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Cooling tower enjoys second life at Hawaiian rum processor

November 16, 2011
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The effects of the harsh wind, salt and UV on the distillery on the North Shore of Maui has taken its toll on the exterior of the building, but not the engineered plastic cooling tower. Source: Delta Cooling Towers.

Engineered plastic cooling tower stands up to New Hampshire winters before it is relocated to Maui's North Shore to face the harsh wind, salt air and UV rays

When Kolani Distillers, on the island of Maui, decided to convert an old sugar mill into a distillery and produce a line of rum at the site of the island’s only remaining sugar plantation, it realized it had a big job on its hands.

To begin, the father and son team, Paul and Brian Case, had to make a substantial investment that would meet the federal code governing building facilities. These were stringent, applying to stainless steel tanks, boilers and other distillation equipment. Also, the regulations require an elaborate fire containment system, one that could make 3,500 gallons of water per minute available with a flow that could be sustained for three hours. And, finally, they needed a reliable cooling tower that could remove the heat from the alcohol condenser system regardless of weather conditions.

Paul Case explains that the cooling tower was integral to the operation of the distillery’s alcohol condensation process. “After vaporous alcohol leaves our stills, it runs through a condenser, which condenses the alcohol back to a liquid form so we can process it. The condensers are cooled by water. So, we have to take that water, which becomes heated while cooling the alcohol, and send it to the cooling tower to reduce the water temperature, and then back through the continuous condenser loop.”

Selecting an appropriate cooling tower was a special consideration due to Hawaii’s year-round, high ambient temperatures and environmental concerns. For example, rather than a metal-clad cooling tower, an engineered plastic tower would be effective in handling the stiff gusts of corrosive salt air that blow in off the surf just half a mile from the distillery’s location in Paia. But an engineered plastic tower would have to use the toughest plastic material to resist the Hawaiian sunlight that would bombard the tower with harsh UV radiation.

In the process of exploring alternatives, Case found a used cooling tower constructed of heavy-duty, engineered HDPE that was available from a computer chip manufacturer that had closed a plant in New Hampshire. The cooling tower was a Paragon Series built by Delta Cooling Towers (Rockaway, NJ) and had been in service at the chip manufacturing plant since 1999.

“I did some research and found that the cooling tower manufacturer produced a quality product, and decided that for the price, we could afford to buy the secondhand tower and controls, have it disassembled, shipped to Maui and reassembled at our distillery site,” says Case.

The Paragon model is relatively light in weight, impervious to UV rays and corrosion-proof. Case says he was very impressed with the weather tolerance of the cooling tower, which had operated for about six years in the brutal winters of the northeastern US and now has operated in the tropical sun at the distillery since 2006.

After the cooling tower operated flawlessly for years in Maui, vandals climbed to the top of the unit and smashed the blades of the tower fan. Although not a catastrophic problem, the cooling tower could not operate in Hawaii’s constant warm temperatures without the fan, so Case called the manufacturer’s headquarters in New Jersey for help.

Case’s maintenance people were able to quickly replace the entire fan assembly, which was a proprietary, non-corroding, fiber-reinforced, polypropylene unit. Immediately afterward, the plant was back up and running again.

“When you consider that the cooling tower had changed hands about five years ago and was about 15 years old, Delta Cooling really took fabulous care of us,” says Case.

Case adds the design of the cooling tower fan system provides important energy savings, because the tower controls regulate the speed of the fan according to the ambient air temperature.

“In the cooler morning hours, the fan doesn’t even come on,” says Case. “Then, later in the day as the ambient air warms up, the fan rotates automatically at the appropriate speed to cool the condenser water from up to about 180º back to about 80º.”

Today, Kolani Distillers’ Old Lahaina Premium Rum is sold throughout the Hawaiian Islands, and the father-son team hopes to distribute the line nationally in the near future.

For more information: Delta Cooling Towers, Inc.; 800-289-335; sales@deltacooling.com; or visit the website.

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