A Guide to Tank Insulation - Here’s What You Need to Know
Storage tanks are used in all kinds of industries, from food and beverage to oil and gas. No matter what they hold, it’s almost always important to keep tanks at a set temperature range. This helps to ensure the stability of the substance inside and improves the production process.
Choosing the proper storage tank insulation isn't always as straightforward as it may seem. There are a wide variety of insulation options available, and some are more appropriate than others. Here’s what you need to know.
Benefits of Thermal Tank Insulation
Prior to choosing your tank insulation system, it's helpful to understand why making the right decision is so important. The proper insulation and surface protection materials will help increase a tank’s lifespan and protect the products it holds.
Changes in temperature can cause vapors to expand and contract, resulting in “breathing loss.” Thermal insulation reduces this loss, resulting in cost savings. In addition, reducing heat losses leads to lower CO2 emissions and helps keep potentially hazardous substances from contaminating the environment.
A properly insulated tank will also ensure that the substances inside don’t freeze or deteriorate due to heat caused by solar radiation. In addition, it will help prevent liquid contents from cooling to a point where they set and remain in a solid state, as this can cause production delays.
For tanks holding flammable products, it's also important to consider fire-resistant insulation. This can add an extra layer of safety by protecting the contents from fires occurring outside of the tank.
Thermal Insulation Materials
There are a wide variety of tank insulation options available. Some are common and inexpensive while others require a larger investment but are extremely effective. Two of the most common thermal insulation materials for tanks are lightweight composites and foams.
1. Lightweight Composites
Lightweight composites are easy to obtain and are usually the least expensive option. This includes fiberglass, mineral wool, silica, cellulose, and ceramics.
Each of these materials has its own pros and cons. For example, fiberglass is very inexpensive but requires careful handling. Mineral wool is quite effective, but it doesn’t offer any fire protection. While cellulose is effective, eco-friendly, and fire-resistant, it's also one of the most difficult materials to apply.
Foam insulation includes materials like polystyrene, melamine, polyurethane, closed-cell, and polyamide. Polyurethane foam is lightweight, low density, and fire-resistant. It’s excellent for application in areas that have no insulation. Polystyrene is a waterproof thermoplastic foam that is ideal for wall insulation. However, it’s flammable, so it must be coated with a fireproofing chemical.
Selecting Tank Insulation
The best thermal insulation material for a tank will depend on a variety of factors including where it’s located, what it’s holding inside, and what the tank itself is made of. For example, the majority of tanks are made of steel, stainless steel, or galvanized steel. Since metal is very conductive, heat transfer is a major concern. Corrosion is also a potential issue, even with stainless steel tanks.
Certain lightweight insulation materials, like fiberglass or mineral wool, may allow moisture to be trapped between the insulation and the surface of the tank. This can lead to corrosion under the insulation. For this reason, many tank owners choose spray-on foam insulation, a panel system, or a custom-designed solution.
Vertical vs. Horizontal Insulation Panels
Insulation panels are one of the most popular tank insulation solutions. When choosing this option, owners will need to determine whether a horizontal or vertical system is more appropriate for their needs. Vertical panels are installed vertically along the tank’s wall and are secured using an internal cable system. Horizontal panels are stacked in rings around the tank. Placement starts at the base and continues to the roof. These panels are held in place with external bands.
Both options are effective. However, vertical panels are less likely to shift, making them more reliable. They’re also easier to install. While horizontal panels typically require the use of scaffolding and a hydraulic lift large enough for two people, vertical panels are easily installed with a single hydraulic lift. Horizontal panels are also more susceptible to breakage during installation, which may result in higher material costs.
Finally, vertical panels don’t require any ongoing maintenance and are more resistant to moisture intrusion than their horizontal counterparts. If moisture gets into a horizontal insulation system, it can begin to buckle and may cause a complete system failure.
Custom-Designed Insulation for Industrial Tanks
Thermal Control Products, Inc. is a U.S.-based company that has been manufacturing industry-leading heat shield products since 2002. We design, engineer, and fabricate a wide variety of custom thermal and protective components and heatshield products.
Contact us today to discuss your tank insulation project. Our experts will assist you in choosing the ideal insulation system for your tank or design a custom insulation strategy for your specific needs.