Vortex Tube Thaws Steam Connections on Bulk Liquid Sea Containers

Bulk container

Vortex Tube applications for cooling are many and a wide variety. Heating applications though, do tend to be a bit more elusive. That being said, I thought I would highlight a recent application where vortex tubes were used to thaw out steam lines that are used to heat up fluids in bulk sea containers.

We have all seen them running up and down the expressways, the large, bulk liquid containers that have the multi-modal capability to be on a ship, a train or a truck going down the road. I personally never thought about what the users of these tanks must do in order to get the liquid inside up to certain temperatures to allow the material inside to flow easily. I live in the Midwest area of the US, so we get really cold weather for only a few weeks during the year. In the Northern climates though, these bulk container users must have ways to thaw out the product before it can be used. To do this, these bulk containers are equipped with steam lines. Steam is used to heat the liquid inside to get it up to temperature. Once the steam is connected to the lines and circulating, all is well. But before they can get to that point, the steam connections on the tank are usually plugged with ice from condensate from previous use. The previous method was to simply snake a steam line up inside the heater lines to warm them up, but that presented a further problem. That same condensate ends up rolling out the pipe and dripping on the ground, re-freezing and creating a huge slip hazard.

 Steam connections

Above are the typical 1” BSP steam connections found on the bulk tanks.

In order to eliminate the slip hazard, the customer began looking for another method to supply a hot gas to these steam lines to thaw them out. In comes EXAIR with our Vortex Tube selection. The idea is to replace the mini steam line with the hot air output flow from a vortex tube to thaw out the connections. Since the customer has compressed air utility in plentiful supply on site, this makes for a very convenient way to warm up the pipes with a relatively “dry gas”. That being the dry compressed air supplied in the facility. The customer ended up using (2) model 3225 Vortex tubes with Cold Flow Mufflers, to provide the hot air for the steam connections. In fact, the diameter of the hot tube for the vortex tubes was the perfect size to simply slide up inside the steam pipes and hang there until the pipes were free of the problematic ice. There was still some small amount of liquid that re-froze from within the steam pipes, but it was certainly much more manageable than the mess the customer was dealing with previously.

Neal Raker, Application Engineer
nealraker@exair.com

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