The flow structure in vertical mantle heat exchangers was investigated using a full-scale tank designed to facilitate flow visualisation. The flow structure and velocities in the mantle were measured using a particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) system. A CFD simulation model of vertical mantle heat exchangers was also developed for detailed evaluation of the heat flux distribution over the mantle surface. Both the experimental and simulation results indicate that distribution of the flow around the mantle gap is governed by buoyancy driven recirculation in the mantle. The operation of the mantle was evaluated for both high and low temperature input flows. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.