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Efficiency in heating water, oils and other fluids in the food processing industry is realized with electric immersion heaters. Whether flanged, screw plug or over-the-side units, these heating systems function exactly as their names imply: they are directly immersed in the medium being heated. Direct contact between the heating element and the medium ensures minimal energy loss during heating, improved process efficiency and reduced heating time.

Electric immersion heaters deliver operational, economic and safety benefits relative to natural gas heaters. Greater efficiency in generating heat translates into reduced maintenance and associated costs relative to the gas fuel option.

Operation and Maintenance Merits

Electric resistance heating is 100 percent efficient: all of the electrical energy used is converted to heat. Now consider the gas-fueled alternative: burning natural gas is on average only 32-38 percent efficient. Almost 70 percent of the potential energy in natural gas is wasted instead of being harnessed to produce heat.

Figure 1: Electric flanged heater. Source: WattcoFigure 1: Electric flanged heater. Source: WattcoElectric process heaters such as flanged heaters can reach higher temperatures than fuel heaters, enabling them to perform tasks other heaters cannot. Being able to reach and maintain performance at high temperatures gives electric immersion heaters an operational boost over combustion heaters. Portability is another property that renders these units more practical for multiple tank applications.

Natural gas and other fuel-based heating systems require extensive infrastructure, including fuel circulation systems and onsite storage, which electric heaters do not. Gas may not be readily available at every processing facility whereas electricity is accessible at most sites.

A damaged or worn heating element is simply replaced in an electric heater. An entire gas heating system must be replaced if there is a problem with the heating element.

Customization is a simpler, less costly process for electric immersion heaters as they do not rely on a potentially hazardous or restrictive form of fuel such as natural gas. And the risk of contamination along the food processing chain is virtually eliminated since immersion heaters are inherently sanitary. A mishap with a gas system can lead to contamination and extensive downtime.

A Safer Solution

Figure 2: Screw plug immersion heater. Source: WattcoFigure 2: Screw plug immersion heater. Source: WattcoElectric heaters get high marks from environmental and occupational health points of view. No harmful byproducts are produced by these systems, whereas carbon monoxide is released from gas heaters. Fumes from gas systems can accumulate and ignite, with obvious adverse impacts to personnel and equipment.

The scope of safety compliance required for electric heating equipment is considerably less than that for gas systems. Using natural gas or any other form of potentially explosive fuel source requires implementation of specific safety procedures, all of which incur equipment and manpower costs for safety training and certification.

An Economic Edge

Figure 3: Over-the-side immersion heater. Source: WattcoFigure 3: Over-the-side immersion heater. Source: WattcoElectric immersion heaters typically cost 45 percent less than other forms of heaters to manufacture and install. Cost savings stem from quick setup and build times attributable to fewer infrastructure concerns. The less complex safety framework already cited also lowers maintenance costs of electric versus gas heaters.

The capital outlay to install electrical lines feeding an industrial electric heating system will usually be smaller than that needed to install an entirely new fuel system for natural gas.

Whether heating high-grade cooking oil, maintaining the cleanliness of flow systems and pressure vessels or applying other high pressure and fluid heating processes, electric immersion heaters can provide cost-effective service for food processors.