Improving the efficiency of steam traps

A look at how a facility in suburban Chicago improved energy efficiency and reduced natural gas costs by identifying several energy saving potentials.

By Gas Technology April 19, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

International-Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT) is an industry leader in the handling and storage of bulk liquid products. Founded in 1939, the company has largely been a family-driven enterprise and, after a series of acquisitions in the early 21st Century, were acquired in November 2020 for $2.65 billion by Riverstone Holdings LLC.

Headquartered in New Orleans, the company owns and operates 19 terminals in the United States and Eastern Canada with an emphasis on terminals that handle petroleum, biofuels, commodity/specialty chemicals and more for customers including refiners, commodities traders, and chemical manufacturers and distributers. The company continues to look for ways to improve their production and operations.

Their Lemont, Ill., facility, located in about 30 miles Southwest of Chicago, is a high-production facility involved in blending and packaging antifreeze to storing petroleum products.

In 2019, Matt Burbach, terminal manager at IMTT, identified some major operational efficiency improvements that could save money in the long term. He was able to identify key natural gas-saving opportunities. Working with a Nicor Gas-approved contractor, Burbach learned the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program had offerings that could benefit the facility. The program team partnered with Burbach and the contractor to provide support, working toward IMTT Lemont’s goals to be more sustainable, conserve energy and save money.

As steam lines cool slightly, they build condensation, which is supposed to be removed by steam traps. The hottest steam is dry steam, and it is important to remove as much condensation as possible to make the heating process more efficient. Burbach noted the facility was using a lot of steam during the heating process. However, looking around the facility, there were many steam traps that were not working properly.

Burbach, along with the Nicor Gas Energy Efficiency Program team, identified and replaced 147 steam traps, which was almost half of the traps within the facility. Not only was IMTT able to improve its heating operations, they are saving around $300,000 a year in natural gas costs and annual energy savings of 660,000 therms.

How IMTT created a successful plan

Burbach knew being able to provide a solid case for investing company resources into energy efficiency upgrades would be important and presenting the Nicor Gas incentives was key to obtaining project approval.

“You have to do the legwork and provide them with savings opportunities they can validate,” Burbach said. “I let them know Nicor Gas was helping us improve our bottom line. We spent the money that we needed to spend and got paid back in the end.”

The program team and the contractor worked together to calculate and verify potential energy and money savings. Nicor Gas provided $43,000 in incentives for the project.

[subhead] Improving energy efficiency

IMTT applied steam traps to its ac fault system and found another efficiency opportunity in its calcium chloride system. Calcium chloride – salt water – can be burnt. The pipelines that run in between tanks to production areas were steam traced. It was an open, 120-lb. steam which is about 370°F. The product, however, had a burn point of 235°F. By regulating the supply down to five pounds and 230°F, they would not reach a point that would burn the products. This allowed IMTT to trap the trace and eliminate the open atmosphere venting of their energy.

Burbach noted the ease of the process has led their team to explore three custom projects. They are looking at installing insulation jackets on exposed valves in the boiler house. In addition, they also will be installing economizers on a 400-HP and 600-HP boiler.

IMTT also is looking into pipe insulation and other potential energy-saving projects, as well.

“If we’re able to reduce and improve our cost, it helps everyone in the long run,” Burbach said. “It contributes to reducing the entire supply chain and the bills of our end users. These programs help us do our part to positively impact the big picture. From easing global warming to reducing our carbon footprint, we’re in it to try to do what’s right for our environment.”

International-Matex Tank Terminals (IMTT)

Nicor Gas

– This appeared in the GasTechnology supplement.