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What is a Thermal Oxidizer?

Thermal oxidizers, aka fume incinerators, represent a class of equipment that treats VOCs and many other pollutants at high temperatures to effectively destroy them. Common types of thermal oxidizers include direct-fired oxidizers, recuperative oxidizers, and regenerative thermal oxidizers (RTOs). Each technology has strengths and weaknesses depending on the application and process conditions.


How does a Thermal Oxidizer Work?

This short video describes how a thermal oxidizer effectively treats VOCs and how it may incorporate a heat exchanger to reduce energy consumption.                                          


Considerations in Thermal Oxidizer Selection

Equipment selection depends on numerous factors including:

  • The pollutant to be treated
  • The amount of energy in the exhaust
  • The required pollutant destruction efficiency
  • Whether liquid and/or particulate are present
  • Site conditions

Pollution Systems’ experienced applications engineers review each prospective system to understand the environmental requirements, operating goals, and total cost of ownership to recommend the most appropriate solution with guaranteed results. 

In addition to the initial capital cost of a thermal oxidizer, other key considerations when choosing air pollution control technology include ongoing operating costs (i.e. utilities and maintenance expense), equipment life, and reliability.  For any air pollution control equipment, reliability is a primary consideration as equipment downtime can lead to decreased production as well as compliance violations.  The ease of system maintenance and operation are additionally important as the focus of manufacturing is production, with air pollution control equipment being a secondary cost of doing business.    

In most cases, the largest utility operating cost associated with a thermal oxidizer is the auxiliary fuel necessary to operate the system.  Destruction of VOCs is accomplished by raising the incoming process stream to the required temperature above the pollutant (‘s) activation energy, which is generally between 1250 - 1650 °F.  Many processes operate at oxidation temperatures below this range.  Rather than exhausting the high-temperature treated stream, it often makes sense to recover the heat to pre-heat the incoming fumes.  Heat recovery is accomplished using heat exchangers in a recuperative thermal oxidizer and using ceramic media in a regenerative thermal oxidizer.  In well-thought-out applications, the energy created may be recovered to directly heat other manufacturing processes or used in a boiler for plant steam requirements. 

When a process contains high energy due to the heat of combustion from the products contained in the process gases, these processes are ideally treated with technologies that have low thermal efficiencies such as direct-fired thermal oxidizers.  Processes with very low energy contribution from the combustion process are ideally treated with a regenerative thermal oxidizer or a recuperative thermal oxidizer with high heat exchanger efficiencies and potential secondary heat recovery.  Processes with low-to-moderate levels of energy contribution should be carefully assessed to optimize equipment efficiency versus overall energy requirements.  The chart below graphically depicts this relationship:

Chart Matching Thermal Oxidizer Technology to Amount of Energy generated by Industrial Processes
Stevens, K. (2013, March 1)1

Thermal Oxidizer Automated Controls

Each of our thermal oxidizer systems is expertly designed to include a suite of automated controls that assure proper and easy operation of the system. Our oxidizers are fully automated to quickly start, stop, and safely operate without extensive human interaction. A couple of the major benefits of these automated controls specific to our thermal oxidizer systems are that their design minimizes auxiliary fuel consumption and the included safety interlocks will safely shut down the system in case of an upset. Our engineers carefully assess your application and tailor a robust set of system controls to adhere to your requirements and preferences.


Which Oxidizer is right for me?

Thermal oxidation is widely accepted in various industries as a conventional method to reduce VOC emissions, making thermal oxidizer systems very popular technologies to use for air pollution control. It is very common to misapply these systems, especially since each oxidizer technology is only appropriate for very specific applications and process conditions. The proper thermal oxidizer design must be selected for the right problem, otherwise, the air control issue at hand will never be solved and additional challenges will ensue. That is where our expertise comes in. Pollution Systems partners with you every step of the way to determine the best oxidizer for your needs. To learn more about different oxidizer technologies see below:




1Stevens, K. (2013, March 1). Regenerative Thermal Oxidation vs. Recuperative Thermal Oxidation: Matching the Appropriate Choice with the Appropriate Application. Retrieved September 1, 2021, from https://www.pollutionsystems.com/assets/files/Regenerative-Thermal-Oxidation-vs-Recuperative-Thermal-Oxidation-White-Paper.pdf

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