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The key to achieving Net Zero will be finding new ways to heat and power industrial processes

What is Heat Decarbonization? The decarbonization of heat refers to reducing the amount of carbon produced by heating systems. This involves switching to low carbon heating systems in order to provide homes and businesses with 'clean' heat to meet NetZero goals. Fuel options being studied to produce electricity include solar, biofuels, wind, waves, rain, nuclear, tidal, geothermal and more. Using electricity created by a low carbon source to heat steam, to heat buildings, and power mechanical processes or sterilize instruments means that the entire system is clean and green.

Recent studies have shown that in most markets reaching 50 to 60% decarbonization of the power system can be achieved easily by 2040. Reaching 80 to 90% by 2040 would be much more difficult and the last 10% would be a significant investment in time and money. Although 50-60% obviously would be a huge improvement, it is not enough. The UK has committed to Net Zero carbon for heat by 2050. Only by creating and supporting those types of stretch goals will we stand a chance to change enough to make a real difference and only if all stakeholders participate.

In order to make energy and heat decarbonization a reality there need to be many changes at many levels
  • Organizations (including developers and investors of future businesses) need to incorporate this into their thinking and planning right away. It is in their best interest from a financial perspective now (many so-called alternative fuel sources have come way down in price) and in the future (when regulatory requirements will require them to transition anyway).

  • Politicians need to create realistic, easy to understand regulations and incentives for organizations to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. It has to be a carrot and stick approach and it’s not going to be popular with everyone. We need government to stick to their guns and put the future of the planet first.

  • Innovators need to continue to push themselves to find new ways or improve current alternatives to overcome the hurdles to adoption. Make retrofit projects and green energy more convenient and less costly both at inception and in the long term (no one wants landfills full of batteries and toxic solar panels either).

The US Department of Energy has put together an “Industrial Decarbonization Roadmap” and believes it is critical to labour and equity goals and American administration has pledged that 40% of overall benefits will be delivered to disadvantaged communities. Energy efficiency is a foundational, crosscutting decarbonization strategy and is the most cost-effective option for GHG emission reductions in the near term. In addition, electricity generation is the single biggest contributor to climate change, responsible for 30% of all greenhouse emissions. Carbon-free energy certainly promises a myriad of benefits. It is necessary for us to explore multiple sources though. Green energy is notoriously unreliable, what do solar powered processes do on cloudy days? And wind power on still days? Plus biofuel, hydrogen, and nuclear all have their drawbacks.

The impetus will continue to be on the government to fund the heat decarbonization research and development and regulate the use of these alternative fuel sources, all of which can create steam which is and always has been an extraordinarily clean and powerful renewable energy.

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

What are Steam Traps?

Steam is a technology as old as the industrial revolution but is still widely used today. With it's incredible ability to transfer heat, water is heated in a boiler and the resulting steam carries the heat around the plant for various applications. Steam is highly cost-effective and flexible when controlling for it’s temperature and pressure.

Consequently, industries like manufacturing, food, chemical processing and more, continue to favor steam for their heating needs. Moreover, steam is used all around us, from heating in commercial buildings and sterilization in hospitals.

For any steam system to work efficiently, steam has to arrive at the usage point in the correct quantity, quality, temperature, pressure and especially free of air, condensate and other gases. If the water or condensate is not removed, the steam system can get heavily damaged.

Steam trap (shown above) is a device used to pass the resulting condensate and non-condensable gases like air from the steam system into a condensate system. Simply put, steam traps remove water from piping and processes involving steam.

Steam Trap Failure

According to the United States Department of Energy, failure rate for steam traps can be as high as 20%.

Steam traps can fail due to a variety of causes including corrosion and regular wear and tear. They usually fail in two ways: open or close. Open failures, which are more common, mean that the steam trap is letting out steam too frequently leading to higher fuel costs due to wastage. On the other hand, closed failures mean that the steam trap is not opening often enough, leading to an accumulation of water in the pipes which causes even serious problems like water hammers.

Unfortunately, steam traps tend to fail a lot. According to the United States Department of Energy, failure rate for steam traps can be as high as 20%. For a facility with 500 steam traps, that can be a 100 failed steam traps! Putting that into perspective: a small steam trap failure can lead to thousands of dollars in steam loss which translates to over $300,000 lost yearly on 100 failed steam traps.

Steam Trap Inspections

Currently, most of the maintenance on steam traps is done manually and is very reactive. To put the problem in perspective, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends inspecting steam traps with pressures >150 psi weekly but most plants or companies do inspections once every 6 months or annually. The lack of inspections is caused due to the labor intensiveness needed in manual inspections. Field operators are required to walk around the facility to each steam trap and take a frequency measurement using an ultrasound headset. As you can imagine, it is tedious work; additionally, field operators, as in most maintenance practices, are usually more focused on putting out fires (sometimes literally!) leading to steam trap inspections done once or twice a year. Due to situational inspections, steam traps can be failed for weeks or months before being found. At Pulse, we want to replace manual steam trap inspections entirely.

Remote Monitoring with Pulse

Pulse Industrial has created a wireless steam trap monitor which simply clamps on to a pipe next to each steam trap and automatically monitors failure in steam traps 24/7. Monitoring is done using temperature, vibration and ultrasound to get the most accurate reading. The moment a failure is detected, maintenance staff are notified via email or text with information about the location of the trap, type of failure and cost-savings if fixed.

The economics (visualized below) behind the savings from pro-active monitoring are simple: the earlier you catch the failure and fix it, the more steam you save…and you know the rest. Finally, maintenance staff have one less task to check off and are freed up to do more productive work!

Cost of a typical thermodynamic trap at 100 PSIg

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