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Process Heaters

The term ‘process heater’ is defined as any process plant unit that uses a controlled/monitored flame to heat process gas or liquid streams. Similar units operating at higher temperatures are also used, for example on ethylene production plants, to produce thermal breakdown (‘cracking’) of hydrocarbon process streams – generally referred to as ‘thermal crackers’. Both units are in widespread use on refinery and petrochemical plants and are major consumers of fuel on the site. This makes them prime candidates for combustion efficiency optimization measures to increase safety and to reduce fuel costs.

Although there are many types of process heaters and thermal crackers, the general analyzer application details are similar for all of them. Most are fired by banks of burners using natural gas, sour gas, or waste oil as fuel. The process heater consists of a large vertical furnace containing multiple coils through which the process stream flows. In a typical refinery this is normally a liquid hydrocarbon stream which needs to be heated to a set temperature before entering a refining stage of the plant. The firing rate and fuel supply to the process heater burners are controlled by both the process stream exit temperature and the required rate of process production.

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