Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Baltimore infrastructure woes: steam-pipe blows up

Baltimore doesn't need terrorist attacks to frighten its citizens. Baltimore's own infrastructure, its collapses, explosions, fires and inundations regularly terrify residents. Tuesday as part of summer solstice, it is a Baltimore steam pipe.
Eutaw Street steam explosion Tuesday evening: 5 injured

The most spectacular infrastructure malady was the train fire in the ancient Howard Street tunnel, even though the ultimate cause for the derailment and subsequent fire was never fully determined, CSX always suspected water dripping onto tracks from a leaking pipes. Also spectacular the entire edge of a street sliding onto the CSX tracks in a giant splash just a bit north of the Howard Street tunnel. The sinkholes that could have easily have swallowed at least two rowhouses whole on Centre and on Mulberry Streets were kind of benign by comparison, even though a DPW inspector unfortunately fell into one of them.
Baltimore: this photo shows the force with which debris was ejected

At times manholes have been ejected into the air through unruly things happening in the conduits under the street where hard to extinguish electric fires have caused occasional alarm as well.

Now its a steam pipe blowing up on Eutaw Street south of Lombard. As if for special effect, the explosion occurred Tuesday after 6pm  right north of Camden Yards with a clear view from the field. Great timing, too, just before the begin of a game. Five persons are reported as injured, apparently none with severe injuries.
New York steam explosion 2007: 1 dead

The steam-pipes are part and parcel of the old legacy cities. New York has the largest steam pipe system that started in 1882. The honor of oldest system goes to Denver's small system that operates since 1880. Other steam systems run in Boston, Philly and Chicago. New York's steam pipes exploded twice with such forced that the explosion killed one bystander in 2007 and three in 1989.
The first district heating system was designed within a liberal market framework. In 1877, inventor Birdsill Holly pioneered the sale and distribution of heat in Lockport, New York. Holly recognised that urban life was full of thermal energy, and that you could recover heat from industrial processes and sell it using pipes to connect supply with demand – effectively creating a second saleable commodity. (The Guardian)
Baltimore's system today is run by Veolia, the French infrastructure giant who runs all kinds of privatized infrastructure in many parts of the world. The system was built in the early 1900s and originally owned by Baltimore Gas & Electric. At its peak in the 1970s it had about 600 customers. In the 1990s it was run by Baltimore Thermal, later by Trigen. One of the more prominent structures heated by steam heat is the Bromo Seltzer Tower.
Veolia’s extensive heating and cooling networks provide steam, hot water and chilled water to over 255 prominent commercial, healthcare, government, institutional and hospitality customers in the central business district and in Inner Harbor East (website).
The steam in the district heating system is gained in what is called co-generation as part of the trash incinerator on Russel Street, in essence an environmentally smart way of using the heat of incineration instead of blowing it out the chimney. Baltimore also has a underground cooling system for air conditioning  fed by a central chiller plant on Eutaw Street behind a single story retail strip just south of Saratoga Street.
View of the steam powered Bromo tower and the steam leak in
Eutaw Street to the south 

The Baltimore system consists of 15 miles of buried pipeline with 24" main trunk pipelines spidering off into smaller pipes down to six inches to cover the area of downtown Baltimore. Pressure is 50 pounds and 150 pounds depending which pressure system. Pipes are between 6 feet and 25 feet under ground made from ordinary black iron pipe encased in insulation material and concrete. Some pipes are still the original. The steam temperature is about 350F. Steam can also be used for cooling by running compressors. Leaky steam-pipes cause the base of streets under which they run to liquify resulting in an extremely wavy surface if the wear layer is asphalt and not concrete.
Wednesday morning puffs of steam are still rising and the debris is in clear view
the mud covered vehicles are still parked on Eutaw while workers
and equipment are gathered  awaiting instructions. Apparently the blow-up
occurred on a straight stretch of the line without an invert and sits
parallel to a gas line and next to a recently refilled trench. The steam pressure
broke through the roadway concrete slab attesting to significant force

Although district steam is a technology going almost as far back as the steam engine, district heating in its more modern hot water version has regained renewed interest as an energy friendly solution. Leader in district heating is Sweden with 60% of all households getting their heat from district systems. Most energy there comes from biomass, only 15% come from incinerators. Baltimore's system still suffers from the fact that BGE let it wither in the early 80s before it sold it entirely.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Why the heck does New York have steam pipes anyway?

Awaiting instructions

The sidewalk will be swept and opened for hotel access

The newest downtown attraction: A volcano 

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