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A Brief Introduction to

Steam Accumulators
Robert C Cockayne BSc, C.Eng, M.Inst E, MCIBSE on behalf of Steam Storage Engineering Limited Chapel House Commercial Street Morley Leeds LS27 8HX England Telephone: Fax: E-Mail: +44 113 252 7725 +44 113 252 7745

A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators


We regularly find, in our conversations with potential customers, that there is a lack of understanding of how a Steam Accumulator works and what purpose it fulfils. The purpose of this document is to provide a non-technical explanation, in plain language, of the workings of Steam Accumulators and what they are used for. If you already know how a steam accumulator functions, this document may not be for you, in which case please pass it on to other less informed persons in your organisation.


Steam accumulators have been around for many years but it has been the development of the modern, low water capacity, packaged economic boiler and flash steam generator that has progressively increased their importance as a part of many steam producing plants. For some of us, it does not seem so long ago that most steam was produced by Lancashire boilers. The advantage of this type of boiler was their relatively high water capacity, which made them able to cope with sudden peak steam demands from processes and power generation. Of course the down side was their sluggishness in reacting to longer term load changes, and by today's standards, low efficiency and high maintenance costs. Where these boilers were connected to stationary mill engines, or colliery winding engines, it was usual for the skilled boiler operator to build up a high water level, steam pressure and a good fire in anticipation of the start up of these engines. Frequently, it was considered that the boiler operator had been lax in his duties if steam was not issuing from the boiler safety valves at the start of the working shift. In larger boiler plant, it was usual for a range of Lancashire boilers to be installed, most of which were in steam at any one time. During the 1950's and 60's, Steam Storage Company, demonstrated that, on some boiler plants, the number of boilers being fired and under load could be reduced. This was possible without loss of steam, if some of the boilers were converted into steam accumulators, thus showing that in
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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

these instances the boilers had been installed for their water storage capacity rather than their firing ability. The peak loads, could equally be met by a boiler plus accumulator combination. Steam Storage Company also provided an installation for steam winding, at a colliery in the Midlands, where modern economic boilers combined with steam accumulators, were able to provide sufficient steam at all times of maximum demand. The steam accumulators were converted Lancashire boilers, which due to problems with their fire tubes, were no longer available for steam generation. Much of the pioneering work was undertaken by a Dr. Ruth and later by Walter Goldstern, the founder of Steam Storage Company Limited. Oliver Lyle, of Tate & Lyle was a keen exponent of accumulators in "The Efficient Use of Steam", published by HMSO at the end of the second world war. In later years Stan Kaye gained much respect for his knowledge and experience of accumulators. Today's experts are Steam Storage Engineering Limited Since the original concept of steam accumulators, more sophisticated, electronic control systems have become available. This enables the installation of a steam accumulator to be accompanied by a substantial saving in steam plant operating costs. The utilisation of steam accumulators is not restricted to static installations. Whilst there are now very few still in use, during the first half of the 20th century, the 'fireless' steam locomotive, of which there were several manufacturers, was used extensively for shunting duties in inflammable environments such as munitions factories, gas works, oil refineries, etc. The locomotive would be charged overnight from the factory's main boiler plant, ready for duty the following morning.

A typical, but small example of a 'fireless' locomotive. Note the large 'boiler' relative to the size of the locomotive, and no chimney!

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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

What are Accumulators?

q q q q q q

There are many examples of accumulators in everyday life, some obvious, others obscure, and others which are somewhat technical. Below are a few examples, but no doubt you can think of others! Stores money Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores water

q q q q q q

A piggy bank. The weights on a grandfather clock. The spring in a clockwork toy. A rubber band on a model aircraft. A rain water tub (water butt). A car battery (when radios had valves & batteries, the rechargeable lead/acid battery was called an accumulator). A water supply reservoir. An electric storage heater. A domestic hot water storage tank. A hay box cooker. A log store. A warehouse

Stores potential energy Stores water Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores products

and for the more technically minded:

q q q q

An air compressor receiver. A hydro electric dam, or a mill dam. A hydraulic pressure reservoir. A pumped storage scheme for power generation e.g. Dinorwic, North Wales. A Steam Accumulator.

Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores potential energy Stores potential energy

Spot the odd ones out! All the above are a means of storing a surplus of something or other, for release later on demand. However, depending on your point of view, one could argue the case for several of the above being "odd ones out". How about a piggy bank, a rain water tub, a water supply reservoir and a warehouse? Why? Because all the others involve the storage of some form of energy, but not these three.

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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

So, eliminating these three, what of the rest? These are all examples of storing energy at times of surplus for release later on when there is a demand for it or when energy is not being generated at all. Still there is one which is the "odd one out". Clue?? Why is "a steam accumulator" printed in bold. Answer. This is the odd one out, in that these are what our company specialise in- designing, supplying and installing steam accumulator systems.

What is a steam accumulator?

The concept of the function of a steam accumulator is similar to the function of a "piggy bank"!

When one has a few coins left over from the week's shopping (surplus), these are added (charged) to the "piggy bank" (accumulator). Over a period of time, the amount of money in the "piggy bank" grows (accumulates).

Periodically the demand for money exceeds the weekly income; the milkman wants paying! Out with the knife and extract sufficient from the "piggy bank" to pay the milkman. (discharged to meet a sudden peak demand). That's all there is to the concept.

Surplus steam is used to charge the accumulator to provide steam for discharge to meet a sudden peak demand.
A typical out of doors installation of a steam accumulator, used in a rubber manufacturing plant. Sudden steam demands are created by three autoclaves. The accumulator allows the boiler plant to operate under steady load conditions by storing steam at times of low steam consumption, and releasing it to meet peak demands.

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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

How does a steam accumulator work?

Layman's Answer
A steam accumulator is a pressure vessel. Steam under high pressure is absorbed into water stored inside the vessel. The more steam that is added, the higher the pressure rises. When there is a peak demand for steam this is released from the water in the vessel and is piped to where it is required.

Technical Answer

Effective steam accumulation relies on a pressure differential between steam generating plant and final process, the greater this differential, the smaller the size of pressure vessel required. In most manufacturing processes, steam is usually generated at a higher pressure than is required at the process. At times of surplus steam generating capacity, the higher pressure steam is discharged through specially designed submerged nozzles, into water within the accumulator. The water takes up the latent heat from the steam thus condensing it back into water. There is a corresponding rise in temperature and pressure within the accumulator and also an increase in water volume. When the accumulator is required to discharge steam to a lower pressure process, steam is flashed off from the high pressure, high temperature water, thus reducing the total heat of the water content.

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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

Primary factors taken into account during design

A. B. C. D. The pressure differential between steam generators and process. The size of the steam demand peaks to be catered for. The required charging rate. The required discharge rate.

Both A & B are the major factors which determine the size of the pressure vessel, whilst C determines the inlet connection size and the configuration and number of charging nozzles required. D determines discharge connection size, and more importantly the design parameters which prevent water carry over in the steam.

How big is a steam accumulator?

How long is a piece of string? The size of each accumulator is determined by the required operating conditions. For every accumulator that we design, we are obliged to undertake an involved calculation process in order to produce a scheme, tailored to each customer's needs. Often this involves site metering of existing steam demands, or evaluation of machinery manufacturers' services requirements. Listed on the following page are a few typical sizes, however we stress that these examples should never be used for plant layout or for specifying requirements.

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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

Typical capacities for steam accumulators (Imperial Units)

Volume cu feet 30 350 1 400 2 650 Diameter feet 3.00 6.00 8.00 10.00 Length feet 4.25 12.00 29.00 34.00 Working pressure lbs//sq in 100 150 250 150 Discharge pressure lbs/sq in 35 60 150 45 Storage capacity lbs 100 1 250 3 400 12 000 Discharge rate lbs/hr 1 200 2 400 7 500 15 000 13 600 27 200 36 000 72 000 Duration minutes 5 2.5 10 5 15 7.5 20 10

Typical capacities for steam accumulators (SI Units)

Volume cu metre 1 10 40 75 Diameter metre 1.00 1.80 2.50 3.00 Length metre 1.27 4.00 8.00 10.00 Working pressure bar g 7 10 17 10 Discharge pressure bar g 2.5 4.0 10.0 3.0 Storage capacity kg 50 500 1 500 5 000 Discharge rate kg/hr 600 1 200 3 000 6 000 6 000 12 000 15 000 30 000 Duration minutes 5 2.5 10 5 15 7.5 20 10

Typical Only! These dimensions, although of existing installations, must not be used for plant designing.

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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

What are the advantages of a steam accumulator?

The reasons for installing steam accumulators vary from customer to customer, but can usually be grouped into four considerations, these being:
q q q q

Fuel savings Production of more steam Operational advantages Reduced maintenance

Fuel Savings are obtained by several means, the primary one being that with an accumulator in circuit, steam generation operates at a steady state, in-spite of a fluctuating steam loads. Steam generation plant is at its most efficient when running under steady load conditions, the savings being significant. The following graph illustrates how an accumulator "smoothes out" the steam load on the boilers and is based on an actual installation in a distillery.
Steam flow kg/hr x 1,000
60 50 40 30 20 10 0 0 60 120 180 240 300

Total boiler load without accumulator Nominal boiler load with accumulator

Process load on boilers without accumulator

Steam discharged from accumulator


360 Steam charged into accumulator


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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

Production of more steam can be achieved by adding steam accumulation to the steam supply system. A boiler sized to meet the 'average' load can reach a 'peak' demand of a much higher magnitude. The advantages in operation are numerous:Steam is plentiful and available immediately to satisfy sudden peak loads. Accumulated steam is 'dry saturated' i.e. better quality. Boiler and process pressures are held constant. Steady boiler loading leads to reduced wear and tear and hence lower maintenance. With a multi - boiler installation and no accumulator installed, sufficient boilers are run to meet the maximum load, whereas with a correctly sized steam accumulator installed, one or more boilers can be shut down, with the remaining boilers being retained on line to meet the steady average steam demand. It follows that with fewer boilers on line, and with steadier loads, there is a reduction in maintenance. Furthermore additional savings in fuel usage can be made by the reduction in standing and radiation losses.

A Steam Accumulator installed in a paper mill in the North of England.

One of many steam accumulators installed in Breweries and Distilleries throughout the British Isles

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A Brief Introduction to Steam Accumulators

Typical Industries Utilising Steam Storage

Paper & Board Food Brewing & Distilling Chemicals Textiles Rubber Plastics & foams manufacture Steel manufacture Power generation Laundries Pharmaceutical Hospitals

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