On the road to a greener future

Published:  10 March, 2022

Michael Hyde, Northern Europe Business Development Manager, Spirax Sarco, provides insight into what can be done today to optimise your steam system.

Steam is an inherently natural medium and is something familiar that we can all understand on its simplest level – it is just the boiling of water, but with some totally unique properties. This is why it has been adopted as the preferred method of delivering thermal energy and motive energy throughout our industrial history. Distributing steam around a system, a building or a process can be done safe in the knowledge that is just water in its gaseous state, but with far higher thermal qualities.

As technology advances, through methods of Green Generation and Thermal Battery technology, steam will continue to become increasingly sustainable, to capitalise on renewable sources and optimised through digital advances. Steam is a long and well-proven source of energy used across a wide range of applications and sectors including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, energy, food and drink. As businesses rise to an increasingly complex set of energy and sustainability challenges, the need for sustainable solutions is greater than ever.

Understand the starting point for your plant

There should be ongoing activities to look at how steam systems are currently operating and to make sure they are operating effectively and efficiently. Even when considering significant plant changes to address sustainability and energy, it is important to understand the starting point for your plant, the base-line energy consumption. Optimising the efficiency of your steam system could be easier than expected. There are several ways in which optimisation can be realised:

Achieving demand reduction through improved plant management & preventative maintenance
 

Adopting steam system best practice to minimise plant consumption 

Addressing areas of energy loss by implementing heat recovery systems & techniques

Maintaining steam quality to maximise process effectiveness

Measurement of utilities to trend and optimise performance

But where to start? A good place to start is to take a look at your steam trap population, which is the most important link in the steam and condensate loop. We know that removing condensate and air from your steam system is essential whilst returning condensate to the boiler house maximises use of energy. A healthy steam trap population allows condensate to be removed from the steam system effectively meaning it can be re-used. Effective steam trapping through a management programme is a critical factor to ensuring a healthy steam trap population and can greatly contribute to lowering energy consumption, maintaining product quality and increasing productivity.


A step in the right direction


From trapping stations to specific trap devices, steam traps are considered to be one of the most effective resource-saving
measures, so how can an effective steam trap management programme help you? There are four key benefits to consider:

1. Health and safety

As with any utility in the plant, such as hot water or electricity, a steam system must be well managed to ensure safe operation. Correctly designed and operating steam trapping allows condensate to be effectively removed from the system, eliminating any potentially hazardous situations, such as pipe or component failure.

2. Productivity and process improvement

Correctly functioning steam traps allow the steam system to deliver the thermal energy required for process applications to operate efficiently. Condensate in the steam supply can affect the operation of applications, causing issues such as slow start up times and poor heat transfer. Removing the condensate from the system allows the steam to perform its task effectively within the process.

3. Sustainable energy savings and reduced carbon emissions Condensate typically contains around 25% of the usable energy of the steam from which it came. Returning this to the boiler feed tank can save thousands of pounds per year in energy alone and reduces the requirement for fresh replacement water, whilst minimising the need for costly chemicals to treat raw water.

Condensate removed from the steam system and returned to the feed tank also reduces the need for boiler blowdown, which is used to regulate the concentration of dissolved solids in the boiler. This therefore reduces the energy lost from the boiler during the blowdown process – all contributing towards your overall sustainability goals.

4. Lower cost of ownership

Removing the unwanted condensate from the system ensures there is less chance of damage from issues like waterhammer and corrosion. Steam traps remove the condensate as it forms, keeping better quality steam in the system and protecting pipework and equipment from erosion and corrosion.

Effective steam trap management in practice

The stats really do speak for themselves. Take this example of an oil refinery who wanted to reduce their overall energy costs, carbon output, improve safety and production performance. Spirax Sarco engineers carried out a turnkey project involving a wide-ranging steam trap and energy audit of the site. The audit identified 20% of the steam trap population had failed leading to significant energy losses. Through the installation of new steam traps, the oil refinery achieved energy savings of £100,000 within 12 months with a payback period of 16 months.

The Heinz factory in Wigan produces canned soups, baked beans, pasta and puddings for the UK and European market, and its on-site energy centre generates up to 140 tonnes of steam per hour to keep the canning lines running. In order to reduce carbon emissions and save energy, Heinz worked with Spirax Sarco to implement a steam trap management programme at the Wigan site following the success of a previous, one-off steam trap survey, which saved enough energy and treated water to pay for itself in less than nine months.

Spirax Sarco engineers surveyed the site every six months; checking, tagging and recording the condition of each steam trap. “When Spirax Sarco carried out the original survey they put in a conservative estimate of savings and we ended up saving much more,” says Barry Aspey, the Utilities Manager for Heinz. “That helped us decide to opt for the threeyear programme. If the new savings estimates are correct, the programme offers excellent value for money and should help us achieve a 4% reduction in energy consumption and reduce our carbon emissions by 200 tonnes a year.”

Could you be achieving similar results? The first step on the road to a greener future is to ensure all systems are working correctly and fully optimised – often the quickest wins too.

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