№7 July - August 2010Table of contents Issue Archive
№ 6 (June 2010)
Siberia is very cold, and it’s the science of heat tracing that keeps the oil and gas flowing along pipelines and through collector systems and processing plants.
Since the 1970s, the heat tracing industry has focused its R&D on developing heating-cable systems that can handle ever higher temperatures. But safety was always an issue. In an emergency, even the best high temperature cable could not entirely shut down the electrical current passing through it. Always, some connectivity remained that could cause fire or explosion.
Lothar Moelling, who manages Russian and CIS operations for the U.K.-based industrial heating and cabling company, Heat Trace, says that his company has solved this problem and the industry is, in fact, passing through a new evolution in its development. “We’ve entered the third generation in heat tracing,” Moelling said in a recent interview. “All of our cables are inherently safe and none of our competitors can say that.”
Given their climates, it’s not surprising that Russia and Canada, are the biggest markets globally for heat tracing. “This is why Heat Trace is very much focused on the CIS,” said Moelling, who has worked in heat tracing in Russia and the Caspian for years and ran operations for the U.S.-based Thermon before he joined Heat Trace.
40 Years Ago, Heat Tracing Really Was Rocket Science
“In the first generation, you had low-temperature, self regulating heating cables, then there was a second generation in which the maximum temperature was 230 C, but only for 1,000 hours. These developments happened in the 1980s and 1990s,” Moelling said. “But Heat Trace has now developed a third generation, in which self-regulating heating cables are now inherently safe in all temperature- and power output classes. That means that at their maximum temperature, they do not produce any power output. Only we can claim that.”
“These third generation cables can withstand temperatures of up to 300 C and they remain inherently safe. The connectivity shuts down. These are our ‘FS’ cable families. The 300-degree cable has an outer jacket made of aluminum and that’s why we can use it up to 300 C. We have a patent on this and no one else has this capability.”
The materials science and engineering that created industrial heating solutions came out of the aerospace industry in the 1970s. “Developers found that certain polymers change their resistance as temperatures change. For low temperature cables you need to apply radiation (using a machine called a ‘beamer’ or ‘E-beam’) for material cross linking; for high temperature cables you don’t need radiation because the materials formulae are different,” Moelling said.
“The third generation is a mix of this high and low temperature technology; it is a completely new formula,” he continued. “The Heat Trace company now has a cable that we’re in the process of getting certified that switches off at 40 С. This, for example, is perfect for eye showers and safety showers; even for floor heating.”
“In the past, safety showers are something you seldom saw in Russian plants but now safety is a big issue,” Moelling continued. “If you go into a Rosneft plant you see that they are now displaying information on ‘hours without accidents’ reports. This is a big market for heat tracing. For eye and safety showers you need a cable that shuts off at 40 С. Furthermore those cables in addition to low temperature frost protection cables cover 75 percent of the market.”
“It’s in process-heating that you have to deal with high temperatures – that’s up to 25 percent of the market,” he added.
Since taking up his position as the head of Heat Trace sales in Russia and the CIS, Moelling says he is busy clearing up misinformation in the market. “Two years ago a Chinese company called Wuhu Jiahong New Material Company started to claim it was making Heat Trace cables. This was and is not true though our competitors are spreading this gossip.,” Moelling said. All of our cables are manufactured in the United Kingdom. Nothing is done in China and Heat Trace takes all appropriate legal proceedings against this Chinese company.”
On the other hand, Moelling said, such brand management problems also occur in the heat tracing industry in Russia. A Russian heat tracing company bought heating cable cores (matrix elements) from different suppliers, produced their own final heating cable and used the Heat Trace catalogue identifier. So when problems occurred with their cables, Heat Trace was blamed. “Now, operating out of our Moscow office, we provide our clients directly with technical support. Furthermore, we are looking for local sales partners in different Russian areas and the CIS,” Moelling said.
To Keep Oil Moving in Siberia, There’s a Lot of Heat Tracing
“In Siberia, they use heat tracing on all the flow lines; from the drilling platforms to the collecting stations and from there, further on to the processing unit,” he said. For these very cold regions Heat Trace have all their cables GOST R certified to -65 C and lower.
“There has also always been an application of interest to heat tracing companies and their customers, but it is an application that has been hard to get right – that’s downhole heating.” According to Moelling, one of Heat Trace’s competitors actually developed a cable for downhole heating in the 1980s and 1990s but it failed. Another competitor came up with a product since then but it has not made it available in Russia because the technology is based on intellectual property that is difficult to protect from copying, he added. Continuing, he said that, having taken advantages of our recent research, Heat Trace is going through the certification process currently for a new heating cable for downhole applications.
There is demand for downhole heating in Russia because of the high paraffin content of many Russian crudes. A reliable downhole heating cable will make for cheaper overall production operations. Currently, chemicals are used to eliminate paraffin build-up but those chemicals need to be cleaned from the oil during processing. An alternative is to shut down the well, take out the pipe and clean it; this leads to downtime and lost revenue.