Optimizing Performance: The Crucial Role of Circulation Heaters in the Oil and Gas Industry


Did you know that there are over 6,000 products that come directly from refining crude oil? Refining crude oil requires a lot of heat, with specific temperatures creating various products. A circulation heater, also known as an inline circulation heater, is a mainstay in oil and gas industrial applications. Its ability to maintain a specific temperature range makes it an indispensable tool in refineries and production platforms. 

We’re going to discuss circulation heaters, how they function, and why they’re critical for the oil and gas industry. By understanding these basics, you’ll see the significant role these inline heaters play in optimizing performance in this industry.

Understanding Circulation Heaters: The Basics and Beyond 

There are many types of electric process heatersA circulation heater, as the name suggests, is a heating device that heats a flowing liquid or gas in a continuous stream. It consists of three primary components: 

  1. The heating elements, usually high-quality Incoloy, stainless steel, or copper, create the heat using electricity, but sometimes gas-fired or steam. 
  2. Control panels regulate the heating process. 
  3. Temperature sensors monitor the fluid’s temperature. The sensors send signals to the control panel, which adjusts the temperature to maintain a set point or prevent overheating.

Inline oil heaters are process heaters for various custom oil and gas solutions

The working principle of an inline oil heater is pretty straightforward.

  1. Oil Flow: The oil gets pumped into the heater through an inlet, where it flows through a pipe or tubing system.
  2. Heating Element: Inside the heater, there is a heating element that uses resistance to heat the oil. The heating element is of a high-resistance alloy, such as stainless steel or Incoloy.
  3. Electrical Current: Inline heaters use high-voltage current, from 110 to 690V. They are available in wattages up to 5000kW.
  4. Heat Transfer: As the oil flows through the heater, it contacts the heating element, which transfers heat to the oil through conduction. 
  5. Temperature Control: A temperature control mechanism maintains the desired temperature of the oil. Correct circulation heater sensor placement monitors the temperature of the oil and adjusts the heating element power accordingly.
  6. Thermostat: The thermostat provides economical temperature control, signaling the heater to turn on or off based on the set temperature.
  7. Outlet: Once the oil rises to the desired temperature, it flows out of the heater through an outlet and continues its journey through the processing system.
  8. Safety Features: Line heaters have built-in safety features to prevent overheating or damage. These features may include temperature limit switches, pressure relief valves, or thermal cut-offs.

In a nutshell, heaters like Powerpro circulation heaters operate by passing oil through a heating element, which heats the oil through conduction. A temperature control mechanism controls the oil’s temperature, ensuring it reaches and maintains the desired set point.

Why Inline Oil Circulation Heaters Are Essential 

The primary function of inline heaters is to keep the oil at a set temperature. Heat plays two critical roles in the oil and gas industry: separating the different products from the crude oil and preventing hydrates from forming.

Heated crude oil begins its transformation inside distillation towers, where different oil fractions are separated based on their boiling points. For example:

20°C 150°C 200°C 300°C 370°C 400°C
Butane and propane Gasoline or petrol Kerosene Diesel Diesel Asphalt, paraffin wax and lubricating oil


Without inline heaters, the refining process would be inefficient and costly.

The other role is to prevent hydrates from forming in the pipeline. Hydrates are naturally occurring solids that look like ice. They form at high pressures and low temperatures in petroleum pipelines, causing blockage throughout the process. Maintaining higher temperatures prevents hydrate formation.

Inline oil heaters ensure a smooth running operation by heating the oil, reducing its viscosity, and making it easier to pump.

Advantages of Circulation Heaters in Oil and Gas Operations 

As we’ve seen, circulation heaters bring numerous benefits to the oil and gas industry. The advantages include improved process efficiency, consistent temperature maintenance, and safety. They work continuously, requiring little maintenance, which reduces costs and increases profitability. 

Real-World Applications: Seeing the Impact of Circulation Heaters 

Inline oil heaters can be found all along the petroleum process, from oil production platforms to the refinery, to tank farms, and to the final shipping point. They are in oil pumping stations, where they heat the oil to reduce its viscosity and make it easier to pump.

Oil refineries rely on them to heat crude oil before feeding into distillation towers. Additionally, you can find them in gas processing plants, where they heat natural gas to separate it from other elements such as water and oil.

In offshore operations, circulation heaters heat oil in subsea pipelines. This heating is crucial in preventing the formation of hydrates that can block the pipelines and disrupt operations.

Choosing the Right Circulation Heater

Choosing the right circulation heater for your oil and gas operations is crucial for optimal performance and long service life. Consider these factors when choosing.

Type of fluid – Different fluids have specific heating requirements, and the heater you choose should be able to meet these requirements.

Temperature and pressure range – The heater should be able to withstand these ranges without compromising performance or safety.

Corrosive fluid – If the fluid is corrosive, choose a corrosion-resistant heater that can handle your particular chemicals.

Watt density – Ensure the heating element can produce the required heat for your process.

The control panel and temperature sensors should be of the same quality to ensure accurate temperature control and reliable operation. 

The Future of the Oil and Gas Industry: Embracing Circulation Heaters 

With advancements in technology, expect to see circulation heaters with enhanced capabilities, such as higher heat transfer efficiency, wider temperature and pressure ranges, and improved corrosion resistance. 

By choosing the right circulation heater and embracing this technology, companies can achieve increased efficiency, reduced downtime, and improved productivity. Powerblanket Circulation Heaters are the best choice for industrial process temperatures and increased efficiency. Explore Circulation Heaters.

Powerblanket Circulation Heaters are the right choice for your process temperatures and increased efficiency.


Alex Pacanowsky

Meet Alex, one of our experts in freeze protection and the head of the custom team at Powerblanket! For the past several years, Alex has worked closely with oil & gas pros, medical device startups, and pharmaceutical suppliers (just to name a few) to create weatherproof operations. No matter how cold the weather, or what needs to be heated, Alex knows just what to do! He also loves mountain biking and spending time with his two boys, 5 and 9, and two Labrador Retrievers.

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