The Benefits of Steam Tracing vs. Electric Tracing
Written by Horst Thieme, PE, James R. Risko and the Fluid Controls Institute Steam Trap Section
Many articles have been written concerning the advantages of steam over electricity (or vice versa) for tracing applications. A valid case can probably be made for either, depending on the method being promoted by the particular author. These promotional articles have generally been based on strictly economical considerations which represent only part of the story. This article is intended to provide insights into inherent practical advantages of steam which may have been overlooked in the past. Here are some points and simplified piping schematics to consider.
Trace heating is a vital element in the reliable operation of pipe lines, storage and process vessels throughout the process industry. Anti-frost protection for water pipelines is needed both in the processing industries as well as in commercial and domestic buildings. Of equal importance is the tracing of process pipelines which carry liquids that can be pumped only at temperatures that are well above the freezing temperature of water. For example, many oil and fat lines have to be heat traced. In the chemical process industry a multitude of products such as asphalt and sulfur can only be moved through pipe lines at specific temperatures.
Which Tracing Method
The amount of heat energy required to maintain the desired temperatures may influence the type of tracing to be used. (The heat load calculation methods are beyond the scope of this discussion). The choice of tracing method will usually lie between steam, hot liquid or electrical tracing.