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Vacuum Drying

The vacuum drying process is shown graphically in Figure 1 and consists of three separate
phases. Corrosion is generally inhibited at relative humidity (R.H.) levels below 30% but in the
presence of hydroscoic dirt (present in millscale) corrosion can occur at R.H. levels of 20%.
Therefore, systems should be thoroughly drained and then vacuum dried to lower than 20% R.H.

Target Dewpoint (D.P.)

R.H. = Water vapor pressure / Saturated Vapor Pressure (SVP)

for a constant temperature. Assume the lowest average temperature of the system is 0oC (during
the winter months) which gives

SVP = 0.6 KPaA

The vacuum level required for water vapor at 20% R.H. is:

0.2 x SVP = 0.2 x 0.6 = 0.12 PKaA

This corresponds to a dewpoint of -18°C. A safety allowance should be provided for some
desorption from the pipe walls; and therefore a dewpoint of-20°C would be used.

Phase I - Evacuation

During this phase, the pressure in the pipe line is reduced to a level where the ambient
temperature of the pipe line will cause the free water to boil and change to water vapor. This
pressure level corresponds to the saturated vapor pressure of the free water in the pipe line which
is dependent upon the ambient temperature of the pipe line.

The approximate pressure value is calculated in advance but is easily recognized on site by a fall
in the rate of pressure reduction, which is noted from the plot of pressure against time.

At some convenient point in time a "leak test" is carried out by stopping the vacuum equipment
and observing the pressure, usually for a period of 4 hours. Any "air-in" leaks on flanges,
fittings, or hoses are rectified at this time, although leaks are not a common occurrence.

Phase 2 - Evaporation

Once the saturated vapor pressure has been reached then evaporation of the free water into water
vapor will commence. During this phase, the vacuum equipment is carefully controlled to
maintain the pressure at a constant level until all the free water has been converted into water
vapor. This phase may take several days to complete depending on: (1) the amount of water to be
evaporated; (2) the size of the vacuum equipment; and (3) the ambient temperature of the pipe
line. The end of the evaporation phase will be observed on site by a noticeable decrease in
pressure.

At this time it is prudent to carry out a "soak test" to ensure that all the free water has in fact
evaporated. The vacuum equipment is temporarily isolated from the pipe line, usually for a
period of 12 hours, and a careful note made of the pressure. If all free water has evaporated then
the pressure will remain constant and the final drying phase can be commenced.

Figure 1
Vacuum Drying Pressure vs Time Curve

Phase 3 - Final Drying

Once the free water has been converted into water vapor, the majority of it must be removed
from the pipe line in order to reach the required dryness level. This is achieved by reducing the
pressure the pipe line still further which has the effect of drawing the water vapor out of the pipe
line through the vacuum equipment. Obviously, the more water vapor removed, then the drier the
pipe line will become.

During this phase a careful watch is kept on the slope of the final drying line to ensure that it
follows the calculated value, since a shallower slope would indicate the continuing presence of
some free water still remaining in the pipe line.

The necessary calculations to determine the time required for each phase of vacuum drying are
detailed in Figure 2.
Figure 3
Dewpoint Temperature vs Saturated Vapour Pressure

What is dryness?

The dryness of a pipe line is measured in terms of dewpoint, which is the temperature at which
mist or dew will begin to form. A convenient method of measuring dewpoint is to use an
instrument called a mirror hygrometer where the water vapor is passed across a polished surface
which is slowly cooled until dew forms. The temperature at which the dew forms is the dewpoint
of the water vapor and is normally expressed in degrees centigrade. The drier the air, the lower
the temperature at which dew will form.

In terms of a pipe line being vacuum dried, the lower the pressure in the pipe line, the lower the
dewpoint will be. For example, at a pressure level of 0.26 kPa A, the equivalent dewpoint of the
pipe line would be -10°C. If the pressure were further reduced to 0.104 kPa A, then the dewpoint
would be -20°C.

For gas pipe lines a dewpoint level of -20°C is generally considered to be adequate and the 0.10
kPa A bar pressure level required to achieve this dewpoint is readily attainable using the portable
vacuum equipment previously described.

For example, consider a 100-mile-long 36-inch-diameter pipe line which, prior to drying,
contained 10,000 gallons of water as a film on the inside surface of the pipe. At a dewpoint of
-10°C the quantity remaining would be reduced to only 46.5 gallons and at -20°C to 19.7
gallons. Also, this water would not be free water but rather water vapor and it would only revert
back to free water if the ambient temperature of the pipe line were further reduced. This water
vapor can subsequently be removed from the pipe line during the purging operation.

The relations between pressure and dewpoint are shown in Figure 3 and Table 1.

Proving the dryness

Immediately following on form the final drying phase, a dry gas purge using atmospheric air or
nitrogen is carried out to prove the dryness of the pipe line. It is possible, under certain
circumstances, for a small amount of free water to still remain in the pipe line. Usually this water
will have turned to ice due to the chilling effect of the vacuum drying process and may not be
apparent during the final drying phase or soak test.

Table 1
Water Vapor Pressure Table
T SVP (kPa A) Vapor Density
°C (mb x 10-1) (gm m3)
-50 0.0039 (0.039 mb) 0.038
-45 0.0128 0.119
-35 0.0223 0.203
-30 0.0308 0.339
-25 0.0632 0.552
-20 0.1043 0.884
-15 0.1652 1.387
-10 0.2597 2.139
-5 0.4015 3.246
0 0.6108 4.847
5 0.8719 6.797
10 1.2270 9.399
15 1.7040 12.830
20 2.3370 17.300
25 3.1670 23.050
30 4.2430 30.380
Nitrogen or atmospheric air is allowed to enter the pipe line through a valve at the end remote
from the vacuum equipment, until the pressure has risen to the SVP equivalent of the target
dewpoint.

Once this pressure level has been reached, the vacuum equipment is started and that pressure
level maintained. This has the effect of drawing gas through the pipe line under vacuum at a
relatively constant dewpoint equal to the final dewpoint required.

At some point in time the purge gas, now under vacuum at a dewpoint of say, -20°C, will reach
the vacuum equipment and be pulled through it. The dewpoint at both ends of the pipe line is
carefully monitored and compared. If there is not free water remaining in the pipe line then the
dewpoint at the vacuum equipment end will be the seam as the dewpoint at the remote end.
However, if there is any free water present then the dry air passing through the pipe line under
vacuum will absorb the water hygroscopically. The dry gas purge operation must then continue
to remove the remaining free water until the dewpoint at both ends are equal, at which time
purging is discontinued. The pipe line has now been vacuum dried to the required dewpoint level
and the dryness proved.

Purging and commissioning

Once the dryness has been attained and proved, the pipe line is ready for commissioning. It is
possible to introduce the gas directly into the vacuum or to relieve the vacuum using dry
nitrogen.