Improving Energy Via Better Steam Traps

Steam is used at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) – as it is in industrial sites and universities across the country – to heat and cool buildings. But faulty steam traps, according to a U.S. Department of Energy study published in 2005, however, are a major source of energy waste at such sites. Now, the ORNL is expected to save $675,000 this year (and every year), due to its recent installation of wireless sensors on its steam traps.

These steam traps normally open slightly to discharge condensed steam with a negligible loss of live steam. However, sometimes they fail, and that failure goes undetected, wasting both energy and cash. Recently ORNL took on the tough job of manually identifying which of its 1,600 traps have become impaired and fixing them–and, in order to ensure that malfunctioning steam traps are identified immediately in the future, the Lab worked with Johnson Controls to install wireless sensors that will monitor steam flow and temperature at each location.

Steam Waste

image via ORNL

“The installation of wireless sensors throughout much of the steam system can give us an early warning of component failures or impending failures,” said Wayne Parker of ORNL’s Utilities Division, in a statement. “Catching problems as early as possible is essential in minimizing losses and maximizing savings.” No word yet on whether such a system might prove cost effective for industrial and university applications.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

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