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September 19, 2019updated 27 Dec 2021 7:39am

High temperatures, low pressures: Thermal fluid heaters for the food industry

Thermal fluid heaters play an important role in the food industry, providing heat that is vital for processes such as maintaining the temperature of oils and certain foods, as well as hot water for cleaning.

By Annaliese Watkins

Thermal fluid heaters play an important role in the food industry, providing heat that is vital for processes such as maintaining the temperature of oils and certain foods, as well as hot water for cleaning.

These units are also known as hot oil heaters, or heat medium oil heaters (HMO) throughout the O&G industry.

Thermal fluid heaters for vegetable oil production

In the food industry, vegetable oil is particularly important. The oil needs to be closely monitored to ensure that there are no temperature fluctuations, as it can easily become viscous if it is subjected to insufficient levels of heat. Thicker oil has a restricted flow, which creates inefficiencies in production and can compromise production quality.

What makes thermal fluid heaters effective for applications processing vegetable oil is the capacity to achieve consistently high temperatures at low pressures. As thermal fluid heaters are closed-loop systems, they do not need to be topped up during operations. This means that operations are not interrupted and production can continue as planned.

The unit’s burner increases the thermal fluid’s temperature. Heat travels through the unit’s helical coil at the preset temperature and then goes on to heat up the coils of equipment elsewhere in the facility through a single pipeline. Valves manage the flow of hot oil in other equipment, which can be controlled individually to suit requirements.

This adjustable temperature is especially important for foods such as syrups and honey, which need a small amount of heat to reduce their viscosity in order to become soft flow liquids.

One thermal fluid heater is capable of providing enough heat for several different pieces of equipment that are connected by thermal fluid circuits. As a result, the thermal fluid heater can provide enough energy for a large proportion of production.

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High temperatures at low pressures

Thermal fluid heaters achieve reliable temperatures at low pressures, while requiring minimal maintenance. Because they are closed-loop systems, they do not need to be topped up during operations. This means that production is not interrupted and downtime can be mostly avoided.

US-based company Heatec is a specialist manufacturer of thermal fluid heaters, which have outputs of up to 75 million Btu an hour, with smaller capacity models available on request.

Heaters can burn a number of different fuels, with their high levels of thermal efficiency ensuring that very little of this is ever wasted. Units with two-pass helical coils are the most common, with three-pass helical coils and serpentine types also available. Heatec offers both horizontal and vertical units to suit client requirements.

One important factor to bear in mind for thermal fluid heating systems is oxidation. This can cause thermal fluid to deteriorate and sludge to build-up in equipment. However, oxidation can be minimised through use of nitrogen, which will then prolong the unit’s operational life. All Heatec thermal fluid heaters are built to ensure that opportunities for oxidation are restricted.

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