Steam Boiler Guide for Chemical Processing Plants
At the heart of any good chemical processing plant is a great high-pressure boiler system. In many ways, boilers are the unsung hero of the chemical processing operation. The boiler system you choose for your chemical processing will have a significant impact on the productivity and efficiency of your operation. Let’s take a closer look at how and why steam boilers are used throughout the chemical industry.
Steam Boiler Challenges for Chemical Process Plants
A steam boiler is essential to the chemical manufacturing process, but plant operators also have to deal with several downsides, especially when using conventional fire-tube boiler systems. The challenges include:
- Inconsistent steam load schedules. Most chemical facilities don’t require steam 24-7, so the best boiler system is one that can fire up and cool down with minimal downtime. The problem with most conventional boilers is that they require hours to produce steam from a cold start, so many plants must keep the boilers operating even when steam is not needed — or expend hours of non-productive time while the boiler heats up. They must essentially juggle between wasting time and wasting fuel.
- Fluctuating load demands. The production of most chemical products may also require different steam loads at different times of the day. Again, the typical boiler system can’t switch on and off in keeping with these varying demands, so plant operations must typically keep the boilers active when other process equipment is offline.
- Difficulties with emissions compliance. Chemical plants are often under pressure to comply with stringent emissions standards. Unfortunately, a conventional boiler system consumes large amounts of natural gas while emitting harmful CO2 and/or NOx gases, often creating compliance issues in the process.
For these reasons, plant operators need to be selective in choosing a boiler system that is as energy efficient as possible, can adapt to fluctuating demands, and hopefully keep harmful emissions to a minimum.
How Boilers Are Used in Chemical Processing
Boiler systems play a key role in the overall, both in the industrial processes of making the chemicals and the plant operation itself.
Heating and Cooling Reactors
Chemical manufacturers typically operate in a cyclical fashion. Whether at the raw materials stage or near the finishing stages of chemical processing, there are times when the reactor needs to be heated up and other times when it should be cooled down. The steam proceeded by the plant’s boiler system plays a key role in making this happen. Steam from the boiler can be an effective way to warm up the reactor to a specific temperature in order to perform certain chemical reactions.
Of course, when reactors need to be cooled down, the boiler can be turned off or lowered so that not as much steam is being produced. This allows the reactor to gradually cool down when necessary. Without the ability to create on-demand steam with the boiler system, it would be more difficult to keep the reactor at the proper temperature based on the needs of the plant at any given moment.
Heating and Cooling the Plant
It’s important not to forget that chemical plants are sometimes 24/7 operations that need to be heated and cooled appropriately — both for the workers on duty and for climate and humidity control for certain chemicals. Since steam boilers are needed during chemical processing, it makes sense to also use that same steam to maintain climate control within the plant itself.
How to Choose a Steam Boiler for a Chemical Plant
Given the challenges chemical manufacturers face as described above — not to mention the types of chemicals being produced (e.g., industrial chemicals, petrochemicals, specialty chemicals, etc.) — plant operators must exercise care and do their research to choose a boiler system suited to the plant’s needs. Here are some basic factors to look at.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Chemical processing companies are usually monitored closely for harmful emissions. It’s impossible for most chemical processing companies to operate without zero emissions, but the boiler system they have in place often plays a key role in the volume of harmful gases that are being exposed to the environment. Boilers that can operate with a lower flame temperature are usually better at limiting NOx and CO2 emissions. This can be helpful in improving air quality and complying with any local or state restrictions that can sometimes result in a fine or other penalties if proper emission levels can’t be maintained. It’s also responsible for any company to limit its environmental impact as much as possible.
Adaptability to Fluctuating Needs
Most chemical companies have steam demands that fluctuate during the course of the day. When it’s time for chemical reactors to heat up, large amounts of steam will be needed. But when it’s time for the reactors to cool down, steam demand drops considerably. This creates the need for a boiler that can start producing steam quickly but can also be shut off easily so that it’s not producing steam when it’s not needed. The quicker the start-up time from a cold start, the better the boiler is for chemical processing. As an added bonus, installing a modular system of several smaller boilers can be much more energy efficient because they can fire up and power down alternately as demand changes.
The maintenance required to keep industrial boilers running at peak levels is often overlooked. If a boiler doesn’t receive regular maintenance and tune-ups, it will become more vulnerable to malfunctions and drops in productivity, both of which end up costing money in the long run. Of course, shutting down a boiler for servicing can sometimes cause the entire operation to shut down, which also costs money. One helpful solution is to choose a boiler system with advanced monitoring and self-diagnostics that can identify and repair small problems before they turn into big, expensive ones.
The Best Chemical Processing Boiler
Several chemical processing companies have found that Miura’s modular, water tube boilers are their best option. For starters, Miura steam boilers are industry leaders when it comes to NOx and CO2 emissions, making it easier to reduce the company’s carbon footprint and meet any emission restrictions. Secondly, Miura boilers are low-maintenance and are equipped with state-of-the-art monitoring systems. Thirdly, the on-demand nature of Miura boilers also makes them ideal for handling the fluctuating demand that many chemical plants have. (Just ask the team at Fujifilm Hunt Chemicals, a chemical processing company that experienced a drastic decrease in their energy footprint after choosing Miura.)
Miura boilers have helped chemical processors to improve their productivity while also reducing their fuel costs because of how efficient they are at handling fluctuating steam needs. Let us show you how a Miura boiler system can enhance your productivity while helping manage your fuel costs and your emissions. For additional case studies and more information, click here to find a Miura representative in your area.