Kees Oerlemans from nVent explains how smart electric heat tracing systems and innovative tank insulation are helping tank farm owners react to changing demand
Seismic change is on the horizon for the chemical storage sector. For many years, the industry has relied on oil production as its main source of new investment streams. In 2020, however, this well-established trend was challenged. As a result of the pandemic, worldwide oil production dropped from 100 million bpd to 88 million bpd – a downturn felt even more keenly by the US market, which fell by a staggering 20%1. While both demand and production levels have risen sharply in 20212, this dramatic shift is likely a sign of the market developments to come. With mounting pressure from governments to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and limit global warming to below 2°C in line with the Paris Agreement3, crude oil’s position as the primary growth driver for the tank storage sector seems set to change permanently.
The rise of advanced technologies such as space crafts and drones, growing demand for electric vehicles, and initiatives to repurpose the existing oil refining infrastructure for renewable energy production3, are already helping facility owners bridge the gap. As the petrochemical market pivots to focus on high quality, high margin chemical feedstock products, investment in European tank storage sites is growing, as evidenced by global organizations, including Vopak and Ineos, announcing major new sustainability-focussed storage projects in the past year4,5,6.
New growth opportunities are now opening up for tank farm operators. To take advantage though, owners will have to contend with a range of evolving challenges from storage flexibility demands, to improving energy efficiency and taking site safety to the next level. Smart heat tracing systems, paired with the latest tank insulation strategies, can empower tank farm owners to navigate these issues with confidence, and establish technologically advanced, safe and sustainable sites that will shape the future of the chemical sector.
QUICK SET UP, EASY SCALE UP
To keep up with current demand – and the opportunities it presents – tank farm operators need heat tracing and insulation systems that can be installed quickly. However, to ensure the site can remain agile, scalability should also be a core concern.
Standing seam insulation panels, featuring polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation materials, offer the ideal solution. Unlike traditional mineral wool insulation systems, they can be prefabricated off-site while the tank walls are being raised at the facility. This means the insulation can be installed immediately following tank construction, without the need for scaffolding as the panels can be easily lifted into place with a cherry picker or hanging basket. When compared with conventional insulation, PIR systems can reduce installation time by up to 30%7.
To further fast-track the installation process, the latest smart heat tracing systems feature intelligent hazardous area control panels which can be installed in-field close to pipe circuits, as opposed to a central control room. This seemingly simple feature can reduce the heat tracing system’s power infrastructure and communications cabling requirements by 20% or more for lower total installed cost and faster installation7. In addition, smart heat tracing controllers allow site owners to easily incorporate new piping circuits as their facility expands by seamlessly integrating the new local controllers with the existing control system.
KEEPING ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS DOWN
Energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon emissions are fast becoming primary concerns for chemical producers when selecting a tank storage facility. Investing in the most efficient tank insulation and heat tracing controls can also help tank farm operators offer a more cost-effective storage solution to potential customers – especially considering that tank and pipe heating are often charged at additional cost, on top of rental rates.
Providing a more effective and hard-wearing alternative to traditional mineral wool insulation, high-quality standing seam insulation panels are the best option for facility owners looking to maintain tanks at a consistent temperature, sustainably. In contrast to traditional systems, modular PIR insulation features a closed-cell structure that does not require an adhesive agent to keep fibres locked together. As such, PIR does not degenerate or lose insulation capacity over time, meaning no extra heating power is needed to mitigate increased heat loss towards the end of the tanks’ lifetime. In a direct evaluation of two newly installed systems, PIR materials represent superior performance when compared with mineral wool, thanks to their lower thermal conductivity rating8. The overall result is a storage facility that offers the environmental responsibility producers increasingly expect, with the economic benefits they need to maintain that all-important competitive edge.
ACCURATE CONTROL FOR ADAPTABLE TANK STORAGE
Regardless of size or location, precise temperature control of chemical fluids during transport to and from loading sites is a foundational consideration. At their most basic level, in-feed line heat tracing systems must be able to maintain the optimum temperature for product quality and safety. However, to allow customers to shift their storage strategies in line with commodity prices and market demand, site owners also need pipe heat tracing circuits that can be reconfigured quickly to accommodate any type of critical liquid.
The most advanced heat-tracing controllers deliver flexibility via a combination of tried and tested line-sensing temperature monitoring, and more recently introduced ‘true power’ control. This feature enables the heat tracing system to measure voltage and current in real-time and to adjust the power output to match the precise temperature requirements of any chemical product – both for storage and transportation. The high degree of accuracy represents an improvement on the performance of more traditional heat tracing controllers, minimising the risk of excessive power use while also allowing for greater cable standardisation across the entire installation. The feature also offers facility managers the benefits of variable voltage capabilities, allowing them to better manage differences between the initial design and the system as-built and to ensure critical pipe infrastructures can be quickly and accurately configured to transport any chemical fluid.
MAXIMISING RELIABILITY AND ROI
To keep tanks operating profitably throughout their entire service life, facility owners need durable, low-maintenance insulation solutions that can withstand increasingly harsh and unpredictable weather conditions.
When seeking to maximise the longevity of any tank installation, particularly in coastal regions, a crucial consideration is corrosion under insulation (CUI). CUI can potentially reduce the life of a tank down from 40 to as few as 10 years, all the while damaging profitability further through the deterioration of insulation performance and the need for frequent maintenance.
Standing seam PIR insulation systems are helping to make CUI a challenge of the past, with their dense structure, unique double folded seam methodology and seamless interlocking installation method which removes the need for outer screws. PIR standing seam insulation panels therefore absorb far less water over their lifetime and are more resilient to even the worst weather conditions, delivering reliable and long-lasting insulation performance.
KEEPING TANKS SAFE AND SOUND
These advanced tank insulation and heat tracing solutions must also improve site safety. With companies investing in more large-scale storage facilities for sensitive or hazardous chemicals, tank farm owners are searching for systems that can help the industry expand production, without increasing risks to people, property or the environment.
In addition to true power control, smart heat tracing controllers are also equipped with intelligent features like self-test functions, bespoke alarms and continuous system monitoring, which mean faults are identified and resolved before they can threaten site safety. Meanwhile, the long-term durability and corrosion resistance offered by standing seam insulation minimises the risk of tank fissures or harmful chemical leaks, protecting the health of workers on site, as well as precious natural landscapes.
PUTTING A LID ON IT
Even with these current challenges, the future is looking bright for the chemical storage sector. Demand for specialist chemicals to fuel new technologies and renewable energy generation projects is already driving investment, and as decarbonisation efforts continue, further growth opportunities are on the horizon. The watchword for tank farm operators must be ‘adaptability’. Flexible, energy efficient storage sites will play a critical role in helping the chemical sector navigate fluctuations in price and policy. Smart, adaptable solutions like the RAYCHEM heat-tracing systems offered by nVent Thermal Management can help to futureproof tank sites. Armed with these technologies, tank farm owners can capitalise on expanding demand, and be confident that their facilities are primed to thrive, whatever the future may hold.
- WorldBank, The oil market outlook: Lasting scars from the pandemic, October 2020, https://blogs.worldbank.org/opendata/oil-market-outlook-lasting-scars-pandemic#:~:text=Oil%20production%20in%20the%20United,10%25%20below%20its%202019%20level.&text=As%20a%20result%20of%20low,in%202021%20relative%20to%202020.
- International Energy Agency, Oil Market Report – June 2021, https://www.iea.org/reports/oil-market-report-june-2021
- Davies, J., Dolci, F., Klassek-Bajorek, D., Ortiz Cebolla, R. and Weidner Ronnefeld, E., Current Status of Chemical Energy Storage Technologies, EUR 30159 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2020, doi:10.2760/280873, p4
- VOPAK, NEWS: Vopak invests in storage capacity for waste based feedstocks in the Port of Rotterdam, Feb 2021 https://www.vopak.com/newsroom/news/news-vopak-invests-storage-capacity-waste-based-feedstocks-port-rotterdam
- INEOS, INOVYN to play vital role in ambitious ‘power to methanol’ project to produce sustainable methanol and reduce CO2 in Antwerp, May 2020, https://www.ineos.com/news/shared-news/inovyn-to-play-vital-role-in-ambitious-power-to-methanol-project-to-produce-sustainable-methanol-and-reduce-co2-in-antwerp/
- INEOS, INEOS at Antwerp commits to staying ahead of EU climate and energy targets in the drive to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, November 2020, https://www.ineos.com/news/ineos-group/ineos-at-antwerp-commits-to-staying-ahead-of-eu-climate-and-energy-targets-in-the-drive-to-net-zero-greenhouse-gas-emissions/
- nVent RAYCHEM, 2020
- Greenspec, Insulation materials and their thermal properties, https://www.greenspec.co.uk/building-design/insulation-materials-thermal-properties/
For more information:
Kees Oerlemans is the regional sales manager – North Europe at nVent Thermal Management
For RAYCHEM Industrial Heat Tracing systems: Kees Oerlemans, Regional Sales Manager, North Europe, Kees.Oerlemans@nVent.com
For Trac-Loc Tank insulation systems: Peter Boon, Business Development Manager – Tank Farms, EMEAI, Peter.Boon@nVent.com