The Environmental Advantage of Cooling Towers vs Once-Through Cooling Systems


Did you know that before industrial cooling towers existed, there was a more archaic system called once-through cooling (OTC)? The old system, while functional, wreaked much more havoc on the environment, paving the way for innovative solutions to take their place.

Unfortunately, even though new factories and plants aren’t built with OTC systems, there is still a large percentage of older installations (particularly along the east coast) that haven’t been upgraded. To understand how important industrial cooling towers are, it’s necessary to understand why they were so needed in the first place. In this post, we’ll explore some of the reasons why cooling towers are a far better solution than OTC systems.

How it Works

Industrial cooling towers and OTC mechanisms both serve the same purpose — they’re both water cooling systems that are utilized in factories and plants. The functionality of a water cooling system is relatively simple; machines get hot, and water is used to cool them down.

In a once-through system, the factory withdraws a large amount of water from a local water source, runs it through their system, and then dumps it all out back into where it came from. Meanwhile, a system that uses cooling towers recycles the water, cooling it down so it can be reused for its original purposes. Once-through is a “one and done” system, while recirculating systems operate in a way that’s more economical and efficient

Why OTC Is Harmful to the Environment

Tainted Water Kills the Wildlife

In an OTC system, a large amount of water is sucked into the factory or plant, and circulated through its entire system, cooling the various machines and technology that run too hot. Once the water has done its job, it’s dumped back into the source.

The water that returns isn’t the same water that went in — technically it is, but the returning water is usually scathing hot, and tainted with residue from the metals that make up the factory. The temperature change and chemicals kill a fair share of local wildlife.

The Cooling Tower Advantage: With cooling towers, water isn’t returned to the source at all. Instead, it’s withdrawn into the factory and recirculated. Evaporating techniques remove the heat out of it, so it can go multiple rounds. Tainted water can’t kill fish when it never gets back into the source to begin with.


Excessive Water Consumption

One major problem with OTC systems is that they withdraw massive amounts of water for every single cooling cycle. Even though the water is eventually returned, it’s tainted, and some of it is lost every time. In an area with a limited water supply, an OTC plant can suck the area dry over time.

This also spells disaster for local water life; depleting habitats predictably wreak havoc on animal populations, and even land animals can start to suffer when their supply gets too low.

The Cooling Tower Advantage: Industrial Cooling Towers solve this problem because they’re much more generous in the way they withdraw water. Essentially, once it’s pulled in enough water to cool its systems, the water is recirculated and cooled by the towers. The heat is evaporated out of the supply, so a small amount of water is lost, but most of it remains, ready for the next cycle.

The next time the system withdraws water, it will only pull in the amount that was lost, which is negligible compared to an OTC plant.

It might seem like this would lead to long-term water loss; the factory never returns water and keeps drawing more, so it would deplete in the long-term, right? While the logic is sound, in reality, most water sources are able to replenish at an equal rate through natural means, such as rivers or rainfall. OTC systems pull out quantities that are too big too often, preventing the source from being able to keep the pace when it replenishes itself.

Industrial Cooling Towers – An Elegant Solution

Now more than ever, it’s important for us to be good stewards over the environment that we’re a part of, and this couldn’t be more true than with factory and plant owners, who have the potential to inflict enormous damage on surrounding ecosystems if they’re not careful.

Fortunately, industrial cooling towers have solved many of the problems that OTC plants cause. We’re moving in a positive direction, and at Industrial Cooling Solutions, we’re happy to supply companies with high quality industrial cooling towers that are not only more efficient than the old system, but more environmentally conscious as well. Do you have a need for cooling solutions? Contact us today for a free quote!