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Top tips for flash point management

Author : Clive Jones, Managing Director, Global Heat Transfer

12 September 2021

There are many treatments for migraines, from cold compresses and over-the-counter medicine, to Botox. However, if you don’t deal with the cause of the migraine, for example stress or dehydration, it will keep coming back. Similarly, when operating a heat transfer system, the key to maintenance is dealing with the problem, not the symptoms. Here Clive Jones, Managing Director at thermal oil supplier Global Heat Transfer, gives his advice on effective flash poi

Gravity fed light ends removal kit – Image: Global Heat Transfer
Gravity fed light ends removal kit – Image: Global Heat Transfer

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

When an issue arises in a heat transfer system, it should be solved as quickly as possible so that it does not negatively impact safety or production or result in unnecessary costs.

Take this example, during fluid sample analysis, engineers identify an increase in light ends in the fluid. Light ends boil and ignite at low temperatures, reducing the ignition point (flash point) of the thermal fluid. This increases the risk of fire, putting the workforce and facility at risk. Engineers can remove these light ends from the system, but if they do not deal with the cause of the problem, light ends will continue to be generated.

So, what are light ends?

Heat transfer fluids operate at very high temperatures for extended periods of time, so if it is not monitored and managed properly, the fluid will begin to degrade and impact production.

When operated at these high temperatures, fluids begin to degrade as a result of oxidation — chemical reactions in the presence of oxygen. Oxidation produces sticky carbon deposits of sludge, which may be corrosive to a heat transfer system. Fluid also degrades by a process called thermal cracking. During cracking, the bonds between hydrocarbon chains break, producing shorter chained light ends that lower the flash point of the fluid. The higher the operating temperature, the more light ends are generated. The rate at which the light ends are produced is also dependent on the oil type and the operating temperature. Hydrocarbon chains can also recombine to form heavy ends that usually cause fouling of the heat transfer system.

Engineers have a duty to manage light ends to reduce the risk of fire in line with legislation such as the Dangerous Substance and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR) and Explosive Atmospheres Directive (ATEX 137).

Light ends removal

Engineers can temporarily install a light ends removal kit (LERK) to remove volatile light ends. Hot thermal fluid flows through the distillation vessel and the gaseous light ends are collected in the liquid phase of the condenser. The light ends are either drained automatically or manually from the system. The system is not open to atmosphere as a hot expansion tank would be. This protects the oil against oxidation ageing.

While removing the light ends will improve safety and productivity, if engineers do not deal with the cause of the formation of these light ends, the problem will reoccur.

Ongoing management

Implementing a continuous preventative maintenance programme can help to slow degradation and improve efficiency. Regular fluid sampling and analysis enables engineers to get an accurate representation of the condition of the fluid in the system and anticipate what could happen in the near future. Engineers can then intervene and carry out maintenance tasks before thermal fluid degradation impacts production, reducing the risk of downtime while also maintaining safe operations.

Permanently installing a LERK also enables engineers to manage light ends on a continuous basis. For example, tailored light ends removal kits are available that are specifically designed to meet system size, specifications and oil type. There are two kinds of LERKs currently available to cater for different system layouts – passive LERKs that use gravity to return the oil to the circuit and a new range of active, floor mounted, LERKs that employ a frequency-controlled pump. These kits can also be fitted to both new and existing systems.

While a cold compress or painkiller might treat a migraine, it is only a temporary fix. Similarly, choosing to use a LERK to remove light ends on a temporary basis is not an effective way of managing flash points in the long term. By implementing a thermal fluid maintenance plan that includes regular fluid sampling and permanently installing a LERK as part of the system, engineers can manage fluid degradation, improve productivity and safeguard the workforce. 

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