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Direct-Fired Heaters: Evaluate Thermal Performance And the Effects of Fouling

By Alan Cross, Retired |

Direct-fired heaters find wide application throughout the chemical process industries (CPI) and are common in petroleum refineries, where they are used to preheat petroleum or petroleum-derived feedstocks in advance of downstream process operations. Since excessive internal tube fouling occurs above certain temperatures, designers often try to keep temperatures down by over-specifying the heat transfer surface area. Later on, if the capacity of the heater needs to be changed or if the heater needs to be used for a different service altogether, the engineer needs to investigate how the new conditions will influence fouling. This article demonstrates mathematically how to determine the effects of a different heat flux specification on run length (the time interval between shutdowns for cleaning or decoking). Such analysis is helpful in understanding the changes in operating costs associated with decoking the heater either more or less frequently. This discussion focuses on the performance of direct-fired heaters in delayed-coking service, which experience the most-severe operating conditions of any type of petroleum-refining application. The stringent design strategies discussed here are also applicable to fired-heaters used in other…
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