Early Ethylene Glycol Leak Detection in Power Plant Steam Condensate Is Essential


Courtesy of GE Analytical Instruments

Fossil fuel and nuclear power plants use heat exchangers to condense process steam back into liquid form. A heat exchanger works by transferring heat from one medium (steam) to another medium (air, water, or ethylene glycol). Many newer, closed cooling water system, power plants use ethylene glycol use ethylene glycol (C2 H6 O2 ) as a heat transfer fluid because of its high-heat transfer efficiency.
Although ethylene glycol is a superior heat transfer fluid, it can cause severe issues if it leaks out of the condenser and into the condensate stream. At elevated temperatures and pressures, ethylene glycol in water degrades into organic acids which can acidify the condensate and leadto accelerated corrosion within the system. An increase in organic acids can also severely damage ion exchange resin beds and demineralization tanks.
Early detection of pinhole heat exchanger leaks is paramount to maintaining the integrity of the power plant and process equipment. Although many plants use neutralizing amines at trace levels to control steam loop pH, these amines are typically dosed to control the carbonic acid produced from carbon dioxide dissolution. A large influx of organic acids from an ethylene glycol leak would likely overwhelm this pH control and cause significant acidification of the condensate.

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