Crude oil and bitumen need to remain heated so that the fluid does not coagulate. Therefore many of the storage containers and pressure vessels at this phase need to be heated. Immersion-type flange heaters and circulation heaters are typically employed here. Electric process heaters can also heat process water to generate steam that is injected into the drilling site in SAGD. Natural gas can also be prone to condensation after it is recovered, but this can be remedied by process heating.
Flange heaters are installed directly into the side wall of the storage or pressure vessel, with the heater elements in direct contact with the oil, gas or fluid. Circulation heaters warm the fluid in a separate, smaller heating chamber and then pump the heated fluid back into the main storage tank. Both types of heaters ensure that the oil can be pumped on-demand, which allows refineries to maintain predictable production schedules. Preheating crude oil prior to being pumped to boilers, furnaces and distillation towers is a prime example of this need.
Downstream from drilling and extraction, in the crude oil refinery process, different products are processed at different temperatures in the distillation tower, including gasoline, kerosene, diesel, fuel oil and bitumen, among other byproducts. To separate products by hydrocarbon weight, an electric immersion heater can be utilized. This is the best choice due to the high efficiency and controllability of electric heating. Additionally, flanged heaters can be inserted into a separator drum to act as a reboiler to create vapor to feed the distillation. All of the fuels and output from this process need to have viscosity management as well, another task for immersion heaters.
These types of heaters are essential in refinery maintenance. Over the side heaters are perfect for tank greasing and cleaning operations. Periodic oil flushing is an essential maintenance task, during which oil is heated and routed through pipe networks at high speed in an effort to dislodge contaminants. This helps prevent clogs and damage to components such as valves and fittings. Oil flushing is common during oil change outs. Hot, deionized water is used to sterilize refinery components, the corrosive nature of which can be diminished by implementing protective sheathes over the heater elements. Immersion heaters can have other unconventional downstream uses, such as for the direct heating of the fluid in closed-loop thermal transfer systems.
Of course, getting petroleum and gas products to the consumer is the end goal, another facet made more efficient and simple thanks to process heating. Pipelines have an obvious need for oil viscosity management, as long expanses of pipeline cross remote stretches of rural land. The most practical means to manage oil viscosity throughout long stretches of pipeline is via electric process heating. The trains that carry crude products across rail lines and the tankers that deliver energy across oceans have the same viscosity management needs. Electric process heaters are also critical for natural gas transport, where they are needed for glycol dehydration. By separating the water component from natural gas at an elevated temperature, operators can store more liquid natural gas in a smaller storage vessel.
Finally, process heaters may be needed in the end-use application as well. Heavy fuel oil types, such as bunker fuel (number 6 fuel oil) and navy special (number 5), need to remain flowing so the fuel can be delivered to the furnace or engine as needed. Electric immersion heaters are a safe, adaptable way to ensure that the fuel is flowing.
Electric immersion heaters are completely invaluable throughout the oil and gas industries. From the point of recovery, throughout the refinery and transportation stages and all the way until the fuel is spent, in some cases, electric process heating makes it possible.
The advantages make it clear why this is the optimal process heating technology:
- Highly efficient direct heating results in minimal energy waste
- Electric heating is highly controllable, safe and easy to work with
- Immersion heaters are adaptable; they offer precision heating options to both corrosive and non-corrosive fluids and gases
It’s not enough to simply buy an electric process heater. It is important to work with a supplier that has product expertise, but also extensive engineering knowledge about the application and industry in which the heater will be used. This ensures that customers realize the maximum possible benefits.
Wattco has delivered personalized heater solutions to the oil and gas industry for almost 50 years, so don’t spend another day with sub-par process heating solutions.