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PNG images: Radiator

Radiators are heat exchangers used to transfer thermal energy from one medium to another for the purpose of cooling and heating. The majority of radiators are constructed to function in automobiles, buildings, and electronics. The radiator is always a source of heat to its environment, although this may be for either the purpose of heating this environment, or for cooling the fluid or coolant supplied to it, as for engine cooling. Despite the name, most radiators transfer the bulk of their heat via convection instead of thermal radiation. Spacecraft radiators necessarily must use radiation only to reject heat.

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Radiators are used for cooling internal combustion engines, mainly in automobiles but also in piston-engined aircraft, railway locomotives, motorcycles, stationary generating plants and other places where such engines are used.

To cool down the engine, a coolant is passed through the engine block, where it absorbs heat from the engine. The hot coolant is then fed into the inlet tank of the radiator (located either on the top of the radiator, or along one side), from which it is distributed across the radiator core through tubes to another tank on the opposite end of the radiator. As the coolant passes through the radiator tubes on its way to the opposite tank, it transfers much of its heat to the tubes which, in turn, transfer the heat to the fins that are lodged between each row of tubes. The fins then release the heat to the ambient air. Fins are used to greatly increase the contact surface of the tubes to the air, thus increasing the exchange efficiency. The cooled coolant is fed back to the engine, and the cycle repeats. Normally, the radiator does not reduce the temperature of the coolant back to ambient air temperature, but it is still sufficiently cooled to keep the engine from overheating.

This coolant is usually water-based, with the addition of glycols to prevent freezing and other additives to limit corrosion, erosion and cavitation. However, the coolant may also be an oil. The first engines used thermosiphons to circulate the coolant; today, however, all but the smallest engines use pumps.

Up to the 1980s, radiator cores were often made of copper (for fins) and brass (for tubes, headers, and side-plates, while tanks could also be made of brass or of plastic, often a polyamide). Starting in the 1970s, use of aluminiumincreased, eventually taking over the vast majority of vehicular radiator applications. The main inducements for aluminium are reduced weight and cost. However, the superior cooling properties of Copper-Brass over Aluminium makes it preferential for high performance vehicles or stationary applications. In particular MW-class installations, copper-brass constructions are still dominant (See: Copper in heat exchangers). CuproBraze is a copper-alloy heat exchanger technology for harsh temperature and pressure environments such as those in the latest generations of cleaner diesel engines mandated by environmental regulations. Its performance advantages over radiators made with other materials include better thermal performance, heat transfer, size, strength, durability, emissions, corrosion resistance, repairability, and antimicrobial benefits.

Since air has a lower heat capacity and density than liquid coolants, a fairly large volume flow rate (relative to the coolant's) must be blown through the radiator core to capture the heat from the coolant. Radiators often have one or more fans that blow air through the radiator. To save fan power consumption in vehicles, radiators are often behind the grille at the front end of a vehicle. Ram air can give a portion or all of the necessary cooling air flow when the coolant temperature remains below the system's designed maximum temperature, and the fan remains disengaged.