Efficient Steam Distribution System

Pranjal Dutta & Ravindra Datar

Steam is used to provide process heat and mechanical power. Steam loss in the process, is a major problem faced by industries. A well designed steam distribution system can reduce the losses and improve the efficiency of the steam system thus reducing energy costs. This paper examines the sources of inefficiency in the steam distribution system and discusses practical options to promote greater efficiency in the distribution of the steam. The function of the steam distribution system is to get the steam to where it is needed and return the condensate to the boiler, doing both as efficiently possible. Distribution heat losses account for 3 to 10% of the total energy generated in a boiler system. Energy management can reduce the heat loss by improving the insulation, detecting and repairing steam and condensate leaks, maintaining the steam traps and condensate pumps, and providing water treatment. A well designed steam distribution network can improve the efficiency of the steam systems. For optimum performance of the distribution and steam enduse equipment, a supply of right quantity and quality of steam is of vital importance. The losses in the steam distribution system can be in the form of: • • • • • • Radiation and convection. Pressure losses in the distribution pipe lines. Steam leaks in joints, valves, gauges, etc. Steam losses due to improper selection, incorrect location, wrong positioning and malfunctioning of traps. Inappropriate location and capacity of air vents. Poor dryness fraction of steam.

Steam losses due to external leakages can easily be identified. Such leakages can be plugged using online sealing techniques. The valves in the bypass around the steam traps as well as mal-functioning steam traps are the prime sources of internal leakages. These are difficult to detect as they are hidden and invisible in the flash steam. It is, therefore essential to improve the steam distribution system. Following are some important aspects to be taken care of: • • • • • Properly select, size, and maintain the distribution system steam traps. Insulate all distribution system pipes, flanges, and valves. Ensure that steam mains are properly laid out, sized, adequately drained, and adequately air vented. Ensure that distribution system piping is correctly sized to maintain appropriate system pressure drops. Ensure that distribution system piping is adequately supported, guided, and anchored; and that appropriate allowances are made for pipe expansion at operating temperatures.

A practical steam distribution system should necessarily compromise between the above ideal conditions and several other factors. Lack of attention to these will significantly increase operating costs, either because of reduction in overall efficiency or increase in maintenance costs or both. Energy Conservation Steam piping layout Steam piping transports steam from the boiler to the end-use services. Important characteristics of a welldesigned stem system piping are that it is adequately sized, configured, and supported. Installations of larger pipe diameters could be more expensive, but can reduce the pressure drop for a given flow rate and also help to reduce the noise associated with steam flow. Hence, one consideration should be given to the type of environment in which the steam piping will be located when selecting the pipe diameter.

It is therefore imperative to isolate the unused steam lines immediately. Steam pipe sizing and redundancy Proper sizing of the steam pipelines involves selecting a pipe diameter which gives acceptable pressure drop between the boiler and the user. . Estimating pressure requirements for small distribution systems is relatively simple. Distribution the steam at the same pressure that of source has the following advantages: • • • The steam velocity along within the pipes will be lowered and this reduces both noise and erosion It provides stable pressure at the user end due to lower pressure drop and higher operating margins. However. Typically. Nonetheless. normal operation and start-up. Automatic air vents should be fixed at the dead end of steam mains to allow removal of air / non-condensable which tends to accumulate in steam space. if the generation is at very high pressure. The velocities for various types of steams are: • • • Superheated Saturated Wet or Exhaust 50-70 m/sec 30-40 m/sec 20-30 m/sec Unused steam piping experiences the same losses as the rest of the system. unless future expansion of the system or new equipment requiring higher pressures is envisaged. viz it should just meet the minimum user requirement. these drainage points experience two very different operating conditions. Mechanical type moisture separators with traps should be provided in piping at interval. for long distribution systems. The capital cost is reduced as the pipe line is so smaller in size. needs to accommodate thermal reactions during systems start-ups and shutdowns. at the designing stage. If steam piping already exists then the pressure should be adjusted for lower operating cost. but where large quantities of low pressure steam are used. it is desirable to consider steam distribution at the same pressure as the source. Piping should be equipped with a sufficient number of appropriately sized drip legs to promote effective condensate drainage and should be pitched properly to promote the drainage of condensate to these drip lines. as so as to reduce the pressure drop in the system. viz. Pipe sizing can be done either based on the velocity or on the desired pressure-drop. the possibility of separating the two should be considered. Pipe routing is made for transmission of steam in the shortest possible way. to separate the fine moisture particles in the steam. or at a moderately high intermediate pressure. The piping needs to be properly sized and well insulated. Steam pressure The steam distribution pressure should be adjusted in accordance with the pressure generated and the pressure required at the consumer side.Important configuration issues are flexibility and drainage. It would also reduce leakages and other issues due to erosions or water hammering due to excessive condensate in steam. For systems where only a small quantity of high pressure steam is actually required. Both load conditions should be considered in the initial design. it is economical to super-heat the steam to minimize the steam losses. especially at equipment connections. whether wet or superheated. Good engineering design of insulation system will reduce undesirable heat loss and will often improve environmental condition. Piping.. Pipe sizing can be done from the general recommendations on line velocities of different fluid based on the specific volume of steam for the chosen distribution pressure and quality of steam. Poorly insulated / un-insulated steam distribution and condensate return lines are a constant source of wasted energy. A good and proper insulation can typically reduce energy losses by 90% and help to ensure proper steam quality and pressure at plant equipment. Insulation Heat losses through the surface of the steam distribution pipes can significantly increase energy use and cost.

031 0. The cost of lost energy.0 25 50 100 200 300 13210 22174 39158 69824 99546 Heat loss (kCal/hr for 100 M Bare pipe) Steam pressure(kg/cm2g) 10.110 0. but at a slower rate of increase than the cost of the materials and installation. Pin Diameter (NB) 1. goes down upto a certain thickness.073 0.039 0. on the other hand.051 0.050 0.0 26892 45291 80203 98130 207584 20.102 Thermal conductivities (W/m 0C) 1000C 2000C 3000C Maximum temperature (0C) 70 80 200 500 700 800 600 Economical Insulation Thickness As the thickness of the insulation increases.031 0. goes up. the cost of material and installation also goes up. on the other hand.036 0.048 0. the gains due to drop in the surface temperature are compensated with increase in the surface area of the insulation.028 0. Table 2 Material Density (kg/m3) 00C Polystyrol Cork Glass wool (non fiber) Long fiber Short fiber Rockwool glass wool Asbestos & 20-50 100-200 40-60 80 100 40-250 80-250 0. Above this thickness.0 35384 59444 105679 191543 274576 40.051 0.032 0. In other words.Table 1 illustrates steam line losses for non-insulated pipes of different diameters. the energy saving also goes up. The cost of lost energy. .0 46706 79259 141534 257121 369876 Table 2 gives different types of material used for insulation.032 0.042 0.

A mal-functioning trap may not expel the condensate from the steam line. thermostatic. traveling at over 200 km / hr may erode the pipe lines (especially at bends / partially open valves) and even lead to water hammering and can damage equipment. which is the sum of the lost energy and the material cost. The recommended insulation thickness for mineral wool which is commonly used in various industries is given in table 3. if not removed effectively. Figure 1 illustrates the method of determining the economic thickness. it looses a small part of heat through surfaces. normal as well start up and differential pressure across the trap. Steam traps are classified into three main groups – mechanical. as positioning and installation procedures vary. Selection of steam traps Selection of an appropriate trap should be made based on the capacity curve of the trap. and mechanical damage Resistance to chemicals / environment Resistance to fire Extent of shrinking or creaking during use Jacking for insulation Table 3 Temperature of Process Fluid (0C) Up to 90 91-150 151-250 251-350 351-450 451-550 551-650 Steam Traps and strainers As steam moves throughout the system.At a particular point. since the traps operate in different ways and sizes. The condensate. It is essential to understood the operations and functions of the traps and carefully read the instructions. the total cost. Due care must be taken to understand loading. weather. Steam traps are automatic valves that separate condensate from the steam. type of applications. noise. A leaky trap wastes energy by allowing steam to enter the condensate return. and thermodynamic. and adverse atmospheric conditions Ability to withstand vibration. reaches a minimum point. Major factors determining insulation selection are: • • • • • • • • Operating temperature Thermal conductivity of the insulating material Resistance to heat. possibility of non-condensable in condensate. due to condensation. which varies with every manufacture. Diameter of pipe (NB) surface/ Upto 40 25 40 65 75 90 90 90 50-80 25 40 65 75 90 100 100 90-125 25 50 75 100 100 115 115 150-200 40 50 75 100 115 125 130 Flat Above 200 NB 40 65 90 100 125 140 150 . which is the economic thickness of insulation. thus reducing efficiency of the system. with several different types of traps in each group.

the losses at different sizes and their pressure are shown in table 5. Table 4 provides key performance characteristics that should be considered to meet specific application needs.while selecting the type and model of the trap. A selected model may preferably be somewhere midway of the capacity curve. Steam trap leakage Leakage in the steam traps allows the steam to blow into the condensate system which is then vented to the atmosphere. To emphasize on controlling leakages from the steams traps and orifices.5 1//8 1/4 1/2 Steam losses kg/hr 18 72 290 26 100 400 . Table 4 properties Thermodynamics Disc Piston Lever Thermostatic Bellows Bellows Pilot Mechanical Inverted Bucket Cyclic / modulat ing Hot Poor Good Poor Good Good Open / closed Yes Yes No Float / Thermostatic Modulating Discharge Cyclic Cyclic Cyclic Cyclic / modulating Hot / subcooled Excellent Good / fair Good / fair Good / fair Excellent Open / close No No No Cyclic / modulating Hot / subcooled Excellent Fair Good Good Fair Open No No Yes Cyclic Discharge temp Air venting Dirt handling Superheat Water hammer Response Fail mode Freezing Susceptibility Position sensitive Back pressure sensitive Hot Fair Good Excellent Excellent Good Open No No Yes Hot Good Good Excellent Excellent Good Open No No Yes Hot Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Excellent Open No Yes Yes Hot Excellent Good Good Good Good Open No No No Hot Good Good Poor Poor Excellent Closed Yes Yes No Table 5 Steam pressure Kg/cm2 3. A regular inspection must be carried out for steam traps and valves and leaks should be attended to immediately.5 Orifice size Inch 1/8 1/4 1/2 5.

if the traps do not have built-in trap strainer. Drip trap stations must be installed ahead of any risers. All equipment using a modulation regulator on the steam supply must provide gravity condensate drainage from the steam traps. occurs when hot or pressurized condensate passes through the traps and the water flashes off a certain percentage of the steam due to instant pressure change. It may indicate a condition which could produce serious consequences including damaged vents. the bubble collapses. Lifts in the return line must be avoided. This condition can crush float balls and destroy thermostatic elements in steam traps. This is called ‘Flash steam loss’. In fact. Water hammer in steam lines is normally caused by the accumulation of condensate. Two types of water hammer can occur in steam systems: • The first type is usually caused by the accumulation of condensate (water) trapped in a portion of horizontal steam piping. This is caused by a steam bubble forming or being pushed into a pipe completely filled with water. or slug. Turbulence builds up until the water forms a solid mass. . at the end of the main and every 100 to 150m along the steam piping. Water hammer One of the most common complaints is that a system sometimes develops a hammer-like noise commonly referred to as water hammer. To eliminate this problem it is essential to install pipe-line strainer.15 1/8 1/4 1/2 60 240 960 150 600 2400 42 1/8 1/4 1/2 Strainers Performance of steam traps decreases due to dirt and scale accumulation. Cavitation is the type of water hammer that usually occurs in condensate return lines or pump discharge piping. Drip traps must be installed ahead of all steam regulator valves to prevent the accumulation of condensate when the valve is in a closed position. Another type of loss observed in steam traps. The velocity of the steam flowing over the condensate causes ripples in the water. the wall of water comes back together and the force created can be severe. • Precautions to prevent water hammer in steam lines are: • • • • • Steam pipes must be pitched away from the boiler towards a drip trap station. The second type of water hammer is actually cavitation. traps. In this case it is recommended to use pressurized condensate recovery system and / or flash steam recovery system for complete recovery of thermal energy. the force can be great enough to break the back of the elbow. filling the pipe. Strainers are fitted before the traps. “y” strainers installed in steam lines should have screen and dirt pocket mounted horizontally to prevent condensate from being collected in the screen area and being carried along in slugs when steam flow occurs. This slug of condensate can travel at the speed of the steam and will strike the first elbow in its path with a force comparable to a hammer blow. regulators and piping. As the trapped steam bubble looses its latent heat. It is advisable to check the strainers at regular intervals.

. • • • Reduction in the heat transfer area to the extent of space occupied. Good quality steam means dry moisture-free steam. The wet steam contains particles of water droplet which have not evaporated. Drop in heat transfer rate due to reduction in effective steam temperature (based on the partial pressure of the steam in the steam air mixture). gets carried away with the steam.Steam quality The quality of steam also determines the performance of steam distribution system. carbon dioxide and other non-condensable matter. However. A moisture separator at the entrance of the equipment separates the droplets and drains them through traps. It is therefore very important to remove the non-condensables through air vents provided at proper location and also installing appropriate type of steam trap. The steam also gives away latent heat and becomes wet. free from air. Super-heated steam on the other hand does not contain any moisture. These droplets do not contribute to heat transfer and it is essential to remove it from the steam. if not removed properly. Additional resistance to heat transfer due to formation of barrier layer. The problems associated with non-condensable can be summed up as under. The wetness can also be reduced by resorting to pressure reduction of steam prior to its use. some moisture is picked up while de-superheating the steam. Salient Points • • • • • • • • • • • • • • Replace damaged / wet insulation Avoid steam leakages Provide dry steam for process Utilizing steam at lower acceptable pressure for the process Ensure proper utilization of directly inject steam Minimize heat transfer Use condensate recovery system Insulate all steam pipelines and hot process equipment Recover flash steam Maintain at least 125 mm per meter of falling slope for steam piping Provide drain points at lower points in the main and where the steam main rises. Drain points in the main lines should be through an equal tee connection only The branch lines from the mains should always be connected at the top Insure supports as well as an alternation in level can lead to formation of water pockets in steam. leading to wet steam delivery. Moisture in steam Saturated steam generated in packaged boiler contains 2 to 5% moisture. It is essential to adopt all possible measures including new technologies to optimize the steam distribution costs. Non-condensable in steam Dissolve oxygen in the boiler feed water. while steam from coil type nonIBR boilers could have 10 to 60% moisture. Steam economy greatly depends on delivering the steams through properly designed steam distribution lines. The bicarbonate salts in the feed water generate carbon dioxide which is also transported with the steam. while being transported through distribution system. Conclusion Steam is common and convenient mode to convey energy and is used in almost all major industrial processes.

Ltd. and Humphreys & Glasgow Consultants Ltd.Authors Pranjal Dutta. His areas of interests are Energy Auditing and Energy Management. He was earlier associated with Vulcan Engineers Ltd. MSc. is working as Project Engineer in Senergy Consultants Pvt Ltd.Tech (Energy Technology). Digital Electronics and Electronics Communication. Asian Paints (I) Ltd. He has over 23 years of experience in the field of project engineering. Reference Book: Chemical Industry Digest December 2006 .Tech (Chem Engg) is currently Director of Senergy Consultants Pvt. Ravindra M Dtar. M. B.

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