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Electric boilers: exploring the benefits

11 September 2022

Carl Knight discusses the advantages of electric steam boilers in food processing applications compared to traditionally fuel-fired solutions. 

Electric steam boilers work in a very similar way to fuel-fired boilers except in the way that the water is heated. 

The process of creating steam with an electric boiler is relatively straightforward. Electricity is passed through a heating element that acts as a resistor to create heat through resistance. Water from the feedtank is then pumped into the pressure vessel, heating the water enough to boil and become saturated steam at typically between 6 and 10 Barg – depending on the pressure setting controller – at which point the saturated steam is available to the process. 

Some believe that electric steam boilers are superior to fuel-fired steam boilers. The theory goes that electric boilers may be less expensive than using a fuel-fired boiler in the long-term, while also potentially being more environmentally friendly. 

Using Fulton’s portfolio of electric steam boilers as an example, less ancillary equipment is required than a traditional steam boiler, helping to reduce installation costs. Electric boilers also generally have a smaller footprint so can fit into smaller areas thanks to the way they are constructed and the lack of ancillaries that they require. 
Electric boilers are sometimes overlooked as a potential solution for steam generation due, in part, to the higher cost of electricity when compared with the use of traditional fuels. However, to help meet climate change and air quality targets, in the 2020 budget the UK government announced that it would remove the entitlement to use red diesel from most sectors, including for use in industrial boilers, from April 2022. These tax changes mean that most users of red diesel will no use fuel taxed at the standard rate for diesel. As a result, many companies are now turning to more sustainable methods of generating electricity, including solar or wind generation and these schemes can offset, or at least partially offset, the higher fuel costs.

Safety of operation
Traditional fuel-fired steam boilers generally require multiple elements to operate successfully. In contrast, electric boilers are relatively simple devices. Additionally – because electric steam boilers do not use complicated forms of heat exchange – they will simply trip out if elements are exposed due to low water conditions that can arise in the operation of steam boilers.

Electric boilers are also generally easier to maintain because they have no heat transfer tubes, and do not require burner maintenance or statutory non-destructive testing (NDT).

Thanks to their small footprint electric boilers can be used for point-of-use steam requirements, making them a good choice for smaller operations that need steam. Maintenance costs can be up to 50% less than those of fuel-fired steam boilers. Generally, the only major parts that are periodically changed are the electric elements themselves. 

So, how would this be applicable to a typical food processing facility? Coupled with the fact that electric boilers have no flue requirements, they can be located closer or even adjacent to the steam using equipment. As already outlined, electric steam boilers are more efficient than fuel fired alternatives, but there can be significant efficiency gains to the steam system too, with reduced heat losses, condensate recovery equipment, steam trapping requirements and maintenance, by virtue of shortening the pipe runs when positioning the boilers closer to the steam user.

Carl Knight is managing director at Fulton Boilers.

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