Pipeline Protection

Courtesy: John Deere Power Systems PowerSource Publication.



Moving oil from British Columbia and Alberta, Canada, to points farther south seems simple enough — just build a pipeline to transport the crude oil. But how do you keep steel pipelines from buckling and breaking in western Canada’s extreme, cold climate when hot liquid moves through it?

The answer came in 1997 when Lorne and Arlene Norton devised a strategy to heat and stretch pipelines in remote locations during construction. Starting a company named Artic Therm, they equipped trucks with flameless industrial heaters and connected flex coils from the heaters to the pipe to warm 1-kilometer (about half mile) sections of pipe at a time during construction. They heat the pipe with forced hot air until it is fully expanded to about a meter (3 feet). Then workers weld the long pipe sections together and bury it.

When oil comes out of the ground, it is about 54.4 degrees Celsius (130 degrees Fahrenheit). As it is pumped through
the pipelines, the thermally warmed and stretched pipes easily accommodate the hot fluids without further expansion. Cold pipelines constructed without this process would start expanding and cause the pipeline to buckle and perhaps break.

The source of heat

From the beginning, Artic Therm bought its flameless heaters from Therm Dynamics of Tea, South Dakota. At the heart of the industrial heater is a John Deere engine.
A John Deere PowerTechTM PWL 4.5L Final Tier 4/Stage IV engine turns a heat plate assembly that agitates hydraulic oil. Through a process called shearing, heat is generated and controlled by the engine rpm. The design also makes use of secondary sources of heat generated by the engine’s exhaust and radiator systems. All total, the TD1000 flameless heater produces over 1 million BTUs of clean, dry heat at temperatures of up to 82 degrees Celsius (180 degrees Fahrenheit).

The TD1000 will eventually replace the TD1200 and has several improvements. The engine meets lower emissions requirements, features a double-wall fuel tank, and has state-of-the-art electronic controls. “Our TD1200 had lots of mechanical controls,” says Rich Koopmann, president of Therm Dynamics. “Our new TD1000 heater has electronic controls that allow us to incorporate a remote thermostat. If you want to heat a building and keep it at 15.5 degrees Celsius (60 degrees Fahrenheit), a controller monitors the temperature of the unit and raises or lowers the engine rpm to meet that setting. Among the engines we researched, the John Deere PowerTech PWL 4.5L engine was the only Final Tier 4 engine that would run up to 2,475 rpms.”

Trailer-or skid-mounted, the 2,948-kilogram (6,500-pound) TD1000 can be transported by pickup to remote work sites where heat is needed to keep crews, equipment, and drilling fluids at proper temperatures. The warm, dry air is piped using 41-centimeter (16-inch) flexible tubing. Unlike some flame heaters that need to be placed a distance from the wellhead, the TD1000 can be positioned right next to a drilling rig where it is needed.

Koopmann says this has created a demand for his flameless heaters. “When cold weather sets in, guys want to wrap their work sites in plastic to stay warm plus keep gas valves and water thawed out. With our  flameless technology, they can have the heater right next to their work site without any worry over flame-induced accidents.”

Alternate uses

While most flameless heaters are sold for use in the oil and gas industry, other customers are also finding the heaters to be quite useful. Koopmann says a Boston company is using his flameless heaters to kill bed bugs in homes and hotels, and workers use them to heat the inside of wind turbines while working at the top. Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, bought three units to keep construction of a large assembly plant from coming to a halt during freezing weather. And construction companies use flameless heaters to cure concrete as well as dry and warm the air before they apply foam insulation inside buildings.

“One pleasant surprise regarding the PowerTech Final Tier 4 engine is that it is quieter and we improved our fuel economy by 8 percent over the last-generation PowerTech engine it replaced,” Koopmann reports. “Fuel savings is a big deal for my customers when you consider they are burning 28.8 liters (7.6 gallons) per hour running wide open at a cost of 558 euros (600 U.S. dollars) a day. Another positive is we can create more heat from the Final Tier 4 engine.”

The TD1000 continues the legacy of the TD1200, some of which have accrued 32,000 hours of service in the field, says Koopmann. “I think customers are going to like the new TD1000 flameless heater when they start replacing their older units.”