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ST Issue 2

Solving the condensate pumping problem

Pumps, as a rule, are reliable and trouble free - but the pumping of condensate too often
proves to be the exception. However steam-powered pumps can help.

This article first appeared in 'Process Engineering' Of course, measures have been taken to overcome
and is reprinted by kind permission of the Editor. these problems by improved cascade control and
supplying pumps in pairs, so that there is a back-up
The pumping of hot condensate is a problem that if one pump fails or capacity needs to be increased.
confronts a lot of process operators. Most engineers But a more radical and cost effective alternative
opt for the traditional electrically operated centrifugal exists in the form of the pressure powered pump,
pump, which performs so well in other applications, which use steam or compressed air as the operating
but too often find that it is unable to cope medium. These have been around for some
economically with handling condensate. time, but are now beginning to attract more
wide-spread interest from condensate pumpers.
The main reason for this poor performance in such
an application is the condensate itself. Usually the The attraction of this type of pump is its sheer
condensate flows under gravity from the steam trap simplicity. There are no seals to maintain and its
to a receiver, from where it should be pumped away few, slow moving parts are not subject to excessive
without problems. But to assist the gravitationally wear. The use of steam as the motive force removes
propelled flow of condensate, the receiver and pump the need for electricity, simplifying both installation
are often located in a pit; a location which is and maintenance.
susceptible to flooding, hampering the operation of
electrical pumps. The benefits of such pumps become even more
apparent when compared directly against electrical
Another problem which faces conventional pumps sets in use in condensate pumping.
in condensate applications is that the condensate
frequently arrives at the receiver as a mixture of Since the pumps require no electricity they can
condensate and flash steam - the latter leaving be used safely in the wettest environments. The
boiling water when released through the receiver pump will continue to operate when completely
vent. Subjecting this to the reduced pressure flooded, though steam consumption will increase. It
experienced at the inlet to a centrifugal pump is also important to note that when operated by
lowers the boiling point, causing the formation of compressed air, the pumps can be used as fully
more flash steam, which chokes the pump, reduces submerged sump pumps.
its capacity and cuts effective performance of
the system. The devices also obviate the need for the
complicated level control systems often found with
electrical pump sets as they operate only when
At the same time, cavitation - the collapse of steam
there is condensate being pumped, because they
bubbles within the pump impeller - causes serious
are powered by the steam itself.
pitting corrosion on the inside of the pump.
Advantages also exist in terms of efficiency with
Far from ideal the displacement pump offering clear economic
These three problems mean that, although advantage. Most electrical energy is generated at
conventional pumps can be used to handle an efficiency of around 40 percent. Steam operated
condensate, they are far from the most efficient pumps derive their energy from fuel burned at over
method available. 80 percent efficiency.
In some situations these economics can be further
enhanced by making sensible use of exhaust steam-
and such mini-CHP schemes are increasingly
attractive with the rise of green issues.

Indeed, in Berlin, New Hampshire in the north-

eastern United States, a paper mill has successfully
replaced all its electric pumps with pressure
powered pumps and accrued savings of around US
$8 500 a year in maintenance and operating costs.

This success story reflects the increasing

acceptance of pressure powered pumps in industrial

Spirax-Sarco Limited, Charlton House,

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL53 8ER UK.
Tel: +44 (0)1242 521361 Fax: +44 (0)1242 573342
E-mail: Enquiries@SpiraxSarco.com
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