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Case Study

University of Texas-Austin

Steam Trap Improvements Reduce Emissions on a Grand Scale

When a district utilities system requires optimization for carbon footprint reductions and energy savings, a steam trap survey often makes good economic sense as a first step. This was the experience of the University of Texas - Austin.

The flagship institution of the University of Texas (UT) System, UT - Austin is a major research university located within the state capitol. The campus supports more than 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students - the fifth largest single-campus enrollment in the USA. With 16,500 faculty and staff UT - Austin is the largest of all universities in Texas.

The campus cogeneration plant is organized into three services: electricity, domestic water and steam. The steam is distributed to buildings by two high pressure lines that serve the campus through a tunnel system. Upon the high pressure steam entering a building, it is reduced to lower pressures for various purposes.

Ball float steam trap installation

Survey Phase Uncovers Potential

UT - Austin officials, headed by Manager of Demand-Side Energy Management and Conservation Al Lewandowski, marked their steam system for an upgrade, and decided that a steam trap survey should be the first step. There was no comprehensive survey of the location and condition of all traps on campus, as well as the extent of potential impact on emissions and energy savings. The eventual survey provider, Spirax Sarco, showed projections and estimates for environmental improvements and energy savings during the feasibility and project design phase. Based on initial estimates compiled from findings gathered during a walk-through, UT - Austin commissioned Spirax Sarco to perform the steam trap survey. Spirax Sarco located, tagged, documented, tested and evaluated the application of all steam traps on campus. Spirax Sarco located a total of 2,425 steam traps, of which 116 were failed-open, causing unnecessary emission of 4,380 tons of carbon dioxide. An additional 267 traps were failed closed, which likely affected steam system efficiency.

Upgrade Phase Locks in Improvements

With the completion of the survey, the Spirax Sarco project team presented the university officials with a turnkey proposal for replacing malfunctioning or misapplied traps. The proposal was prioritized by environmental and energy conservation impact. The first step recommended was replacing misapplied inverted bucket traps with thermodynamic and float & thermostatic (F&T) traps. The second step was to change out all failed-open and failed-closed traps, fix any leaks and upgrade insulation where necessary.

With the presentation of complete cost justification, Spirax Sarco received the go-ahead to complete the work, which included installation of 240 new traps. In consultation with stakeholders campus-wide, Lewandowski established a schedule to minimize disruption to campus operations, and Spirax Sarco and its contractor performed the installation work primarily during summer evenings and weekends.

Results Point to Significant Impact

As a result of Spirax Sarco’s turnkey solution, UT - Austin reduced steam consumption by an estimated 27 million lbs, equivalent to $384,000 in boiler fuel annually. According to UT - Austin’s Lewandowski, “Spirax did it all - they came in, surveyed the trap population, identified the failed traps, supplied and installed replacement traps within budget and on time generating an estimated saving of 27 million pounds of steam per year, equating to a potential reduction in our fuel bill of $384,000 a year. We are pleased with the work performed by Spirax and the energy savings we will achieve through this project.”

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