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Eliminating Freezing Issues Boosts Winter FRAC Sand Operations Ahead of Sand Demand

  December 2016 / January 2017

Eliminating Freezing Issues Boosts Winter FRAC Sand Operations Ahead of Sand Demand
By: Laurie Beth Roberts, Thermo-Tech, Inc.


The striking plunge that Wisconsin’s frac sand mines experienced in 2015, which continued into 2016, slowed production, idled facilities and sent many workers to the unemployment line. Dropping oil prices and the increased use of brown sand handed them a one-two punch that was tough to take. But, good news is on the horizon. The demand for frac sand is expected to take an upswing in 2017 and possibly go higher in 2018. While the Wisconsin’s frac sand industry will most likely never return to the prominence it held in 2013 and 2014, between their own initiatives and the oil and gas industry seeking improved efficiency by increasing the amount of sand used, a rebound is coming. While not every frac sand operation will enjoy the rebound, those who operate efficiently are better poised to reap the benefits.

The height of the 2013/2014 demand surge for Wisconsin’s frac sand by the oil and gas shale boom created a frac sand rush. Rival companies pulled out all the stops to maximize their production capacity. But winter’s freezing temperatures wreaked havoc on their dry plant operations and many wet plants were idled. Most of the plant operators considered down time and lost productivity caused by freezing conveying issues part of normal operations, but three frac sand plants were determined to overcome it. And they did. Located in the Potomac Highlands region of West Virginia where many of the state’s spectacular mountain features and winter’s freezing temperatures and lofty snow call home, Thermo-Tech. Inc. had just what they needed.

Born out of necessity in coal country 33 years ago, Thermo-Tech introduced the mining industry to the conveyor belt heater, a one-of-a kind heating/deicing system used on conveyor belts and related components such as drive and tail rolls. They were designed to replace uncontrolled open flames such as weed burners, tiger torches, firepots and torpedo heaters as well as ineffective electric heaters. They also eliminate the environmental hazards, complications and expense of antifreeze applications. MSHA allows these heaters for above ground installations per their Investigative Report #MRS No. 010104.

Thermo-Tech’s belt heaters solve freezing and sticking problems at material handling, conveying, transfer and storage facilities around the globe in such places as Mongolia and well above the Arctic Circle in the northern most open pit mine on the planet. Eighteen belt heaters operate among the three Wisconsin plants, ensuring maximum production capacity at an efficient cost and have helped keep them viable and prepared for the predicted sand demand surge.

One of the plants also relies on two Thermo-Tech heated liner systems installed in their grizzly feed hoppers. While other plants are fighting freezing issues and experiencing downtime or have chosen to operate intermittently or idle, this plant operates during the winter season. Doing so makes them the “go to” supplier for the oil and gas shale industry.

Recently introduced, the heated chute, bin and hopper liner system eliminates materials freezing or sticking. Because this revolutionary concept retrofits to almost any existing problem and is custom designed for each specific area (any size, any shape, any position), it is simple and inexpensive to install, either by bolting or welding in place. They are available with any wear face desired such as AR400/500, stainless, TIVAR, UHMW or ceramic. Custom sized heated panels are also available to attach to the outside of affected areas when installing liners isn’t feasible.

Freezing and moisture issues can cause considerable loss of revenue any time wet material is conveyed on belts or redirected through chutes or stored in bins and hoppers. The properly directed use of heat can prevent virtually any freezing or sticking issue and keep materials moving at any temperature. When conventional methods of dealing with winters wrath are inadequate or too expensive, a custom heating system may be the answer. One of the plants is in the initial stages of incorporating belt heaters to keep the belts dry and heated liners to prevent wet sand freezing in chutes, bins, hoppers and even bucket loaders with the goal of yearround production. This will propel them further forwarded as a key supplier to the oil and gas shale industry, most certainly ahead of the curve of other operations
playing catch up.

For 33 years the coal, metals and aggregates mining industries have maximized their production and profits, especially in downturn markets, with Thermo-Tech’s unique freeze prevention systems. The frac sand industry can surely do the same.

For more information, please contact Laurie Beth Roberts at 877-693-7693 or visit