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The Relative Merits and Limitations of Thermal Fluid,

Electric and Steam Heat Tracing Systems


PRODUCT / APPLICATION INFORMATION Page 1 of 14

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION. ...................................................................................................2
HEAT TRACING METHODS & HISTORY......................................................2, 3
OVERVIEW: TODAYS THERMAL FLUID SYSTEMS.......................................3
Thermal Fluid
OVERVIEW: TODAYS ELECTRIC TRACING SYSTEMS. ...............................4
OVERVIEW: TODAYS STEAM TRACING SYSTEMS..................................5-7
OVERVIEW: FREE STEAM....................................................................................7
SOME BASIC COMPARISONS.............................................................. 8
THERMAL FLUID TRACING MERITS.................................................................8
THERMAL FLUID TRACING LIMITATIONS......................................................8
Electric ELECTRIC TRACING MERITS. .............................................................................9
ELECTRIC TRACING LIMITATIONS. ..................................................................9
STEAM TRACING MERITS..............................................................................9-10
STEAM TRACING LIMITATIONS.................................................................10-11
TRACING SYSTEM ANALYSIS:.................................................................... 11-14
1. The Specific Application.................................................................................11
Steam 2. The Tracing System Functional Performance...............................................12
3. The Tracing/Pipe System Energy Performance............................................12
Insulation System........................................................................................12
Tracing Temperature Control.....................................................................12
The Heat Source.....................................................................................12, 13
4. The Tracing System Installation Cost:..........................................................13
Piping Complexity.......................................................................................13
Temperature Maintenance/Control...........................................................13
Area Classification.......................................................................................13
SUMMARY.................................................................................................................14
Footnotes and References.........................................................................................14

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The Relative Merits and Limitations of Thermal Fluid,
Electric and Steam Heat Tracing Systems
PRODUCT / APPLICATION INFORMATION Page 2 of 14

Introduction
The cost of one heat tracing method versus another ten than not misrepresent a particular situation. Relying
is of importance when selecting a heating system for on past analysis for major new decisions may overlook
plant pipes and equipment, given that each system recent developments or changing variables. Excluding
has the capability to perform the required function. judgment factors, like the ability of existing operating
Today, however, long-term energy efficiency and the and maintenance personnel to understand and live with
reduction of hydrocarbon pollutants may be the most the system provided, may lead to disaster. 4
important aspect in the selection of plant equipment
As the authors predicted, many new and important de-
including heat-tracing systems. Energy conservation
velopments have been made in heat tracing technology
and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
since their article was published in 1977.
go hand-in-hand. As the use of energy increases, GHG
emissions also increase. Today, most countries of the
Heat Tracing Methods
world have defined their energy and GHG emissions
History
reduction goals. In the United States, a unified effort
to combat excessive energy consumption and GHG Since the early 1900s steam tracing has been the
emissions has resulted in a partnership between the primary means of keeping materials such as petroleum
Department of Energy (DOE) along with the Office residues, tars and waxes flowing through pipelines and
of Industrial Technology (OIT) and U.S. industry. The equipment in the petroleum and chemical processing
partnership has focused on achieving three major industries. For temperatures that were higher than
objectives: (1) lowering raw material and depletable would be practical for steam tracing, fluid tracing with
energy use per unit of output, (2) improving labor and mineral oils was often used. Mineral oils could be
capital productivity, and (3) reducing generation of used at temperatures up to as much as 316C (600F).
wastes and pollutants.1 Saturated steam at this temperature would require a
pressure of 107.0 bar g (1,549 psig). 5
Industrial steam users contribute to an enormous
amount of energy wastage in most countries. It is esti- Following the Second World War, the petroleum and
mated that in the U.S. alone, roughly 2.8 quads (2,800 chemical industries grew, as many new products were
trillion Btu) of energy could be saved through cost- developed to meet the wants and needs of a society
effective energy efficiency improvements in industrial that was just emerging from the great depression. Many
steam systems.2 of the raw materials for these new products had to be
maintained at temperatures below 66C (150F) and
Steam is used in most plants to power turbines that turn held within a narrow temperature band to protect the
generators for the production of electricity, as a prime quality of the end product. The bare steam tracing
mover for pumps and other equipment, and for process method of the time was frequently inadequate to meet
heat in heat exchangers and reactors. these requirements. Heat transfer compounds were
Heat tracing systems are not often listed when energy developed in the early 1950s but were intended as a
reduction initiatives are being considered. However, means to increase, not reduce the heat transfer rate of
when viewed from the perspective of how many me- steam tracers. Ambient changes alone were often too
ters (feet) of heat tracing exists in a typical refinery or great to permit satisfactory control with a bare steam
chemical complex, the potential for reducing energy tracing system. Various methods were tried to reduce
consumption and hydrocarbon pollutants can be star- the amount of heat supplied by the bare tracer after
tling.3 the steam pressure/temperature was set at a practi-
cal minimum level. One was to suspend a bare tracer
When discussing tracing systems, the question is often above the pipeline and attempt to maintain an air gap
asked. Which heat tracing system is the most economi- with spacer blocks. This system was problematic. The
cal; steam, electric or fluid? M.A. Luke and 2 blocks were difficult to keep in place during assembly
C.C. Miserles made the following statement about that and thus were tedious and time consuming to install.
subject in a 1977 article about tracing choices and it They frequently slipped out of place in service because
holds as true today as ever: of the natural expansion and contraction of the tracer
tube. This system was plagued with unpredictable heat
There is no definite answer to the tracing-selection transfer rates, hot spots, and high installation costs.
problem. Using recommendations based solely on
industry-averaged or assumed parameters will more of-

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During this era plant engineers were inclined to use fluid the control scheme, packaged thermal fluid units may
tracing methods (glycols and hot oils) where possible be provided with microprocessor-based controls for
because of the ease of regulating fluid flow to maintain reliable, safe and accurate operation. Todays leak-proof
required temperatures although due to inadequate tubing connectors eliminate costly and sometimes
fittings, leaks frequently presented a problem. Electric hazardous loss of fluid which makes semi-rigid tubing
resistance heating was also developed in the early years an ideal means of tracing with heat transfer fluids. Tube
of the 20th century and some types were adapted for fittings may be manually or automatically welded where
pipeline heating, but they had minimal use due to burn pressure ratings are in accordance with ANSI B31.1
out failures caused by excessive sheath temperatures calculations if required. Tubing can be easily formed
at high wattages.5 Fittings and connections were also for elbows and bends or shaped into hairpin loops
weak points in the system. In the 1950s experimenta- for valves and pumps. Tracers with heat transfer com-
tion began in earnest to develop more durable electric pounds provide even temperature distribution along the
tracing methods that could be adapted to automatic pipeline even in cooling applications. Additionally, they
temperature controls. These efforts brought about allow the use of lower fluid temperatures (as opposed
marked improvements and by the 1960s, electric to bare tracing) for warm applications since the heat
tracing began to be accepted as a viable challenger to transfer coefficient is greatly improved. Figure 2 depicts
steam and fluid tracing methods for heating process a typical steam heated liquid tracing system.
plant piping and equipment.

Overview:
Todays Thermal Fluid Systems
Control methods for tracers using heat transfer fluids
are much more sophisticated today than ever before.
Figure 1 shows a microprocessor controller (Sterling,
Inc. www.sterlco.com) with fuzzy logic providing high
accuracy. A great variety of heat transfer fluids are avail-
able for high or low temperature requirements. Portable
or stationary fluid heating or cooling units are available.
For heating applications, electrical, steam or fuel-fired
heaters are used to raise the temperature of the heat Figure 1
transfer fluid. Depending upon the type of heater and

Expansion Tank
Figure 2

Temperature Hot Fluid to


Control Tracers
Alarm Panel

Electrical
Power

Temperature Electric Emersion Heater


Sensor

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Overview:
Todays Electric Tracing Systems
Modern electric tracing systems have extremely low
failure rates as opposed to the electric resistance heat
tracing systems of the past, due to improved technol-
ogy and industry standard requirements that must be
met in order to be accepted as a viable supplier in this
market place. Microprocessor based controls can hold
pipe temperatures to extremely close tolerances. State
of the art high temperatures polymers and process-
ing methods have led to the development of new and
improved flexible self-regulating and power limiting
heating cables. These flexible heaters can be used to
hold pipeline temperatures in the range of approxi- Figure 4
mately 149C (300F) where steam, hot thermal fluids Mocroprocessor-based monitoring and control units for electric
or copper sheathed mineral insulated heating cables tracing systems control band programmable in increment of 1
degree.
would have been used in the past. The development of
high temperature metal alloys has provided a means to
increase the temperature maintenance rating of todays
semi flexible mineral insulated electric heating cables up
to as much as 500C (932F) with exposure temperatures
up to 593C (1,100F). See Figure 3 and 4 for typical
electric heat tracing system and microprocessor-based
controller.

Figure 3

1 Electric Heat Tracing Cable


2 Supply Voltage Power Connection Fitting
3 End of Circuit Termination
4 Themal Insulation and Weather Barrier
5 Branch Circuit Protection Device
6 Control Device
7 Safety Caution Label

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Overview:
Todays Steam Tracing Systems
Today, a wide range of steam tracing methods exists. with a steel Strap-On Jacket to provide permanent
New factory fabricated isolated steam tracers have been and maximum contact at the surface of the pipeline.
developed that offer a range of heat transfer rates for One conduction tracer will supply as much heat as 3
low to medium temperature control as well as improved to 6 bare tracers and can supply heat up capability.
safety. Where low pressure steam is available, these Figure 5 portrays a typical steam tracing system. Most
tracers may be used to heat materials such as caustic steam tracing is used in run free systems where no
soda, resins, acids, and water lines which previously control methods are applied other than steam pressure
could not be heated with bare steam tracing due to the reducing valves as shown in Figure 6. However, several
excessive heat that could result in corrosion, vapor- control methods are available. Figures 7 and 8 details
izing or off-spec products. Isolated tracers may also hookup methods for pipeline control and ambient
be used for temperature control where higher steam sensing control. Figure 9 shows control by balanced
pressures are available rather than installing pressure pressure traps holding back condensate while Figure 10
reducing valves. For the high temperature range, steam depicts an isolated steam tracer that is used to lower the
may be used as the heat transfer medium in a mod- temperature of a traced pipeline versus a conventional
ern conduction tracing system where heat transfer bare trac r, by decreasing the heat transfer rate from
compound is installed over the tracer and covered the tracer to the pipe.

Figure 5
Strainer Typical Steam Tracing System

Isolation Pre-insulated Steam


Valve Suppy Tubing
Check
Condensate Valve
Header
Stream
Header
Steam Tracer

Vertical
Steam
Manifold

Steam Trapping Station

Vertical
Steam Condensate
Trap Return Manifold

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Figure 6
Steam Pressure Reducing Valve (PRV) Station

Moisture
Separator

Pressure Steam Header to


Control Valve Tracing System
Trap Station
Courtesy
Spirax/Sarco

Figure 7
Tracing With Self-Acting Pipeline Sensing Control
Pipeline Sensing
Self-Acting
Controller

Courtesy
Spirax/Sarco

Figure 8
Tracing With Self-Acting Ambient Sensing Control

Ambient Sensing Control

Ambient Sensing
Control

Courtesy
Spirax/Sarco

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Figure 9
Control by Holding Back Condensate

Balanced
Courtesy Pressure
Spirax/Sarco Traps

Figure 10
Isolated Steam Tracer for Temperature Control

SafeTrace
Isolated Tracer

Overview: Free Steam


Flash Steam to Users
Steam tracing circuits can frequently use flash steam
from hot condensate, steam produced by waste heat
boilers, or steam from exothermic processes. Energy
from these sources is often referred to as free steam.
However, flash vessels (see Fig. 11), waste heat recovery Condensate
equipment and various accessories are required to and Flash
Steam Inlet
control and transport this steam. The equipment and
the attendant maintenance services are not free. But, Flash Tank
additional fuel is not being consumed to produce this
steam, therfore it is a low cost energy source and is Steam Trap
often referred to as free steam.

Condensate
Strainer

Courtesy
Spirax/Sarco

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Some Basic Comparisons


The following outlines the relative merits and limitations its atmospheric boiling point due to the potential
of each system in various applications: for mist explosions around leaks.

Thermal Fluid Tracing Merits Chemically Safe: Incidental exposure should not
be hazardous to operating personnel.
Today, a variety of thermal fluids are available to
cover a wide range of heating or cooling applications. Low Viscosity at Ambient Temperature: High
WATER is often used for low to medium temperature viscosity fluids will be difficult on cold system
heating to its availability; thermal stability and heat startup.
transfer properties. AROMATICS may be used for Low Vapor Pressure at Operating Temperature:
temperatures in the 320C to 400C (608F to Low vapor pressure eliminates the need to pres-
752F); SILICONE-BASED FLUIDS may be used surize the entire system to prevent pump cavita-
up to approximately 400C (750F) and for process tion.
cooling as well. HYDROCARBONS or mineral oils
have been used for years and generally have a maxi- Good Physical Properties: The heat transfer coef-
mum operating of up to 321C (610F).6 ficient is directly proportional to the specific heat
(CP ), density () and thermal conductivity (k), and
Thermal fluid tracing is good for applications requiring inversely proportional to the viscosity ().
reasonably close temperature control. Generally heat
transfer compounds are recommended for either Thermal Fluid Tracing Limitations
heating or cooling since these materials provide an Thermal fluids typically have a low heat capacity,
increased high heat transfer coefficient and positive especially when compared to steam tracing. Multiple
contact between the fluid tracer and the process line fluid tracers may be required on a pipeline for the
being heated or cooled. The improved heat transfer equivalent heat delivery of a steam tracing system.
rate and contact provides uniform temperature dis-
tribution throughout the pipeline. A thermal fluid tracing system requires multiple
tracing circuits before it can be justified. The fluid
Thermal fluid tracing systems can be designed for handling units are made up of an expansion tank to
utilization in hazardous areas. provide space for fluid expansion and a net positive
Most thermal fluids are less susceptible to freezing suction head for the pump; a circulating pump to
or bursting the tracer or handling equipment during keep the thermal fluid flowing; a heater to heat up
shutdowns than with condensate from a steam trac- the liquid to the required temperature and reheat it
ing system when ambient temperatures are below as it returns from the tracers, and a flow/temperature
-29C (-20F). control method to maintain the required thermal fluid
and process pipe temperatures.
An ideal thermal fluid possesses the following
characteristics: 6 Flow restrictions in thermal fluid tracing systems limit
the tracing circuit lengths compared to either a steam
Thermal Stability: There should be no significant or electric tracing system.
change in chemical composition following re-
peated heating and cooling cycles. The impact that potential leaks or spills may have on
the environment must be addressed with any thermal
Intrinsically Safe: It should not present an extreme fluid tracing system. At elevated temperatures, hy-
fire or explosion hazard under normal operating drocarbon based fluids may become volatile if leaks
conditions. Properties such as flashpoint and occur in the system.
firepoint should be evaluated prior to selection.
Most thermal fluids can be operated at tempera- Initial fluid cost and replacement cost should be
tures above these temperatures because any leaks considered since some fluids are very expensive:
usually are of limited volume, which minimizes
the potential for exposure to an ignition source.
A thermal fluid should never be operated above

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Electrical Tracing Merits present in the atmosphere surrounding the tracer.


Most industrial facilities will have electrical power Electricity for tracing can cost considerably more per
available. Btu than steam particularly if flash steam or steam
A variety of types and methods of electric tracing may from exothermic processes is available for steam
be used to maintain a broad range of temperatures tracing. If a plant has a cogeneration facility, a cost
for process pipes and associated equipment. Elec- difference will still exist between electricity and steam
tric heat output can be adjusted for very low freeze but it will be much lower.
protection applications to very high process main-
tenance temperatures up to 500C ((932F) through Steam Tracing Merits
heater selection and the use of design variables such Steam tracing is frequently chosen for use in plants
as supply voltage. where steam is a by-product of condensation (flash
steam) or an exothermic process. In these cases,
Short lengths of pipe or long pipelines in the range electricity will be much more costly than steam.
of 25 kilometers (15 miles) in length may be heated Steam from these sources is often (incorrectly)
by the use of various types of heating cables or skin considered to be free steam but as previously
effect heat tracing systems. stated, it does have a small handling cost attached to
Electrical tracing is recommended for non-metal and it although additional fuel is not being consumed.
lined piping and process equipment because of the
ability to provide very low heat output. Steam is excellent for heat-up situations because the
highest rate of heat transfer occurs when the temper-
E lectric tracing is often recommended for use ature difference between the steam tracing and the
with temperature sensitive products that must be cooler piping or equipment is greatest. During heat-
maintained within a narrow temperature range. It is up, steam condenses fast, releasing a large amount
easily equipped with temperature control devices to of latent heat energy due to the big temperature dif-
maintain precise consistent temperatures to keep ference between the cold piping, (or equipment) and
process temperatures within specification limits and the steam tracer. As the process equipment warms
to conserve energy. up, the gradual decrease in temperature difference
Since electric tracing does not convey a fluid, there brings about a corresponding decrease in the rate of
are no fittings or traps that may cause energy leaks steam condensation until an equilibrium condition is
or require routine maintenance. This translates into finally reached. The large latent heat content of steam
simplified installation and reduced operation and makes it an excellent medium for start up situations
maintenance costs. following a plant turnaround or after an emergency
shutdown. Pipelines that are intermittently used at
Over its history, electric tracing has proven to be a tank terminals to transfer sulfur, asphalts, or other
safe choice for process pipe and equipment heating. heavy hydrocarbon materials, rely on steam for
High industry standards and approval agency test- quick heat up and temperature maintenance once
ing provides verification of fitness for the intended the system has reached a state of equilibrium. In
service. an equilibrium state, the heat supplied by the steam
tracing system is equivalent to the heat being lost
Electric Tracing Limitations to the atmosphere through the thermal insulation
If sized for temperature maintenance, electric heat material covering the tracer and the pipe.
tracing often provides an unacceptably slow heat-up
period for the resumption of flow after an emergency Steam tracing is intrinsically safe and may be used
shutdown or a plant turnaround. in Division 1 (and Zone 0) hazardous areas where
As previously discussed, electric tracing can be de- electric tracing circuits are severely restricted (or
signed for safe operation in hazardous areas and has prohibited) for safety reasons. API Publication 2216,
a sound track record in such applications but it does Second Edition, January 1991 states the following:
have the potential for sparking which could lead to The ignition of accidental releases of hydrocarbons
fire or explosion anywhere flammable materials are in the atmosphere may result in damaging fires. Fre-
quently, hot surfaces in the area where hydrocarbon

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vapor is released are assumed to be the ignition Steam is simple and reliable. It is a constant energy
source; however, hot surfaces, even at temperatures source and flows under its own power. When steam
above the published and generally accepted ignition condenses into saturated water in the tracer, it frees
temperature of the hydrocarbon, may not ignite the up a volumetric space, which is constantly filled with
flammable mixture. ---As a rule of thumb, ignition by steam under pressure. This perpetual process keeps
a hot surface in open air should not be assumed un- steam flowing as long as the system is in operation.
less the surface temperature is about 200C (360F)
above the accepted minimum ignition temperature. Steam Tracing Limitations
Generally steam provided for tracing purposes will Steam tracing is not generally recommended for use
not exceed the above noted temperature limits for with non-metal or lined piping and vessels although
most hydrocarbons. Additionally, most steam supply modern isolated tracers may be applicable in some
lines today are covered with thermal insulation to cases.
reduce heat loss and to minimize personnel injuries
by keeping the insulation surface at a maximum Steam tracers require fittings, which have the poten-
temperature of 60C (140F) or less for personnel tial to develop leaks. However, modern precision-
protection. made compression fittings can provide a leak proof
connection when properly installed.
The temperature of steam tracing circuits can be
controlled by: Each cycle of an Inverted bucket trap or a thermo-
dynamic type trap uses a certain amount of steam
Pressure reducing valves which vary the steam in order to perform its function. A steam loss also
pressure and thus the steam temperature. occurs in thermostatic traps due to a small lapse of
time in the closing of the valve as the last remain-
Isolated tracers which provide a low conductive
path to reduce temperatures and conserve en- ing condensate exits and steam enters. Impulse
ergy for lines carrying materials such as amine, traps have a continuous small amount of steam
caustic, resins, water, wastewater, or for holding lost through the pilot orifice. Further, each trap
pipeline temperatures with 10.3 barg to 17.2 barg has some radiation losses. The steam trap supplier
(150 psig to 250 psig) steam without the need for should be able to provide the typical kg (lbs) steam
pressure reducing valves that might be necessary loss per hour for the particular trap selected. One
for bare steam tracers in order to limit the heat manufacturer states that the operational steam lost
output. from steam traps is a maximum of 0.90 kg (2lbs).7
For small steam tracer traps, the steam loss per hour
Self-acting control valves with sensors responding is estimated to be in the range of 0.22 kg to 0.45 kg
to the ambient air temperature or the process pipe (0.5 lb to 1.0 lb).
temperature.
Steam headers and condensate return lines providing
Fixed-temperature discharge steam traps or bal- service to steam tracers will lose a certain amount
anced pressure traps which respond to conden- of steam energy even when covered with thermal
sate temperature and allow condensate to sub insulation. Steam supply and condensate return
cool within the tracer before being discharged. manifolds will also lose a certain amount of steam
energy. However, energy losses may be minimized
Thermostatically controlled solenoid valves, which
can provide an off-on operation. The thermostat by the application of thermal insulation on steam lines
serves only pilot duty, and off-on control provides and equipment.
the tracer circuit with the full benefit of the heating Malfunctioning steam traps can contribute to steam
media during start-up. energy loss on steam-traced lines. One source states
Condensate from steam tracing can be returned for that steam-trap failures on an ongoing basis of 3%
reheat and use at the boiler because it is considered to 10% will contribute to the flow of live steam in the
clean condensate. However, condensate from heat return line8. Another source states that in systems
exchangers and jacketed equipment is not consid- with a regularly scheduled maintenance program,
ered clean due to the possibility of cross contamina- leaking traps should account for less than 5 percent
tion with process fluids. of the trap population9.

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Tracing System Analysis


The most common orifice size for steam traps servic-
ing steam tracers is 3.0 mm for metric sized traps and A complete tracing system analysis should consider all
1/8 for inch-Pound sizes. Approximate steam losses of the following:
for malfunctioning traps in tracer service are given The specific application
in Table 1 and Table 2 below. A good maintenance The tracing systems functional performance
program will help minimize energy losses from steam The tracing/pipe system energy performance
traps as described under NOTE below. The tracing systems installation cost.
One major trap manufacturers estimates that, on 1. The Specific Application
average, each defective trap wastes over 400,000
pounds (approx. 180,000 kg) of steam a year.2 If Typical Information Required to Begin an Assess-
ment.
Table 1
Plant/Location
Approx. Energy Loss Due to Steam Trap Leaks
kilograms/hr
Climatological Data:
Trap Orifice Steam Pressure Bar Gauge
Minimum Ambient Temperatures
Diameter Maximum Ambient Temperatures
mm 3.5 7.0 10.0 Annual Average Ambient Conditions
2.0 5.0 8.8 12.0 Process, Utilities or Service Materials to be Heated
3.0 12.5 22.2 30.5 Properties
5.0 31.0 55.1 75.4 Specifications
Processing Hours
Table 2 Heat Up Requirement
Approx. Energy Loss Due to Steam Trap Leaks Flow Path of Process Fluids
pounds/hr
Temperature Control of Product and Monitoring
Trap Orifice Steam Pressure Bar Gauge
Diameter
Requirements
inches 50 100 150 Energy: Location; Type; Quantity; Quality; Cost
5/64 10.6 18.9 27.1 Area Classification
1/8 27.2 48.3 69.3
Electric Energy Cost
Voltage
3/16 61.3 108.6 156.0
Steam Energy Cost
one chooses the 7.0 Bar g column and the 3.0 mm Steam Pressure
orifice size from Table 1 and considers 8400 hours Heat Transfer Fluid Cost Including Packaged
Heater Unit
per year to account for a two week turnaround time,
the loss per trap will be 22.2 x 8400 = 186,480 Piping: Materials; Lengths; Sizes; and Grade Level
kg/yr (186,480 x 2.2 = 410,256 lb/yr). P & IDs 17
From Table 2 choose the 100-psig column and the 1/8 Piping Isometrics
orifice, the loss will be 48.3 x 8400 = 405,720 lb/yr. Piping Line List; Etc.
steam wasted annually. Therefore, the statement from Insulation: Type, Thickness and Weather Barrier
the trap manufacturer provides a realistic value. Labor: Rates and Maintenance Hours Required
Tracing System Alternatives Under Consideration
Steam trap monitoring systems are available from most
major trap manufacturers and can help reduce steam 2. The Tracing Systems Functional Performance
losses due to malfunctioning traps if installed and
First and foremost, any tracing method considered
implemented properly. Regular continuous monitoring
must be able to meet the functional requirements of
will identify malfunctions such as leaking or condensate
the process piping and equipment being traced. The
back up.
tracing system must heat-up and maintain the piping
system at the prescribed temperature. A heat up time
requirement may be placed on the system not only for
the initial start up but start-ups following a turnaround

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or emergency shut down. The pipe, product, heater, The 3E Plus Program:
and insulation maximum temperature limitations must
Calculates the thermal performance of both insulated
not be exceeded under normal and abnormal condi-
and un-insulated piping and equipment
tions. The temperature control system, if one is neces-
Translates Btu losses to actual dollars
sary, must provide the required accuracy of control.
Calculates greenhouse gas emissions and reduc-
A temperature alarm system may also be required to
tions
fulfill safety or production specifications. Operations
Used as a tool in several DOE programs
may require monitoring of the heating system. These
considerations are all necessary to arrive at a functional 3E Plus simplifies the task of determining how much
system. insulation is necessary to use less fuel, reduce plant
emissions and improve process efficiency. The
3. The Tracing/Pipe System Performance
information described herein is from the INSULA-
The energy consumption characteristics of a tracing TION OUTLOOK MAGAZINE, December 2002 at
system are primarily a function of the following: www.insulation.org.
Insulation System Tracing Temperature Control
Type of Tracing System Temperature Control
When there is no material flowing in a piping system,
Type of Heat Source
a pipe temperature-sensing controller, which activates
The Insulation System and deactivates the tracing system, reduces energy
consumption by permitting the tracer to deliver only
A heat tracing system in the most common application
that energy which is required to maintain the pipe
(temperature maintenance) is designed to replace only
temperature. When flow occurs in the pipe at tempera-
that heat which is lost through the thermal insulation.
tures above the controller set point, the pipe-sensing
The energy consumption is directly related to the
controller de-energizes the tracing and minimizes
energy loss characteristics of the insulant, which is a
energy consumption. Tracing controllers, which sense
function of the insulation type and thickness. While
ambient temperature rather than pipe temperature, are
heat loss reduction and optimization is possible by
less energy conservative since these controllers permit
prudent selection of the insulation type, it should be
continuous energizing of the tracing when the ambient
understood that the insulation type must be matched
temperature is below the controller set point. The result
to the functional requirements of the application, i.e.
is higher energy consumption by the tracing. Although
minimum temperature limits, water resistance, tensile
control methods are available for steam tracing systems,
and compressive strength, flammability, etc. The heat
they are not widely applied due to user indifference.
loss reduction optimization should then be based on
Insulation thickness. The optimum insulation thickness The Heat Source
is established by estimating the following costs for a
The energy consumption of parallel and series re-
given insulation thickness:
sistance electric tracers is limited to the Joulian (I2R)
The annualized cost of the insulation system including heating ability of the cable. Most plants will have elec-
installation and maintenance tricity available for electric tracing either purchased
The annualized cost of the energy lost. or produced at the plant site (cogeneration).
The optimum insulation thickness is that thickness for Steam tracers are a constant temperature heat
which the sum of these costs is a minimum. source. Their energy consumption is proportional
to the steam temperature minus pipe temperature
Annualized Insulation and Energy Cost Via
differential. When control schemes are not employed
the Use of 3E Plus
energy consumption of a steam tracer increases
The Insulation thickness can be established via when the process fluid temperature is less than the
the use of 3E Plus, a Insulation thickness com- equilibrium temperature flowing through the process
puter program that can be downloaded FREE from pipe.
www.pipeinsulation.org It is designed for Facility
A thermal fluid tracing system requires multiple trac-
Managers, Energy and Environmental Managers and
ing circuits before it can be justified due to the cost
Industrial Process Engineers.
of the fluid handling unit. The fluid handling units are

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The Relative Merits and Limitations of Thermal Fluid,
Electric and Steam Heat Tracing Systems
PRODUCT / APPLICATION INFORMATION Page 13 of 14

made up of 1) an expansion tank to provide space preset controls, or adjustable control thermostats for
for fluid expansion and a net positive suction head freeze protection and temperature maintenance. Micro-
for the pump; 2) a circulating pump to keep the hot processor-based temperature control and monitoring
fluid flowing; 3) a heater to heat up the liquid to the units for single, dual or multiple circuits can provide
required temperature and reheat it as it returns from temperature control up to 500C (932F).
the tracers. Process temperature control can be ac-
Thermal fluid tracing systems can hold very close
complished via flow control valves for multiple users
temperatures for low or high temperature applica-
or by a process temperature sensor that controls
tions and may be controlled by control valves and/or
the heater for single users. Thermal fluid heaters are
microprocessor-based control systems. Certain thermal
either fuel fired, steam heated or heated via electrical
fluids may be used in a temperature range of 260C to
resistance heaters. The total installation cost, energy
400C (500F to 750F) which is beyond the range of
costs and the intended operating pattern should be
temperatures normally associated with steam tracing.
considered when selecting the type of heater for the
Electric tracing (Alloy 825 mineral insulated heaters)
system.6
may show to advantage on individual piping circuits at
these temperatures due to the cost of a thermal fluid
4. The Tracing System Installation Cost
heating unit.
The installation costs of steam, fluid and electric tracing
Steam tracing is generally associated with high heat
are a strong function of:
delivery for applications where steam in the pressure
Piping Complexity range of 3 barg to 21 barg (50 to 300 psig) is used
Temperature Maintenance/Control Monitoring However, new isolated tracers have been designed to
Area Classification provide a steam tracing method for low to medium heat
delivery to hold pipeline temperatures from 5C (40F)
Piping Complexity
to 93C (200F). These tracers are used for many ap-
Electric tracing cables are normally more flexible than plications where soft heat is required for materials such
tubing and thus installation time is less for regular ob- as caustic soda, resins, amine, etc. Control methods
jects such as valves, pumps, filters, elbows, flanges, etc. include ambient sensing, pipe sensing, condensate
As a tradeoff, however, the number of electric circuits controlling traps and isolated tracers. However, where
and controllers will increase as the complexity increases very tight temperature differentials are required, electric
and will thus increase the cost of an electric tracing tracing or thermal fluid tracing methods are generally
comparison to an uncontrolled steam tracer. the best choice. In high heat delivery applications, fluid
tracing and electric tracing may require multiple passes.
Temperature Maintenance/Control Monitoring
As a result, steam tracing will normally have a more
The installation of pipe sensing temperature control/ favorable relative installed cost when higher heat load
monitoring can be as simple as an indicating on/off and quick heat up applications are considered.
mechanical thermostat or it can be as sophisticated as
Area Classification
a microprocessor based control package. In the case of
steam tracing, control and monitoring devices are avail- In hazardous areas, watt per foot outputs may be limited
able but are seldom used. The relative costs of steam, in order to comply with runaway temperature restric-
electric or thermal fluid tracing systems are related to tions. Again, this may result in multiple passes of heater
some degree by the control/monitoring applied to each cable and which will result in increased installation
system. Steam tracing efficiency will depend in large costs. A constant temperature heater such as steam
measure on keeping malfunctioning steam trap energy generally does not fall under the jurisdiction of these
losses at a minimum. runaway temperature restrictions as previously de-
scribed and thus will enjoy the installation cost benefit
With the use of the control systems mentioned above
resulting from installing fewer passes of tracer.
electric tracing circuits can hold pipe temperatures at
5C (40F) for freeze protection by the use of simple

THERMON . . . The Heat Tracing Specialists


www.thermon.com
The Relative Merits and Limitations of Thermal Fluid,
Electric and Steam Heat Tracing Systems
PRODUCT / APPLICATION INFORMATION Page 14 of 14

Summary
It is important to understand that there is no one single Footnotes and References
heat-tracing method that is best for every situation. The 1. Arlene Anderson, Industries of the Future-Reducing
specific application under consideration with its par- Greenhouse Emissions, EM Magazine, March 1999,
ticular requirements should be the determining factor pp. 13.
as to which heat tracing method to employ.
2. Ted Jones, Gathering Steam, Insulation Outlook,
In fact there are situations where one, two or all three March 1998.
of the methods described herein may be used to eco-
nomic advantage in an industrial plant. Steam may be 3. Knox Pitzer, and Roy Barth, Steam Tracing for Energy
available and the best choice for tracing in one unit Conservation. Chemical Engineering Exposition and
while electric or fluid is the best choice in another. Most Conference, June 7-8, 2000.
large refining and chemical facilities will generally have 4. M. A. Luke and C. C. Miserles, How Steam and Trac-
steam and electric tracing in use throughout the plant. ing Compare in Plant Operation, Oil and gas Journal,
The textile industry will often have steam and thermal November 7, 1977, pp. 64-73.
fluid heating systems for higher temperatures.
5. Thomas K. McCranie, Heating Oils and Other Fluids
The heat tracing decision can be made easy for users in Cement Plants, Presented at the 1972 IEEE Cement
who do not already have a steam source available. It Industry Technical Conference.
is doubtful that anyone would invest in a steam boiler
for heat tracing only. On the other hand, where steam 6. Jim Oetinger, Using Thermal Fluids For Indirect Heat-
is being used in a facility for other purposes there may ing, Process Heating Magazine, October 1997.
be surplus steam available that must be either used or 7. Ted Boynton, and Bob Dewhirst, Energy Conserva-
lost. In this case, the incentive to use steam tracing or tion Thru Trap Surveys and Preventive Maintenance
a steam fired fluid heater for liquid-tracing purposes Programs, Armstrong International.
will be compelling.
8. Mackay, Bruce, P.E., Designing a Cost-Effective
One manufacturer of external heat tracing systems Condensate-Return System. Chemical Processing,
(www.thermon.com) has had direct experience with May 1997.
steam, electric and fluid tracing design, supply and
installation for almost 50 years. The knowledge gained 9. Insulation Outlook Magazine. April 2002. Published
in the science of external heat transfer through field with this footnote: Adapted from an Energy TIPS fact
applications and the companys testing facilities has sheet that was originally published by the Industrial
been assembled and the data programmed into a com- Energy Extension Service of Georgia Tech.
prehensive computer analysis package called AESOP 10. Custom Marketing Report for Thermon Manufac-
for Advanced Electric and Steam Optimization Program. turing Company, Saunders Management Associates,
Today, an optimum tracing system for a particular facility September 1994.
under evaluation can be expediently selected regardless
of the degree of complexity. 11. Roy E. Barth and Arthur McDonald, An Energy
and Cost Evaluation Of Electric & Steam Tracing For
Refineries, Inc Oiltown, USA. 1994. Note: Much of
this work was incorporated in the section Tracing
System Analysis.

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