is a special purpose counter-flow heat exchanger
used to recover waste heat from exhaust gases. In many types of processes, combustion
is used to generate heat, and the recuperator serves to recuperate, or reclaim this heat, in order to reuse or recycle it. The term recuperator refers as well to liquid-liquid counterflow heat exchangers used for heat recovery in the chemical and refinery industries and in closed processes such as ammonia-water or LiBr-water absorption refrigeration cycles. Other forms of heat or enthalpy recovery include the regenerative heat exchanger (see blast furnace
), the heat wheel (see rotating recuperator, below), and the enthalpy wheel (see energy recovery ventilation
Recuperators are often used in association with the burner portion of a heat engine, to increase the overall efficiency. For example, in a gas turbine engine, air is compressed, mixed with fuel, which is then burned and used to drive a turbine. The recuperator transfers some of the waste heat in the exhaust to the compressed air, thus preheating it before entering the fuel burner stage. Since the gases have been pre-heated, less fuel is needed to heat the gases up to the turbine inlet temperature. By recovering some of the energy usually lost as waste heat, the recuperator can make a heat engine or gas turbine significantly more efficient.
During the automotive industry's interest in gas turbines for vehicle propulsion (around 1965), Chrysler
invented a unique recuperator that consisted of a rotary drum constructed from corrugated metal (similar in appearance to corrugated cardboard). This drum was continuously rotated by reduction gears driven by the turbine. The hot exhaust gasses were directed through a portion of the device, which would then rotate to a section that conducted the induction air, where this intake air was heated. This recovery of the heat of combustion significantly increased the efficiency of the turbine engine. This engine proved impractical for an automotive application due to its poor low-rpm torque. Even such an efficient engine, if large enough to deliver the proper performance, would have a low average fuel economy. Such an engine may at some future time be attractive when combined with an electric motor in a hybrid vehicle
owing to its robust longevity and an ability to burn a wide variety of liquid fuels.