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Published by , Senior Editor
Tanks and Terminals,

For decades, the tank storage sector has looked to the oil production and transportation industries for its primary source of new investment and wider market growth. However, during 2020, global oil production fell by 12%, with the US experiencing a more significant drop of 20%.1 At the same time, however, investment in European tank farms is on the rise. Linked to an expansion in the production of advanced technology such as space crafts and drones, as well as the growing consumer market for electric vehicles, the oil refining market is pivoting towards new ‘deep refining’ technologies that yield greater quality and higher margin chemical feedstock products. In turn, investment in new European tank farm sites is growing to cater to the rising demand for chemical products, with global organisations such as INEOS and Borealis committing to ambitious new developments in the Belgian ports of Antwerp and Kallo.2,3,4

This upward trend for the chemical sector offers prime growth opportunities for the tank storage industry, at a time when most markets around the world are not experiencing the same growth. However, it also presents a host of new challenges.

Tackling tank issues

With the market currently witnessing an upturn, facility owners need to remain responsive to the ever-changing needs of chemical producers, who are presenting ever-more varied and complex temperature and viscosity maintenance requirements for different chemical fluids. To remain competitive, tank farms must also offer a cost-effective, environmentally-responsible proposition to potential customers, be equipped to keep up with current demand, and ensure sites are future-proofed and braced for any market shifts to come. Making sure their facilities can remain operational for as long as possible, even in the face of worsening adverse conditions, while guaranteeing the protection of staff and the environment, are significant considerations for tank farm operators too.

This article will explore how advanced tank insulation and smart electric heat tracing solutions can help storage facility owners address such critically important issues, and create the sophisticated, scalable and safe tank farms chemical producers expect.

Flexibility and accurate temperature control

Ensuring precise yet adaptable temperature control of in-feed pipes as chemical products are transported to and from loading and unloading sites is a foundational consideration in all chemical tank storage operations. In addition to the basic requirement of keeping chemicals at the optimum temperature for quality, transport and safety, pipes must be equipped to allow customers who trade in different critical liquids to amend their storage strategies according to market demand and fluctuations in the price of individual materials. A chemical producer, for example, may wish to allocate more of its rented tank space to a highly sought-after chemical to capitalise on a spike in demand or store large amounts of material securely until its commodity price improves.

Figure 1. Tank farm operators expand storage capacity with advanced heat tracing controls to handle a growing variety of chemical fluids with different temperature requirements.

Smart heat-tracing controllers can help facility owners deliver this vital flexibility by maintaining product within pipes at the exact temperature required for each chemical fluid. This high level of adaptable accuracy can be achieved via the implementation of precisely-configured line sensing control technology and ‘true power’ cable voltage control. Line sensing systems operate by installing temperature sensors onto specific sections of a circuit to measure the temperature of the pipe under the insulation layer and report information back to the heat tracing control panel. When installed correctly by an expert heat tracing supplier, line sensing is the most accurate and energy efficient control method available, allowing smart heat tracing controllers to offer continuous, precise monitoring of critical pipes and tank in-feed lines.

True power control is a feature offered by advanced heat tracing controllers, and allows a system to adapt the electric voltage delivered to the heating cable to meet the exact temperature requirements of each product being stored or transported. Most traditional heat tracing controllers may only offer the ability to switch on heating cables to full power or to shut them off completely as a means to manage pipe temperatures. This can lead to pipes heating up too quickly in low temperature applications, increasing the risk of product expansion, phase-changes or even explosion. The variable voltage capability provided by true power control, along with the adaptable, programmable monitoring of smart heat tracing controllers, means that crucial pipes can be quickly and precisely configured to carry any product, providing the flexibility chemical producers demand.

Energy efficiency

As the tank storage industry becomes increasingly crowded, tank operators must ensure their facilities are as energy efficient as possible to present an attractive, cost-effective, and environmentally-responsible offering to chemical producers. With tank and pipe heating often charged as an additional cost on top of rental rates, enhanced energy efficient tank insulation and heat tracing controls can help tank farm operators gain a competitive edge by keeping costs low, while improving the environmental credentials of their facility.

The key to optimising a site’s energy usage lies in installing effective tank insulation. High-quality standing seam pre-fabricated panel insulation, featuring polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation materials, represents the gold-standard in tank insulation – offering a more energy efficient solution over traditional mineral wool insulation. In conventional systems, the mineral wool insulation material is built up of fibres that must be bound together with an adhesive agent that typically degrades over time, causing the mineral wool to fall apart and lose its insulation capacity. In contrast, modular PIR insulation features a closed-cell structure that does not require adhesion. Therefore, PIR does not degenerate over its lifetime. The result is consistent insulation, meaning no extra heating power is needed to compensate for increased heat loss from the tank over time. Even in a like-for-like comparison of two brand-new systems, PIR materials offer improved energy performance vs mineral wool insulation thanks to its lower lambda (λ) or thermal conductivity rating, with PIR delivering a λ value of 0.023 – 0.026, compared with mineral wool’s rating of 0.035 – 0.043.5

The addition of a highly accurate smart heat tracing controller equipped with line sensing technology creates a tank insulation and heating system that is fully optimised to deliver energy efficiency.

Fast installation and scalability

To take advantage of the current uptick in demand, storage site owners need heat tracing and insulation solutions that can be installed on a compressed time schedule, but set-up speed should not be the only consideration when choosing tank systems. Long-term success could rest on a facility’s ability to remain agile and address future market conditions, whatever they may be. Tank farm owners should therefore look for systems that can be upscaled and added to as a site grows in order to seamlessly accommodate new tanks, pipes and in-feed lines.

Unlike conventional insulation systems, standing seam insulation panels can be pre-fabricated in a controlled environment in parallel with tank construction, meaning that insulation can be applied as soon as the tank is fully erected. This innovative feature, combined with the fact that standing seam systems do not require scaffolding to be built on site and can be lifted into place easily using a cherry picker or hanging basket, can result in a reduction in installation time by up to 30% vs conventional insulation systems.6

Figure 2. Standing seam insulation panels can be easily and safely lifted into place, without the use of scaffolding.

An intelligently designed heat tracing system, combined with smart hazardous area controllers, can also help to speed up the installation process. By allowing control panels to be installed locally, directly onto or near to the pipes rather than in a remote central control room, the amount of cold, signal and tracing cabling required to install the heat tracing system can be decreased drastically, with reductions of 20% or more experienced on various projects. This results in a faster and more cost-effective installation.7

Meanwhile, the modular, expandable design of these smart controllers makes it easy for site owners to add to their facility and more effectively cater to growing market demand – if more piping is required, another local controller can be added right onto the new circuit and seamlessly integrated into the control system.

Long-term reliability and durability

Establishing a new tank storage facility is a costly undertaking, requiring years of successful operation to present an attractive return on investment. Tank farm owners therefore need systems and solutions that require minimal maintenance and are built to last as global climate change causes weather conditions to become harsher and less predictable.

A key factor impacting the longevity of any tank system, but especially those located in ports or along the coast, is corrosion under insulation (CUI). This potentially devastating process, by which water is absorbed into the insulation material causing the tank wall to rust and often rupture, can shorten the life of a tank from 40 to as little as 10 years in especially serious cases. To tackle widespread CUI, conventional mineral wool insulation systems require constant maintenance and eventually complete replacement after approximately a decade of operation – the costs of which can be significant. The harsh winter storms that have buffeted the continent on an increasingly regular basis in recent years can also pose a serious risk to conventional insulation systems, damaging or destroying the exposed panels.

Thanks to the dense structure of the insulation material and unique double folded seam panel installation methodology, standing seam PIR insulation systems provide the durable and long-lasting insulation performance tank owners need to make good on their investment. PIR standing seam insulation panels are far less susceptible to water ingress and do not require outer screws to secure them in place, making them far more resistant to CUI. As well as drastically reducing the amount of maintenance required to keep tanks safe and effective, these features mean that reliable standing seam panel insulation remains effective for the entire lifetime of the tank, even when subjected to hurricane force winds.

Improved safety

The final, and arguably most important, consideration for tank farm owners is safety. As investment in sensitive or hazardous chemicals grows, so too do the risks to people, property and the environment if chemical products are stored incorrectly. Needless to say, it is imperative that tank owners go the extra mile to take the necessary steps to ensure that their facilities remain safe. The continuous monitoring and real-time data-driven insights afforded by smart heat tracing controllers make it quicker and easier to identify and resolve faults before they become critical issues, helping to ensure site safety before it is even threatened. These intelligent controllers also feature self-test functions and bespoke alarms that can be programmed to monitor the most crucial control parameters, such as abnormal cable voltage or maximum temperature range, allowing site engineers to take a proactive, preventative approach to safety.

The pre-fabricated, interlocking design of standing seam insulation panels also enhances site safety, as the entire system can be installed without scaffolding, vastly reducing the probability of workplace injuries. Additionally, the improved durability and corrosion resistance provided by standing seam insulation minimises the risk of tank fissures and harmful chemical leaks, enhancing the protection of the local environment, as well as workers on site – even as the number and scale of tank storage facilities increases.

Wrapping it up

Future-proofing operations is critical for helping industries cope with sudden fluctuations in demand. While organisations are responding to the current increase in demand for chemical storage, they are also looking to the future and what the needs of the industry might be in 5, 10 or 20 years. This forward-looking approach is driving more organisations to recognise the host of benefits offered by suppliers of smart solutions, such as nVent RAYCHEM solutions. Storage facility owners should therefore consider their options carefully when building or modernising a site and adopt systems that can keep materials safe, stable and profitable for years to come.


  1. NAGLE, P., 'The oil market outlook: Lasting scars from the pandemic,' WorldBank (October 2020),
  2. 'INOVYN to play vital role in ambitious ‘power to methanol’ project to produce sustainable methanol and reduce CO2 in Antwerp', (May 2020),
  3. 'INEOS at Antwerp commits to staying ahead of EU climate and energy targets in the drive to net zero greenhouse gas emissions', (November 2020),
  4. 'Borealis holds groundbreaking ceremony for its new world-scale plant in Kallo, Belgium', (September 2019),
  5. 'Insulation materials and their thermal properties',
  6. nVent, 2020.
  7. nVent, 2020.

Written by Kees Oerlemans, Regional Sales Manager EMEAI, nVent, and Peter Boon, Business Development Manager Tank Farms, nVent.

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