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Polybutene-1 Piping Systems for District Energy

Polybutene-1 piping systems are used worldwide for District Energy networks supplying public buildings and facilities, apartment blocks and office complexes with heating or cooling from efficient and environmentally optimal centrally located sources. Polybutene-1 offers many significant benefits for systems including flexibility, high pressure capability, no corrosion, and low heat loss.
 

A ground-breaking District Energy network was created for Almere, The Netherlands using Flexalen Polybutene piping systems from Thermaflex.


Introduction

PB-1 piping systems are specified for District Energy networks because of their flexibility, thermal efficiency and life expectancy at high temperatures of up to 95°C.

What is District Energy?

District Energy systems supply hot water or steam for heating, and chilled water for cooling public buildings and facilities, apartment blocks, office complexes and similar structures from a central plant source.

The hot or chilled water is distributed in insulated piping systems which are installed underground. In many European cities, large district energy networks are in operation, transporting heating or cooling over many kilometres with minimum thermal loss to consumers.

The key advantage of centrally produced heat (via water or steam) is that environmentally friendly sources can be used and combined. The major part is sourced from caloric power plants using the waste heat from electric power production. This is called co-generation. Electricity and heat produced at the same time doubles the efficiency rating compared to single electrical plants from 40% to over 80%. Other important sources are the heat from waste incineration plants, industrial processes and increasingly from green energy sources such as biomass, biogas, geothermal and solar.

Another kind of District Energy is the central supply of heating for schools and universities, hotel resorts, airports or shopping centres. This is called Group Heating.
 

Background

District Energy (also known as District Heating & Cooling) has been used for community heating for almost 100 years in Europe. Until 1980, only steel systems with insulation were installed, mainly in concrete ducts. Pre-insulated systems were introduced in 1974, but they still used steel pipes that had one main problem – corrosion. There was an incentive therefore for energy suppliers all over the world to search for non-corrosive solutions.


Pre-insulated piping systems

Pre-insulated PB-1 piping systems are a key component of District Energy. Using advanced production technology, pre-insulated pipes are made from environmentally friendly materials and fully recyclable grades from the Polyolefin material family. These materials include Polybutene-1 internal pipe, flexible, closed cell polyolefin foam and the flexible high density polyethylene outer cover.


 


PB-1 for District Energy

PB-1 has the highest pressure rating compared to PE-X and PP, low heat loss, and best in class chemical resistance, particularly for aggressive geothermal water.

The premium systems choice for District Energy

  • Large diameters for both underground and internal installation
  • High vapour resistance
  • Heat loss of less than 1°C per km.
  • High flexibility with small/medium diameters shipped and laid using coils
  • Long lengths reduce connections
  • Combines with weldable fitting systems
  • Low weight for efficient logistics and handling
  • No corrosion or problems with scale buildup
  • Excellent chemical resistance particularly for aggressive geothermal water
  • Long-term performance up to a maximum service temperature of 95°C, with the highest pressure rating compared to PE-X and PP.
  • Comprehensive systems of pre-insulated pipes and weldable fittings available for  the full spectrum of requirements.


     

PB-1 vs. PEX & PE-RT for District Energy Piping

A true cost comparison between piping systems should include installation time, jointing options, life span and SDR rating.

Polybutene-1 offers tangible benefits for District Energy systems compared to PEX and PE-RT

For District Energy projects, the true cost variation of piping systems across competing materials is more than a per length cost comparison for the same outside pipe diameter.

Specifiers look at: ease of installation impacting onsite costs; jointing options, long-term system performance and projected life span; and Standard Dimension Ratio (SDR) comparing pipe materials for durability against pressure.

When compared to PEX and PE-RT systems, PB-1 offers significant benefits across a broad range of performance categories all contributing to make PB-1 piping systems the optimum choice for high performance District Energy installations.
 

Standard Dimension Ratio (SDR)

What is SDR?

SDR rates pipe durability against pressure and correlates a pipe's outside diameter and wall thickness.

The SDR or the Standard Dimension Ratio refers to the geometry of a pipe. SDR is a method of rating a pipe's durability against pressure and it describes the correlation between the pipe dimension and the thickness of the pipe wall. SDR 11, for example means that the outside diameter of the pipe is eleven times the thickness of the wall.

  • High SDR ratio
    The pipe wall is thin compared to the pipe diameter
  • Low SDR ratio
    The pipe wall is thick compared to the pipe diameter

Example calculation:
SDR for a pipe with an outside diameter of 100mm and wall thickness of 5mm can be calculated as:
100mm / 5mm = SDR 20
 

Why does SDR matter for District Energy systems?

Due to the higher SDR ratio of PB-1 compared to either PEX or PE-RT, PB-1 piping systems deliver the following benefits because of its lower wall section requirements for the same pressure rating and outside pipe diameter:

  • Less material for the same pressure capability
  • Less weight per meter of pipe
  • Lower outside pipe diameter for the same performance
  • Larger inside area for the same outside diameter providing:
    - Higher flow rate at the same pressure
    - Lower pressure loss, requiring less energy to run a system or pumps with lower capacity

SDR Classes and Pipe Dimensions

SDR classes quoted in National Standards for District Energy piping systems


National Standards (RU & NL)
The source for District Heating piping dimensions comparing materials PB-1, PEX and PE-RT

The current Russian standard for District Heating (GOST 56730 – 2015) and the Dutch guideline (BRL 5609 - and the draft of renewed BRL 5609) both include a comparison of 3 materials for District Heating piping systems: PB-1, PEX and PE-RT.

Both the Russian standard and the Dutch guideline have the same requirements in relation to the pipe dimensions and SDR classes of the 3 service pipe materials operating at pressures of 6 bar, 8 bar and 10 bar.

Per the Russian standard and the Dutch guideline the table (at right) is an excerpt of the relevant table showing the SDR classes for the listed materials at different pressure ratings. As indicated, for each operating pressure PB-1 is listed in the highest SDR class when compared to either PEX or PE-RT. The section below explains what this means, why standards refer to pipe dimensions and SDR classes and what are the benefits for pipe system specifiers.


Pipe Dimensions and SDR Classes
PB-1 pressure capability delivers benefits versus PEX and PE-RT

The higher SDR class of PB-1 delivers the following benefits:
• Thinner wall section
• Less material (less weight)
• Lower outside diameter - or -
• Larger inside diameter and area

To illustrate the performance of PB-1, PEX and PE-RT in relation to the given operating pressure of 8 bar at the small pipe diameter of 50mm ø, the table and diagram below provide a comparison of the internal pipe dimensions required.
 

Example 1:  Small pipe – 50mm diameter @ 8 bar

PB-1 is stronger than both PEX and PE-RT and with an operating pressure of 8 bar and an outside pipe diameter of 50mm ø the required wall thicknesses are:

  • PE-RT - 50mm ø pipe - 6.9mm wall  (Gray)
  • PEX - 50mm ø pipe - 5.6mm wall  (Green)
  • PB-1 - 50mm ø pipe - 4.6mm wall  (Blue)
     

Per above, at the same water pressure, the larger inside diameter of PB-1 50mm outside ø pipe delivers a substantially higher flow rate than the other two materials. Taken the other way, at a given flow rate PB-1 pipes yield a lower pressure loss requiring less energy to run systems and/or pumps with a lower capacity.

As shown in the graphs above and for the purposes of comparison, PE-RT may be considered the benchmark at 100%. When comparing the inside cross-section area of a 50mm ø pipe (left graph) PB-1 clearly outperforms PE-RT with an additional 27% of volume. Also, in comparing the amount of material per meter for a 50mm ø pipe rated for 8 bar (right graph), PB-1 pipe uses 29% less material than PE-RT.

Once again for the purposes of comparison, PE-RT may be considered the benchmark at 100%. Per the above graph (right), using the same operating water pressure, a 50mm outside diameter pipe (8 bar) made from PB-1 delivers a substantially higher flow rate of +35% when compared to the identically rated PE-RT pipe of the same outside diameter.

Measured using the other comparison point: at a given flow rate (output) PB-1 pipes yield a 44% lower pressure loss versus PE-RT pipes. This means that PB-1 pipes require less energy to run a system - or - can accommodate pumps with a lower capacity for the same output.
 

Example 2:  Large pipe – 160mm diameter @ 10 bar




Due to a higher SDR rating (and therefore a thinner wall section) a PB-1 pipe of 140mm ø delivers the same performance as a PE-RT pipe of 160mm ø, but with a smaller outside diameter and larger inside pipe cross-section area.

At a 10 Bar operating pressure pipe of 160mm outside diameter:

  • PE-RT @ SDR 6
    60mm ø pipe has an internal cross section area of 8,958mm2

  • PEX @ SDR 7.4
    160mm ø pipe has an internal cross section area of 10,605mm2

  • PB-1 @ SDR 9
    With a smaller outside diameter of 140mm ø PB-1 has an internal cross section area of 9,263mm2

In addtion, as shown in the graph (right), the weight of 160mm outside diameter PB-1 pipe rated for 10 bar is almost half of the weight for the same outside diameter and rating pipe made from PE-RT.
 

Jointing Techniques for District Heating Pipes
PB-1 is a versatile material for all available jointing techniques


The Bottom Line
Specifying PB-1 piping systems for District Energy offers:

  • Substantial material saving opportunities, while at the same time increasing the capacity of the system
    – thinner walls
    – increase of the available inside cross section area
  • A higher degree of design freedom for District Energy grids
    – opportunity for using smaller outside pipe and fitting diameters
  • A clear opportunity for reduced integral installation cost and operating cost
    – smaller pipe support frames
    – use of less insulation material
    – smaller pumps running at reduced energy consumption
    – lighter overall weight for easier handling and lower shipping costs
  • In addition: PB-1 can be fully re-used and recycled

 


University Testing

University result: "After 8 years in service, PB-1 pipe samples were stronger than new PB-1 pipes due to the tempering and annealing process over that period."

University testing for the optimum inner pipe

An energy company based in Austria was one of the pioneers who investigated alternative solutions and instructed the Plastics Institute of the University of Leoben to carry out a testing program to find the best solutions for District Energy networks.
 

University results

The results for the inner pipe were clear:  Polybutene-1 was the best plastic material for high temperatures (max. 95°C).

This result encouraged the Austrian energy company to undertake a joint venture with a pipe manufacturing company to produce and market pre-insulated piping systems with Polybutene-1 inner pipes.
 


Case Studies

Austrian District Energy network

Following those studies, 42 networks utilising 210 km of pipe have so far been installed in Austria. 70 km of pipe were installed prior to 1987. These networks were so called "secondary networks" which were supplied from primary lines by means of central transformer stations with heat exchangers to reduce temperatures to max. 90°C and pressure to 5 bar.

After 8 years in operation random samples of these Polybutene-1 pipes were sent to Austrian test institutes to compare the operational pipes with new ones. The amazing result was that the used pipes turned out to be even stronger than the new Polybutene-1 pipes – the tempering and annealing process on the pipes during service over the first eight years having a positive effect on the pipes.
 

Geothermal Centre – Vienna

The very aggressive geothermal water in Vienna caused big problems with corrosion in metal pipes. As a result, in 1972 when the new Geothermal Centre in Vienna was being planned, a 2 year test cycle was undertaken with various pipes made of stainless steel, PVC-C, epoxy and Polybutene-1.

Polybutene-1 proved to be the best material and was subsequently installed for all geothermal lines from the source to the geothermal centre, with a 225 mm OD twin main line of 1.4 km, and some 2 km of internal pipes in sizes 20 mm to 225 mm OD.  These pipes operated continuously for over 30 years (until the facility was expanded) at 54°C and 10 bar with no breakdown.
 


Examples On-site




 

 

Polybutene is often referred to as Polybutene-1, Polybutylene, PB-1 or PB.

Polybutene is not sold by PBPSA members for use in pipe applications intended for use in North America, and those parties require their customers or distributors not to sell products made from Polybutene into pipe applications for North America.