Eight questions to ask before selecting a heat transfer fluid

Brad McCann, Solutia Canada Inc
July 04, 2017
Written by Brad McCann, Solutia Canada Inc
July 4, 2017 - As exciting as new emerging green technology can be, it’s nice to have some pieces of the puzzle already in place when beginning a new venture. Selection of an appropriate heat transfer fluid (HTF) may be one of the ways that biomass producers can limit some of the risk when starting a new operation.

Safe and efficient transfer of thermal energy is essential to the reliability and longevity of a biomass production facility. Although the organic Rankine cycle (ORC) process finds its fuel source from either waste heat recovery (WHR) or biomass, many of the elements of the HTF system are different from project to project. The different factors may include the process and flow rate, temperature and pressure, and equipment and components.

Here are eight questions that plant managers may want to consider before making a significant investment in a heat transfer fluid. The same applies when delegating the purchasing to a third party that may not have a vested interest in the long-term investment in the heat transfer fluid and related services.

  • Where is the HTF fluid made and how long has it been manufactured?
There can be differences in the quality and temperature stability of a heat transfer fluid. Companies with a long track record of seeing their fluids used in a variety of applications will have the best performance data on a particular application. Data on similar applications is essential to a smooth start-up of a new facility. Ask the manufacturer for this information.

  • How secure is the supply of the fluids?
For facilities operating in different areas of the world, access to HTF for emergency purposes could be critical if there are disruptions or delays in global transportation systems or there is an unexpected emergency at the plant. Make sure to understand where the product is being produced and what systems are in place to transport it to your facility.

  • In how many applications has the product proved successful and at what temperatures?
Experienced HTF manufacturers should be able to produce data from other projects that have similar temperature requirements and conditions to those at your plant. If plant expansions are planned, your vendor should be able to help you decide if your HTF will be able to handle higher or different temperatures in the future.

  • Is the product readily available for top-offs?
Canadian biomass plants are often in remote locations. Ask the manufacturer how quickly you can receive top-off shipments.

  • What is the lead time for large fills? How is used fluid returned?
Fluid replacement is a normal part of the lifecycle of a heat transfer fluid. Understand if and how the fluid can be returned, what the costs are, and if there are any financial credits given for returning an HTF. Fluid trade-in programs may minimize the hassle and disposal costs associated with used HTFs and ensure that they are handled in an environmentally responsible way.

  • If problems arise, who is available for fluid review and maintenance advice?
Fluid replacement, reprocessing, or filtration may occasionally be required due to unexpected temperature fluctuations, contaminations, or maintenance gaps. When an HTF has problems, it can shut the entire plant down. Make sure to understand who can help in an emergency and how experienced they are.

  • Are there local distributors who can help?
Many HTF companies offer telephone assistance, but ask about local representatives who can be at your facility in case of an emergency.

  • What about service after the sale?
HTFs can last many years but need to be maintained to make sure they are performing optimally. Make sure your vendor has a system to help your plant engineers periodically check the HTF and offer solutions in the event the chemistry needs to be adjusted. Make sure to determine the availability and cost of such services.

Brad McCann manages the Eastman Therminol heat transfer fluid business in Canada and the distribution business across the U.S. He has helped the green energy movement in Canada, working with key biomass installations as well as WHR, waste management, and biofuel projects. He has worked with lumber companies such as Canfor, Manning Diversified, and West Fraser on their ORC biomass projects as well as academia projects and the many stakeholders that provide engineering and equipment for the ORC biomass operators.

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