Heat Management Systems: Install them Early, Install them Right

By Julie Ahner and Larry Kapalin | January 24, 2007
Today, a typical U.S. biodiesel plant is built to produce in excess of 30 MMgy at an approximate cost of $75 million. With such high price tags and production targets, it is extremely important from a capital cost perspective to ensure that these facilities are well-designed and properly engineered before construction begins-thereby eliminating change orders and costly redesigns, as well as minimizing operating costs.

One area that's often overlooked during the planning stages for a typical biodiesel plant is the facility's requisite heat management system. Many of the plant's inputs and outputs-soybean oil, animal fats, glycerin, wastewater and process condensate-rely on heat-trace cables, pipe insulation, tank pad heaters, and control and monitoring systems to provide the necessary warmth to maintain process temperatures and to protect against freezing.

When construction of a biodiesel plant is rolling along in mid-summer, it's easy to see why planning for heat control isn't usually at the top of the general contractor's list. This is unfortunate because the earlier in the plant construction lifecycle that a heat management system is considered, the more feasible it is to design an optimized, cost-effective system.

On many large projects, the heat management system is an afterthought left to the on-site electrical contractor to design and install. Because heat tracing isn't the electrical contractor's core expertise, the final results can be something less than desirable. As process lines that require heat get missed, valves and pumps that require extra heat get only a little, and insulation optimization isn't reviewed. Subsequently, plant production often suffers, and the long-term costs of running the system are higher than necessary.

That's why specialized heat trace integrators can add value. Tyco Thermal Controls is a leading heat trace integrator specializing in heat management system design, implementation and optimization. Just as most specialty businesses offer expertise in a particular field, the professionals at Tyco Thermal Controls are experts in heat management. It's their mission to determine a biodiesel plant's heat management requirements. It's their job to design, install and even maintain (if desired) a facility's heat management system.
A common mistake in considering a heat management system is to assume that it's nothing more than a piece of heating cable taped to a pipe. In actuality, a proper heat management system is highly engineered and optimized for maximum efficiency and long-term cost savings. In large part, that's achieved by adhering to several key criteria:

--Heat delivery methods: There are several types of technologies to choose from-such as self-regulating, constant wattage, mineral insulated, etc. Each offers different benefits that can be selected by an expert to meet the specific needs of a plant.

--Control and monitoring: Whether utilizing mechanical thermostats or electronic controllers, a proper control strategy will ensure a smooth-running process and minimize production cycle downtime.

--Utility distribution: This not only provides efficiency in determining power requirements, but it saves time and money, too. Power distribution and control panels should be strategically placed to lower installed costs, as well as operating costs.

--Insulation selection: Often overlooked or ignored, the proper insulation choice may have the greatest positive impact on installation and energy costs. For example, if a six-foot pipe must be maintained to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, 2.5 inches of insulation may be required. But if that same six-foot pipe only needed to be maintained to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, perhaps only 1.5 inches of insulation would be needed. Likewise, an increase in insulation thickness can help drop the wattage amount required. However, for an existing facility to be retrofitted with a heat management system, this can be difficult and more costly to install.

--Instrument winterization: Small instrumentation lines may require pre-traced, pre-insulated tubing bundles for process temperature maintenance or freeze protection when transitioning into an enclosure.

Julie Ahner is Tyco Thermal Controls' industrial product marketing manager. Larry Kapalin is Tyco Thermal Controls' Midwest sales manager.Tyco Thermal Controls is a global provider of heat-tracing, wiring, snow melting and deicing, leak detection, temperature measurement, and specialty heating products and services. The company's range of products and services include consultation, design, installation and maintenance solutions for applications in the industrial, commercial and residential markets. For more information on heat management system design and optimization, call Tyco Thermal Controls at (800) 545-6258, e-mail info@tycothermal.com or visit www.tycothermal.com.
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