Simple changes can optimise steam systems

31 July 2017

Dave Bird explains how implementing simple efficient measures can significantly reduce energy consumption.

Steam plays an important role in many processes, particularly in the in the food and beverage sector, where a variety of different types of steam may be needed as part of the production process. 

To reduce energy usage, it is necessary to turn to equipment that can optimise the steam system, such as modern heat exchange technology which can deliver significant savings. Systems like these can be easily implemented, helping plant operators improve overall plant safety, reduce energy costs and usage, increase efficiency and remain competitive. Crucially, these improvements don’t require major overhaul. Often simple changes can be made to equipment that is already in the plant.

Steam trap facts
Optimising the efficiency of steam system can be easier than many think. Take, for example, steam traps, which are the most important link in the condensate loop and can help to lower energy consumption, maintain product quality, and increase productivity. Effective steam trapping is, therefore, an essential process that can help users operate sustainably. Needless to say, trap selection must ensure the pressure, condensate load and air venting requirements of the process are met. From trapping stations to specific trap devices, they are considered to be one of the most effective resource-saving measures, so users must take care of them – ideally through scheduled maintenance. 

A reliable and safe supply of hot water is crucial for wash-down and clean-in-place (CIP) processes. Traditionally, the food and beverage industry has relied on large shell-and-tube calorifiers that use steam to heat water. However, these are inherently inefficient and can increase the risk of Legionella. By replacing these storage tanks with instantaneous systems that use compact heat exchangers, plants can achieve energy savings of up to 20%. These systems work by capturing and reusing heat that may otherwise be wasted and can deliver a constant supply of instantaneous hot water at a stable temperature. This reduces the amount of steam required, which in turn cuts fuel demand and the associated CO2 emissions. Plate heat exchangers are easier to maintain and simple to control, which helps keep the system running at optimum efficiency. 

The boiler house is the engine room that powers the whole steam system, making it a vital place to measure efficiency from. The only way to obtain true boiler efficiency is to meter all energy into the boiler (in the gas and feed water) and compare this with the useful energy out of the boiler (in the steam). Energy monitoring systems manage this process, allowing users to quickly react to data they receive.  If the monitor detects that efficiency levels have dropped, for example, the cause can be identified quickly and remedial action taken in order to prevent unnecessary costs arising. The monitoring of systems also enables energy and facility managers to benchmark the efficiency of boiler settings and operating procedures, meaning energy and cost-savings can be effectively measured and implemented. 

All process companies must comply with legislation and some may also be driven by their impact on the environment, so energy efficiency needs to be high on the agenda.  By implementing simple measures to help optimise the efficiency of the system, steam users will not only benefit from reducing their carbon footprint, but will achieve significant cost savings too. 

Dave Bird is food & beverage sales manager at Spirax Sarco.

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