Applications of copper-nickel alloys

The main applications for the engineering grades 90-10 and 70-30 copper-nickel alloys are in seawater piping, heat exchangers and condensers. The main industries are marine-based and cover thermal desalination, offshore oil and gas, power generation and commercial and naval shipping. Copper-nickel alloys are also used for hydraulic tubing, including brake tubing.

Alloy Applications
90-10 and 70-30 Cu-Ni Seawater cooling and firewater systems, heat exchangers, condensers and piping, platform riser and leg sheathing, boat hulls, oil coolers, hydraulic tubing, antimicrobial touch surfaces.
Cu-30Ni-Cr Forgings, cast seawater pumps and valve components.
High Strength Cu-Ni
Cu-Ni-Al Shafts and bearing bushes, bolting, pump and valve trim, gears, fasteners.
Cu-Ni-Sn Bearings and drill components, subsea connectors, valve actuator stems, lifting nuts, ROV lock-on devices, seawater pump components.


Copper-nickel alloys are widely used in multi-stage flash (MSF) and multiple effect distillation (MED) desalination plants. In addition to cost considerations, the alloy choice depends on corrosion conditions in the various sections of the plant.

MSF plant

An MSF plant uses a process that essentially consists of a series of tube/plate heat exchangers that can reach temperatures of 120oC in the brine heater, decreasing as the flashing brine and distillate travels through the plant through to the heat recovery and then the heat rejection sections. The brine heater and heat recovery sections require exposure to hot de-aerated seawater and brine, whereas the heat rejection section uses natural seawater. The tubing exteriors handle water vapour and non-condensable gases.

Typical alloy choices are:

Evaporator shell 90-10 Cu-Ni solid or clad
- Heat Rejection Cu-Ni30-Fe2-Mn2
- Heat Recovery 70-30 and 90-10 Cu-Ni
- Brine Heater 70-30 Cu-Ni, Cu-Ni30-Fe2-Mn2
Tube Plates 90-10 Cu-Ni solid or clad steel
Water boxes and flash chamber linings 90-10 Cu-Ni clad steel
Piping 90-10 Cu-Ni

Table: Typical applications for Copper-Nickel Alloys in MSF desalination plant

MED plant

There are two types of MED plants; one uses thermo-compression distillation (TCD), the other mechanical vapour compression (MVD); TCD is the more common. There can be several evaporator stages and a final heat rejection section. Vapour is introduced into the first evaporator at temperatures of around 75°C.
Copper alloys are the primary choice for tubes in the evaporator sections. Here, the top environment is fully aerated with the oxygen level decreasing in the lower sections. Copper-nickel is also sometimes used in the final heat recovery exchanger, which operates fully aerated.

Offshore Oil and Gas

Copper-nickel alloys have found applications on both platforms and FPSOs (Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessels) and are used in seawater, cooling and firewater/deluge systems. They are favoured in warmer climates for their resistance to chloride crevice corrosion and stress corrosion cracking.

Skid-mounted deluge system using 90-10 copper-nickel. Photo courtesy of Blaze Manufacturing Solutions Ltd.

The 90-10 copper nickel alloy has also been used for splash zone sheathing on platform legs in Phase 1 of the Morecambe Field, UK.

Photo courtesy of Spirit Energy

Power generation

Generating electricity in both nuclear and fossil-fuelled power plants involves important heat transfer processes; steam generators, heat exchangers, coolers, condensers, tanks, pipework, valves and fittings. Copper-nickel alloys are well-suited for these applications, as they can be used successfully in a range of environments, including clean seawater with high-total dissolved solids, brackish water, fresh water and cooling tower water.

Shipbuilding and Repair

The 90-10 and 70-30 copper-nickel alloys were originally developed for naval condensers and seawater piping more than 60 years ago. It is a testament to their resilience in severe conditions that they are still used in many of the world’s navies. They are also used on FPSOs and commercial shipping.

90-10 Cu-Ni piping used in commercial shipping. Photo courtesy of Eucaro Buntmetall GmbH.

Seawater is used for cooling, tank cleaning and heating, ballast, waste disposal, firefighting and, through distillation, as a source of fresh water for boiler feed water and sanitary hot and cold water. All require piping systems that consist of pumps, valves, pipes and fittings. For cooling systems, heat exchangers are also required.

Applications for copper-nickel alloys can include condensers, coolers and other heat exchangers, onboard seawater desalination plants, systems for compressed air, sanitary systems, bilge, ballast water, brine, fire mains and sprinklers, fuel oil, lube oil, warm water heating, grey and black water, hydraulic lines and tank heating.
A novel application is that of sheathing or plate for boat hulls. 

The 70-30 Cu-Ni hulled Asperida being inspected during refitting 38 years following her construction. Photo courtesy of CDA Inc.
A few dozen hulls have been fabricated this way, using 90-10 or 70-30 Copper-Nickel.

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