Keystone XL Pipeline and Oil Viscosity

  The Keystone Pipeline system is a network of oil pipelines transporting crude oil from Alberta, Canada, through thousands of kilometers, to different United States refineries. Currently owned by TransCanada, the pipeline system was executed in three phases and is operational since 2010.

Keystone XL Pipeline

Keystone XL Pipeline is the fourth phase of construction of the existing Keystone pipeline. XL stands for eXport Limited and is said to have increased the total capacity of crude oil, transferred from Canada to US, up to 1.1 million barrels per day. Proposed in 2008 and expected to be completed by 2013, the Keystone XL Project is still incomplete with a number of controversies surrounding it. The Keystone XL Project is expected to create a lot of job opportunities for the people of US for a year or two. Moreover, the crude oil transferred through these pipelines will be of very high viscosity. While high viscosity oils are an essential ingredient of electrical heaters in petrochemical industries, the same oil is the reason for the pipeline project’s controversies.

Uses of High Viscosity Oil

Viscosity is generally described as a liquid’s resistance to flow. A highly viscous oil is one, which is thick and does not flow easily. The reason for the high viscosity of any oil is the large size of its molecules. The larger the molecular structure, the higher is the oil viscosity. The high viscosity of oil allows it to heat up faster. This is because the viscous oil resists flow and creates friction, adding to the heat element and thereby, cause a rise in temperature quickly. This ability to heat up easily makes viscous oil a popular choice as a thermal carrier in the electrical heaters. The electric heaters are used in a variety of industries due to their inexpensive nature, precision of temperature control and absolute energy conversion. These electric heaters work by converting electrical energy into heat energy. The main types of electric heaters used in the petrochemical industry are:

Immersion Heaters:

Requires the heater to be dipped into the medium that requires heating. A disadvantage of using immersion heaters is the scales build up in large tanks.

Circulation Heaters:

A closed system whereby the material that needs to be heated is passed through tubes and heat is applied externally. The exiting material is of the required temperature. The closed system prevents heat loss, making circulation heaters one of the most efficient electric heaters.

Flanged Heaters:

Flanged heaters are a type of immersion heaters that can be used to heat a multitude of liquids and gases. These heaters use tubular arrangements, welded onto a flange, to transfer heat to the required medium. Flanges can be made out of different materials in order to maintain durability with the use of highly corrosive mediums.