An apparatus and method have been developed for measuring the rates of leakage of heat into pipes carrying liquids, the purpose of the measurements being to quantify the thermal performance of the insulation system. The apparatus is designed primarily for testing pipes used to carry cryogenic liquids, but can also be used for measuring the thermal performance of other insulated pipes or piping systems.

The basic measurement principle is straightforward: The outer surface of the pipe insulation is maintained at a fixed warmer temperature. The interior of the pipe is maintained in a narrow fixed lower-temperature range by means of a regular liquid (e.g., water) that is pumped through the pipe at a known flow rate or a cryogenic liquid (e.g., nitrogen) that is saturated at atmospheric pressure and replenished until steady-state conditions are achieved.

Thermal Guard Boxes at the ends of a pipe under test are used to make the fluid connections to the pipe.In addition, a temperature control device imposes a specified temperature on the outer surface of the pipeinsulation.
In the case of water or another liquid pumped through, the inlet and outlet temperatures are measured and heatleak power is calculated as the mass flow rate of the liquid multiplied by the specific heat of the liquid multiplied by the inlet-to-outlet temperature rise of the liquid. In the case of liquid nitrogen or another low-temperature boiling liquid, the heat-leak power is calculated as the rate of boil-off multiplied by the latent heat of vaporization of the liquid. Then the thermal-insulation performance of the pipe system can be calculated as a function of the measured heat-leak power, the inner and outer boundary temperatures, and the dimensions of the pipe.

The apparatus can test as many as three pipes simultaneously. The pipes can have inner diameters up to ≈15 cm and outer diameters up to ≈20 cm. The lengths of the pipes may vary; typical lengths are of the order of 18 m.