In the Dominican Republic, an influx of visitors seeking the Caribbean country’s pristine beaches and picturesque resorts led to the expansion of the main airport serving its eastern provinces — and the necessary addition of a new HVAC system.

The Punta Cana International Airport sees more than 6,500 visitors at the facility daily and serves as a destination for 53 different airlines from more than 40 countries. As the Dominican Republic’s fastest growing airport with an average 20 percent increase in traffic each year, the swell of arriving passengers at its international terminal — known as Terminal B — prompted a complete airport expansion and modernization. 

To keep up with the traffic, the airport is gradually transforming its open-air terminals and palm frond-covered roofs to a more contemporary facility with enclosed, air-conditioned buildings. Its roughly 750,000-square-foot international terminal, which was recently completed, provided a challenge in terms of choosing the right cooling tower due to the structure’s location just off Punta Cana’s eastern shoreline. 

For a traditional metal-clad cooling tower, wind-blown salt and other corrosives would likely lead to quite a bit of maintenance, such as re-sheeting, welding and rebuilding, within just a few years. And with tropical temperatures averaging 80°F year-round, cooling-tower efficiency and reliability also had to be considered since the air conditioning would be running continuously.

Fighting corrosion

“Our primary concern was that rust and corrosion problems due to the salt air would plague a conventional metal-clad cooling tower,” said Jorge Miranda, business development manager at Inica, the mechanical HVAC construction contractor that installed the entire HVAC system. “This would eventually interfere with running the air-conditioning system and would also require expensive maintenance or replacement.”

While Inica, which is based in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic, has considerable experience in HVAC, fire protection, power- and hydro-sanitation systems, the company acknowledged it had little history with cooling towers.

“The reason we weren’t so experienced with cooling towers is because there’s a lot of underground fresh water available throughout the country,” Miranda said. “For the majority of HVAC systems, we were able to support the chillers with cold water pumped from wells. But with a facility as large as the new international terminal, the energy costs of pumping that much water would be too great. It quickly became obvious that a closed-loop system with cooling towers would be a much more practical solution.” 

To combat the corrosive salt air, Miranda chose a high-density polyethylene TM Series modular cooling tower manufactured by Delta Cooling Towers, a New Jersey-based manufacturer of various engineered plastic models ranging from 10 to 2,500 cooling tons. The tower installed at the airport features three modular cells, provides 750 cooling tons and carries a 20-year warranty. 

“With the double-wall (high-density polyethylene) shell, we’re confident that this tower will be impervious to rust and corrosion problems,” Miranda said. “Also, the Delta TM Series features a direct-drive motor, which should mean easier maintenance and lower energy consumption.”

Easy installation

Miranda also enjoyed the ease of assembly and installation at the project site, explaining that he and his team were able to install the three cooling tower cells in only 24 hours because they were preassembled at the factory and were composed of two sections for each cell. 

“Even the direct-drive motors were preinstalled,” he said. “This was quite beneficial since other cooling towers that we’ve looked at are shipped to the job site in many pieces, and assembling them will take two or three days to install just one cell.”

The direct-drive fan system also requires minimal service, adding to the tower’s positive low-maintenance aspect.

“The cooling tower has been installed for a year now, and we haven’t had a single service call yet,” Miranda said.

With the international terminal completed, the Punta Cana International Airport is now working on updating its main terminal, a project that includes the installation of a new HVAC system that Inica will also handle.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Miranda said. “We’ll be installing another TM Series modular cooling tower system.”