A steam boiler is defined as a vessel that captures and produces steam to either heat homes and businesses, or to provide energy for various industrial functions. The name “steam boiler” is typically used to refer to equipment that generates heat, but the term can technically be applied to any piece of equipment that utilizes steam for its primary functions.
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The History of Steam Boilers
A steam boiler falls under the category of high pressure boilers. Within the machine, steam becomes pressurized and can release energy once it builds up in a sufficient quantity. When the release of this energy is controlled, steam can be used to power different types of machinery. The steam engine is the most well known steam-powered machine. Steam engines, as well as other steam powered machinery, first appeared roughly two centuries ago and played a pivotal role in the Industrial Revolution, and is still used today for the generation of electricity. Ever since the introduction of the steam engine, more and more uses for steam have been discovered, and new uses are being discovered today.
Design of Steam Boilers
Steam boilers, in terms of the types of steam boilers that are used as a heat generator for buildings and industrial functions, consist of several general parts that all types of steam boilers possess, regardless of their shape, size, or purpose. The first component is a pressure vessel. The pressure vessel is a chamber which holds the steam before it is distributed elsewhere. Pressure vessels can be made in a variety of sizes and shapes, and usually come in the form of steel tanks that are built to withstand high levels of pressure as they hold a particular material. The steam is released from the pressure vessel to the appropriate location by a heat source and a valve mechanism. These valves are vital to the boiler system, as they are utilized to not only regulate and direct pressurized steam, but release it in case of an emergency.
Sanitary Steam Boilers
Out of all of these energy sources, Steam boilers are one of the most sanitary. However, sensitive applications such as laboratory processes and functions within the food and beverage industry require an exceptionally high level of sanitation. Therefore, there are types of steam boilers available that are designed specifically for these applications. These “clean” steam boilers keep the water within them clean using reverse osmosis as well as other purification processes.
Standards and Specifications for Steam Boilers
In the earlier days of steam boilers, many boiler failures occurred due to faulty pressure vessel construction. Since the malfunctioning of a vessel that houses steam at a high amount of pressure could result in catastrophic explosions, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) have set a strict system of regulations in place for their construction.
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Steam Boiler
There is not a single steam boiler design that is suitable for all applications. Therefore, energy source considerations, as well as the configuration of the machine, are important to keep in mind when searching for the right kind.
Alternative Heating Sources
In addition, alternative heating sources have been developed, such as electricity, wood, fossil fuels, natural gas, and coal. Each of these alternative energy sources has its own set of benefits and disadvantages in terms of cost, cleanliness, eco-friendliness, and efficiency. Electric heating is 100% efficient, meaning every bit of the electricity is converted to heat. It greatly reduces environmental impact, because it releases no carbon dioxide or other emissions. It costs little to install and allows for easy temperature control. Although the initial cost is minimal, it can be expensive to operate in the long run. Wood heating generates a large amount of heat from a small amount of wood. Like electricity, it is a renewable resource, as opposed to burning fossil fuels. However, wood heating has the potential of releasing carbon dioxide and other emissions into the air. Fossil fuels are cheap and reliable, but are an unsustainable nonrenewable resource and releases a disconcerting amount of carbon into the atmosphere. Natural gas can be efficiently and safely stored, and can be renewable when created from certain materials. However, it can create greenhouse gas emissions, can be hazardous if not properly handled, and it can be difficult to check for leaks because of its odorless and colorless properties. Finally, coal comes in an abundant supply, is relatively inexpensive, energy efficient, and can be converted to a gas or liquid. However, coal is a nonrenewable resource and contains the largest amount of carbon dioxide per BTU, making it the largest contributor to global warming out of all the other energy sources. Burning coal also has a negative impact on forests, the air, and the health of the living things that live in the forests and breathe the air in.