The flow structure inside the inner tank and inside the mantle of a vertical mantle heat exchanger was investigated using a full-scale tank designed to facilitate flow visualisation. The flow structure and velocities in the inner tank and in the mantle were measured using a Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) system. A Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) model of the vertical mantle heat exchanger was also developed for a detailed evaluation of the heat flux at the mantle wall and at the tank wall. The flow structure was evaluated for both high and low temperature incoming flows and for both initially mixed and initially stratified inner tank and mantle. The analysis of the heat transfer showed that the flow in the mantle near the inlet is mixed convection flow and that the heat transfer is dependent on the mantle inlet temperature relative to the core tank temperature at the mantle level. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.