Fueling greater efficiency with modular, on-demand boilers

Efficiency, cost savings a key benefit to oil and gas transportation issues.


Efficiency, cost savings a key benefit to oil and gas transportation issues. Courtesy: Miura BoilersWhen it comes to following basic business principles, the oil and gas industry is no different from any other: reducing energy, increasing operational efficiency and cutting costs are critically important to any successful enterprise. That's what makes the trend toward modular, on-demand boilers a smart choice for oil and gas operators.

Today's modular, on-demand boilers can make a significant improvement in the operations of rail terminals used for oil transportation. Replacing the old, large, inefficient boilers from an earlier era with today's more efficient modular units can mean greater overall efficiency and cost savings that travel straight to the bottom line.

The evolution of boiler technology

How do these new systems differ from the traditional units we all know and likely still have? Let's start with a look back. From as early as the 18th Century, steam boilers have been extremely large pieces of machinery that use lump coal as fuel and achieve very inefficient pressure output. In contrast, today's more efficient units generate higher steam pressure while using fuels such as natural gas, propane, fuel oil or biogas. These newer boilers are becoming increasingly popular in a wide range of industries due to a higher efficiency output, lower energy consumption, and unique compact, space-saving designs.

Conventional boilers in the oil and gas industry

With the decline of pipeline capacity, the oil and gas industry is becoming increasingly dependent on rail transportation. According to the Association of American Railroads, over 11 billion gallons of crude oil were shipped in 2013, and crude imports from Canada by rail have increased by 1,900% since 2011. When moving this type of freight (heavy oil such as bitumen, black wax or paraffin-based oil) it takes a great deal of steam energy for liquefaction while loading and unloading the rail cars to get the product to its final destination.

Problems arise when the trains don't run on time. The journey from Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries, for example, takes several days, with the oil solidifying along the way. Delays en route can cause unpredictable arrival times, and more often than not, the destination terminal will not know the exact ETA or number of incoming rail cars until it arrives. Regardless of inconvenience and unpredictability, the terminal has to be ready to heat and unload the oil quickly at all times.

Because traditional boilers require up to 90 minutes to become fully operational, the inclination is to fire them up well before the incoming train arrives. Since arrival times are never guaranteed, terminals are forced to keep their boilers running nearly full-time in anticipation of need. This means burning through fuel, and money. This is a prime example of when modular and on-demand systems make a significant difference on the bottom line.

The advantages of modular, on-demand boilers

Modern on-demand systems can go from ice cold to red hot in just about five minutes—which significantly reduces the amount of lost fuel and energy anticipating arrivals. They are ready to go when you need them.

Just as important, these units achieve even greater efficiency due to their modular design: They can share capacity for load demand among multiple compact units. If comparatively little capacity is needed, fewer boilers can be activated. If more steam is required, you simply activate more boiler modules. Even if the terminal operator doesn't know whether an incoming train will contain 30 cars or 120 cars, not only can he control when to start them up, but can control the exact energy and capacity needed on a case-by-case basis.

In addition, when the demand for steam power rises and falls while workers are attaching and detaching the steam hoses to and from the train cars, modular, on-demand boilers can respond much more quickly and efficiently. They offer the same operational efficiency regardless of load. Low-fire or high-fire, it's all the same. In contrast, a conventional boiler has a four-to-one turndown with a severe impact on efficiency below 50% firing.

Of course, many rail terminals operate with redundancy in the event of a system failure or simply to assure the ability to unload oil quickly without paying penalties to any parties involved. With conventional boilers, redundancy represents a major investment; from the hardware itself, to space requirements and fuel costs if multiple units need to be run simultaneously.

On-demand systems also are more efficient simply by the nature of their design. While a conventional boiler will lose 240,000 Btu/hr. through its exterior, on-demand units lose just 60,000 Btu/hr. when fully operational. That's a significant difference. Imagine leaving your car running overnight to be ready for you in the morning: that should help you visualize the amount of energy wasted with traditional units.

On-demand boiler systems are managed by a master controller to help achieve further energy-efficiency. The controller uses a sensor to monitor steam demand, automatically bringing the boilers online, regulating their output, and shutting them down as they are needed. Advanced software is used to send commands to individual terminals to adjust the boilers' operation for maximum overall efficiency.

As the Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) put it in a recent bulletin, "Modular systems are more efficient because they allow each boiler to operate at or close to full rated load most of the time, with reduced standby losses."

The compact size of on-demand systems also offers design flexibility that is simply not possible with larger systems. On-demand boilers require only about half the space of conventional boilers. They also do away with the space requirements of standard tube-pull and door-swing designs.

Boiling it down

Today's efficient modular, on-demand systems are gaining acceptance far beyond the train terminals of the oil and gas industry. They are also being used in a broad range of other industries and facilities. These include chemical and food-processing plants, laundry services, distilleries, hospitals and breweries, to name a few. Installations are significantly reducing energy costs and the bottom line as compared to operating traditional boiler systems.

Cost savings of 20% or more is common across the board. That's a key attribute to their increasing demand in a variety of industries.

Selecting the right kind of boiler system means considering the big picture: fuel costs, space design and energy consumption. Regardless of the industry or application, the use of modular, on-demand systems is increasing for all the right reasons.

Doug MacMaster is senior director of Eastern U.S. operations and national account manager for Miura America Company North America. MacMaster has a B.S. in hospitality management from Widener University and has pursued MBA studies at Blue Ridge Technical College.

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Safer human-robot collaboration; 2017 Maintenance Survey; Digital Training; Converting your lighting system
IIoT grows up; Six ways to lower IIoT costs; Six mobile safety strategies; 2017 Salary Survey
2016 Top Plant; 2016 Best Practices on manufacturing progress, efficiency, safety
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Future of oil and gas projects; Reservoir models; The importance of SCADA to oil and gas
Big Data and bigger solutions; Tablet technologies; SCADA developments
Automation modernization; Predictive analytics enable open connectivity; System integration success; Automation turns home brewer into brew house
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas for tomorrow's fleets; Colleges and universities moving to CHP; Power and steam and frozen foods

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Motion control advances and solutions can help with machine control, automated control on assembly lines, integration of robotics and automation, and machine safety.
Compressed air plays a vital role in most manufacturing plants, and availability of compressed air is crucial to a wide variety of operations.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
click me