Going Green with Pyrogel Insulation

By Technical Services

August 31, 2017

Would you recognize a steam vault if you walked over one?

If you’re like most people, you’re probably not aware that steam vaults exist—until the vault providing process steam or heat to your building requires maintenance.

Network operators devote a significant amount of time and energy to keeping their steam systems running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. If you never notice a steam vault, they’ve done their job. We have the same objective. If a steam vault insulated with Pyrogel® XTE aerogel blankets goes unnoticed, it means our insulation is doing its job.

So, how can you tell if steam vault insulation is or isn’t working? There’s a telltale sign to look for next time you’re out and about, and it’s as green as the grass you walk on.

The Giveaway

Oftentimes, the evidence that a steam vault is having problems is as obvious and annoying as a traffic jam. Many steam vaults and tunnels are buried along sidewalks and roadways where maintenance requires caution tape, orange cones, or protective barriers.

The steam vault pictured above and the area immediately surrounding the manhole is a perfect example. The scaffolding is an obvious indication that maintenance work was required and underway.

But, look closely at the image, in particular at the area surrounding the manhole. Notice the bare ground and missing grass?  It’s a “dead” giveaway that the steam vault needed attention.

The Problem

Steam vaults are challenging applications for thermal insulation. When it rains or snows, the underground vaults collect water and are prone to flooding. Traditional high temperature pipe insulation absorbs water, reducing the insulation’s effectiveness. Total failure and “self-removal” from the pipe are often the end result for wet insulation inside the vault.

Throughout the United States, network operators are pushing for a better solution so they don’t have to curtain supply or increase their maintenance spending. Pyrogel high temperature aerogel blanket is redefining how steam vaults are protected.

The Pyrogel Advantage

We receive a lot of positive feedback from customers that have used Pyrogel to resolve problems in their vaults and tunnels. Improved steam quality, reduced maintenance costs and cooler vaults are just a few benefits they frequently mention.

The photos taken before and after a Pyrogel upgrade at Duke University’s campus in Durham, North Carolina, represent another benefit associated with the use of Pyrogel.

The before photo shows the area above an underground steam vault that had been insulated with calcium silicate that failed shortly after installation. The heat loss from the vault was so severe that the ground surrounding the manhole cover was scorched.

The after photo shows the same vault a few months after having been re-insulated with Pyrogel XTE. Not only has the grass started grow again, helping Duke maintain its beautiful campus, but the vault is performing efficiently, helping Duke save energy and money, one steam vault at a time.

Steam network operators choose Pyrogel to ensure high quality steam and to help maintain service levels for their customers. It’s durable, water resistant, breathable format keeps pipework drier for longer, and promotes faster dry-out times. Pyrogel stays intact during flooding events and allows for rapid return to normal operating performance in its aftermath. As a result, fugitive steam emissions are minimized, vaults and tunnels remain safe and the grass around vault entrances is greener.

Learn more about Pyrogel in steam network and district energy applications or contact us if you have any specific needs or requirements.