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Case study: BASF

Energy efficiency

Small measures = big impact

More than 100,000 steam traps are installed at the Ludwigshafen site. To avoid energy losses, they must be serviced regularly.

Ulrich Saloga and Detlef Gilles, two employees working for BASF, discuss the importance of steam trap maintenance.

What are steam traps and why are they so important?

Ulrich Saloga: Steam is needed in almost every chemical plant. When the steam temperature drops below a certain point, condensate, i.e. water, forms. This condensate blocks the lines and as a result less steam can pass through. Steam traps are needed to separate condensate and steam. Condensate is heavier than steam, settles down the line and will then be discharged by a steam trap.

What happens if steam traps are not maintained regularly

Ulrich Saloga: To prevent steam from escaping, a steam trap only opens if condensate has collected in the pipe. If, however, the steam trap fails, e.g. due to wear, it blows off steam together with condensate and consequently valuable energy is wasted. Steam traps are normally very robust, sometimes lasting ten years or more. Due to their long service life they are often neglected by many companies.

Detlef Gilles: Unfortunately, faulty steam traps do not let you know if they are defective. Only in case of a serious malfunction will you get an audible noise caused by the flow. Gradual leaks that appear over time due to deposits or wear and tear cannot be detected without proper maintenance. 

There are also steam traps that do not open at all and as a consequence, the pipes will be waterlogged by condensate. The pipes then cool down and the steam can no longer fulfil its thermal function.
In our factory we have a relatively large number of molten products. At 80°C or less, the product solidifies and the production process comes to a standstill.

Ulrich Saloga: The (wet) steam also carries drops of water if the condensate is not discharged. Due to the high speed of these water droplets, they may damage the pipelines in an erosion-like manner. The result would be an unwanted downtime for repairs. This can be avoided with systematic maintenance. But if the damage occurs, it's already too late.


What does a steam trap maintenance program look like?

Detlef Gilles: Thanks to the introduction of an energy management system at BASF in accordance with ISO 50001, the important question of steam trap testing also came up and we decided to establish a regular maintenance schedule.

First, all steam traps must be clearly marked and recorded so that they can be identified more easily. There are around 500 steam traps in this production plant alone.

Once a year, these traps are monitored with a special hand-held ultrasonic device, the TRAPtest VKP from GESTRA in order to identify faulty steam traps or traps that are about to fail and have to be replaced. The process is reliable, fast and pays off financially: The savings are almost €150,000 a year.

Ulrich Saloga: And that is just one section of the plant. If you look at the entire site, the savings are in the millions per year. An estimated 2% of the plant's total steam is lost by steam traps that are not regularly checked and maintained.

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