Steam: How to Profit from a Natural Output

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 02:11 pm

Steam is a natural output in many production settings. The hidden advantage is steam can be captured for further use and savings. Steam is a valuable resource and one that’s already a byproduct. Learn how to harness it, save money, and become more efficient.

What is a steam trap?

Steam trapping uses a valve in a system, such as a boiler tank, to hold in the steam. Holding in the steam forces it to release its heat and condense into water, which is then released through the valve. The first main benefit of steam trapping is that natural heat (or energy) is saved. The second benefit is that steam lines are kept free of water, which can cause expensive damage.

There are three main types of steam traps:

  1. Thermostatic: These steam traps sense the temperature of the condensate that steam produces. When it senses the temperature of the condensate has lowered enough, it will allow the fluid to pass through. When the heated steam reaches the trap, it will close automatically at the higher temperature.
  2. Mechanical: Steam traps using the mechanical method are the inverted bucket traps and ball float traps, both sensing the density of the steam versus the condensate and only allowing the condensate to pass through.
  3. Thermodynamics: These steam traps use the formation of the steam compared to the condensate to judge when the fluid can be released. When condensate is produced, it’s released through a bellow that contracts and opens the valve.

There are also three functions of steam traps:

  1. Steam trapping helps remove air and other non-condensable gases from the system. Otherwise, heat transfer will be affected when steam isn’t able to enter the equipment.
  2. Steam traps contain steam, a valuable resource due to its heat/energy and the fact that it’s a natural byproduct of production, so it doesn’t cost more on top of what’s already being manufactured.
  3. Steam trapping gets rid of condensate or water. Water can damage steam lines by causing water hammer, loss of heat, and an obstacle for steam to pass through.

When is steam produced?

Steam can be produced naturally and purposefully in many industries. For example, the food and beverage industry produces steam as it uses heat to purify food and drink for consumption. Similarly, the pharmaceutical industry uses steam to ensure their vaccines are safe. Any industry using boilers will also produce steam since the production requires so much heat. This means there’s the potential for additional savings, improved efficiency, and more production if a steam pressure system is used.

Types of steam and their applications

Saturated steam (or dry steam)

Saturated steam is the most common type in an industrial setting due to its heat transfer qualities. It’s an asset where heating applications are concerned. This steam type can be created quickly and easily controlled by managing the pressure. Dry steam is created by boiling water within a boiler heater. Increasing the heat will vaporize the steam, removing any moisture from it.

Superheated steam

This kind of steam is used more for steam generation to power turbines. It’s not as efficient as saturated steam when it comes to heat transfer. This steam is even dryer than saturated steam so it can be used in steam turbines where cooling may be an issue. Because this steam is so dry, there’s a lower chance of it cooling into a condensate and affecting the system. 

Usually, electric heaters are used to increase the temperature enough to result in this level of dryness. Superheated steam, as the name suggests, starts as saturated steam, but is heated even more to reach this state.

Culinary steam

This type of steam is found in the food and beverage industry. Where consumption is concerned, production must remove contaminants and corrosion. Culinary steam will pass through filtration systems and corrosion inhibitors to ensure it’s safe for use.

Filtered steam

Similar to culinary steam, filtered steam goes through a filtration process to remove condensates, contaminants, and impurities. It goes through such a rigorous process because filtered steam is normally used for sterilization.

Pure steam

On the cleaner side of steam production are pure steam and clean steam. Pure steam is generated through electric feedwater and boiler heaters. It’s used when sensitive and sterile conditions are crucial, such as in the production of injectables in the pharmaceutical industry. Pure steam production requires more rigid conditions. 

The feedwater must be double-osmosed and the boiler must use stainless steel materials to prevent impurities. Due to these restrictions and conditions, pure steam is a more expensive steam to produce.

Some applications for pure steam include organic food production so consumables don’t contain chemicals; pharmaceutical production to ensure safe materials are injected/ingested; and sanitation where sterilizing equipment is key, such as in tattoo parlors, dental offices, and hospitals.

Clean steam

This kind of steam has a slightly lower purity grade than pure steam. While a stainless steel boiler is still required, the feedwater can be demineralized or osmosed water. Clean steam can be used in similar ways to pure steam where it doesn’t have to be so strictly sterilized. Like in the pharmaceutical industry, clean steam is pure enough for non-injectables, not injectables. Just like pure steam, it doesn’t include additives or chemicals.

Utility steam (or plant steam)

This type of steam can be categorized as saturated steam. It’s produced from conventional boilers and can be used to create other types of steam. For example, it’s a precursor to filtered steam. This kind of steam wouldn’t be used in the fragile environments found in medical or sterile settings.

Flash steam

Lastly, utility steam, when produced in specific ways, is flash steam. Using high pressure and high temperatures, flash steam is created quickly. While the method is different, it can be used in the same ways as utility steam.

How to profit from steam trapping

Before steam trapping, any steam that’s produced is released without use. Since steam is heat and energy, that’s a waste of valuable resources. Especially considering that many of these examples and industries require heat to function, it makes sense that saving additional heat and using it will help with production efficiency and production costs.

  1. Atomization uses steam injection to improve combustion efficiency where necessary. More complete combustion means there’s less risk of carbon deposits, lower environmental impacts, and easy pumping.
  2. Steam drying is more efficient and cost-effective than hot air drying. Using steam that’s already being produced helps evaporate other moisture with lower energy costs and reduced drying time.
  3. HVAC systems are optimized using steam pressure systems to build humidity. In medical or sterile environments, that humidity is used for sterilization. The traveling steam and humidity in HVAC systems also improve heat transfer.
  4. Turbines are driven by steam production, an efficient way to generate power. Capturing steam and using it in turbines increases energy production that can be transferred to other parts of the facility.


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