Using Insulation To Achieve Life Cycle Savings

Industrial insulation, whether it’s mineral fiber, perlite or calcium silicate, is often considered a necessary evil during the industrial process design phase – a required add-on that has to be factored into the project estimate. Calculating the thickness of that insulation is typically done by balancing the twin goals of minimizing installed cost while conforming to safety requirements.

Although these two goals are arguably a priority during the design phase, the use of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) software can help determine the ideal thickness of insulation  by balancing the  combination of first costs (insulation cost and installation) and maintenance costs with desired energy savings. In the strictest definition, LCA combines the projected expense of implementation, operation and maintenance to compare options and determine the lowest cost solution over the anticipated service life.

This same analysis can also determine what energy-related emission levels can be expected with a given insulation choice on process equipment.  An important point to keep in mind is that any time there is an increase in efficiency or an energy savings in a process, there is also a reduction in the energy-related emissions associated with that process.  Less energy is needed to do the same amount of work, and less energy means less energy-related emissions.

At the most basic level, energy is required to start up and maintain a process, and in a perfect world all of the energy in that process would be used to initiate and sustain the process. In reality, however, there are losses in the form of lost heat, friction, inertia and various other loads.  One of the goals in designing a given process is to minimize losses (energy) from that process such that more energy goes into the final product rather than being  wasted in the form of lost heat or overcoming losses.

When insulation is added to the same process, that insulation reduces the loss of energy from one point to another. The process is simply more efficient with insulation.

Fortunately, software tools are available to help designers, specifiers and engineers evaluate insulation systems from both a cost and performance standpoint, enabling them to optimize insulation thicknesses to reduce both costs and energy-related emissions while improving process efficiency.

For example, the complimentary 3E Plus software provided by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA), allows the user to input process fuel type, operating conditions, income rates (discount), depreciation (plant and insulation) and installation costs as part of the equation.

The software calculates the “economic thickness” of the insulation, which is the minimal annualized cost of that insulation. If the goal is to determine the cost of reducing energy-related emissions by adding additional insulation, the inputs on the software can be changed to balance cost with these emissions. In addition, different systems can be compared to determine which insulation level is best suited to the goals of the design, e.g., reduced emissions, economic thickness, increased efficiency, etc.

For more information about NAIMA’s 3E Plus software, go to the NAIMA site.