Steam quality plays a vital role in steam system operations in the pharmaceutical industry, which uses two main types of steam: industrial steam and pharmaceutical steam. Industrial steam is used as a utility in boilers and does not come into contact with process equipment. It often contains additives to protect pipes and boilers from corrosion and precipitation.
Pharmaceutical steam is produced from pure, treated water so that it contains no volatile additives like hydrazines and amines. This steam is used to sterilize process instruments. Steam sterilization of pharmaceutical equipment largely depends on the quality and purity of the steam. Low-quality steam can negatively impact the sterilization of your system.
This blog will discuss the importance of steam sterilization, factors that affect steam quality, and how to calculate steam quality.
Why Is Steam Quality So Important?
High-quality steam plays an integral part in killing microorganisms during equipment sterilization. The best steam is neither too dry nor too moist. Wet steam—steam that contains too high a moisture content—can weaken the steam’s ability to transfer its latent heat energy to the equipment and result in longer sterilization times. Dry steam—also called superheated steam—lacks the appropriate moisture content to kill microbes and uses higher temperatures than necessary, which can damage the equipment.
Poor steam quality can reduce heat transfer efficiency by as much as 65%. The liquid in steam contains about 16% of sensible energy, while its latent energy is around 94%. Therefore, poor-quality steam delivers much less usable energy to the process steam equipment.
Furthermore, low-quality steam can cause premature valve failure. As the steam passes through the valves, the excess moisture causes buildup that erodes the insides of the valves. Wet steam can also lead to water hammer in steam systems not accustomed to handling additional liquid. Water hammer can reduce the steam system’s lifespan and, in some cases, rupture the pipes.
How Do You Calculate Steam Quality?
Steam quality is the proportion of vapor in a liquid/vapor mixture. A steam quality of 0 contains 100% liquid, while a steam quality of 100 contains 100% steam.
Here’s a formula to calculate steam quality:
Steam quality = Mvapor/(Mliquid + Mvapor)
Most heat transfer and sterilization methods assume steam quality of 100 is in use, but sometimes operators do not regularly or properly use steam quality testing equipment to monitor steam quality in real time. With low-quality wet steam, free droplets can form in the process stream, causing corrosion and mechanical damage. One way to assess steam quality is to open a steam valve, releasing some steam into the atmosphere. If the steam is nearly invisible, it is more saturated and thus better quality. If the steam is white, it contains a higher moisture content and is not suitable for sterilization.
Why Can You Trust Electro-Steam’s Steam Quality?
Electro-Steam is one of the oldest OEM manufacturers of electric steam generators in the United States. Since 1952, we have been recognized as an industry leader in the design and manufacture of superior quality dry steam vapor generation, sanitizing, and cleaning systems. We serve clients in diverse industries with reliable and robust equipment.
Electro-Steam works with the medical and pharmaceutical industries to solve their steam quality problems. Check out our eBook on the importance of steam quality, or browse through our products to find a solution for your needs. If you can’t find the right equipment in our standard catalog, our team can build a custom solution for you. Contact us today for more information about pharmaceutical steam quality, our products, or our custom capabilities.