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Bitumen is a strong, readily adhesive, highly waterproof and durable material. The demand for bitumen worldwide is estimated to be over 100 million tons per year, adding to the demand for petroleum. This construction material is used across many applications, particularly the surfacing of roads.

For optimal use, bitumen must flow freely from its storage container to the point of application. Unfortunately, bitumen can prove a challenge to handle and work with. Due to its high viscosity, it is notorious for blocking pipelines and causing delays, so using the right heating system in tanks and pipes is therefore essential.

In South Africa, incoloy elements and gas torches are often used to regulate the temperature of bitumen storage and transport systems. While incoloy elements and gas burners have a higher Watt density rating, this often burns the product which leads to unwanted carbon build up and blockages. The build-up can lead to a compromised product when the burnt bitumen mixes with the rest of the product.

bitumen2The heat tracing before the cladding goes over it.

According to Giles Maynard, General Manager of eltherm South Africa, Electrical heat tracing (EHT) is a highly effective heat regulating system for bitumen. It can be used on pipelines, storage tanks, and tankers transporting bitumen, as well as heated hoses which connect storage facilities to point of use.

“With EHT, heat is distributed evenly over tankers, tanks, pipelines, valves and hoses, regulating the temperature and viscosity and ensures the quality of the product is not compromised. With an EHT system, lower maintenance temperatures can also be set which in turn offers significant energy savings and OPEX cost reduction,” he explains.

“There is no doubt that EHT is a feasible and highly effective heating solution for the bitumen industry. At eltherm South Africa we’ve had a number of very successful projects and believe heat tracing forms a crucial component of the bitumen value chain.”

An EHT system was recently installed at a prominent local bitumen supplier where a self-regulating cable was fitted to pipes across the process plant, preheating them to between 120 and 130 degrees Celsius. The heat tracing system regulates the pipe temperature when the plant’s pumps aren’t running, preventing the bitumen product from solidifying and clogging up the pipes. Apart from pre-heating the pipes the heating system also ensures a lower viscosity on the product.

“The plant previously used high watt density elements which led to issues such as the pipe temperature exceeding the required specifications resulting in the degradation of the bitumen and a skin forming inside the pipe. High watt density elements, depending on their quality, have a tendency to fail every few months,” Maynard says.

“One of our heat tracing systems is self-regulating; the temperature can therefore not exceed the stipulated design parameters. Also, due to the good heat distribution inside the pipes, the bitumen is now more viscous which makes it easier to pump, mitigating down time and potential loss of earnings.”

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