries that employ them.  Their advantages are seen by a broad range of applications (mainly within the process industries) and hundreds of thousands of users daily. So what exactly are they, and why do they work so well?

Multiple industry images

In the strictest sense of the term, a heat transfer fluid is any fluid (gaseous or liquid) used where a process must be heated and/or cooled.  Therefore, this could include water and steam, but for the purposes of this post, we will mainly discuss engineered heat transfer fluids, which are products made from petroleum or synthetic-based feedstocks.

However, when looking at the benefits of engineered heat transfer fluids, it’s important to understand why they are advantageous over water and steam heat transfer, as well as compared to direct heat application.  The benefits include:

Engineered heat transfer fluids vs. water/steam—Water freezes at 32°F, a limitation that engineered heat transfer fluids don’t suffer; water also boils at 212°F(at sea level), and anything above that creates a pressurized condition which requires stronger material, another limitation engineered heat transfer fluids don’t have.  Engineered fluids’ range (in the liquid phase) is much wider, at -150°F to 650°F and above.  Water and steam also require higher maintenance costs and greater safety concerns.

Engineered heat transfer fluids vs. direct heat application—Engineered heat transfer fluids provide greater control, greater precision, and greater uniformity in heating and/or cooling.

So what industries benefits from their use, and in what ways?

Food Meat & Poultry Further Processing, Snack Foods
Chemicals Batch Reactors, Continuous Processes
Plastics, Rubbers, and Composites Molding, Blow Molding, Extrusion
Petrochemicals Catalysis, Distillation, Synthesis
Oil and Gas Gas Processing, Refineries
Converting Presses, Rolls, Laminating, Printing
Asphalt and Concrete Concrete Heating, Hot-Mix Paving
Building Materials Engineered Woods, Roofing Materials
Die Casting Die Temperature Control
Industrial Laundry Flat Work Ironers, Steam Generators


The above chart outlines a partial view of the wide range of industries and applications where heat transfer fluids are applied.

To review a more comprehensive list of applications and equipment utilizing heat transfer fluids, click here.