Gas holder

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"Gasometer" redirects here. For other uses, see Gasometer (disambiguation).
30,000m3 BF Gas holder at Rautaruukki Steel in Finland

A gas holder, sometimes called a gasometer, is a large container in which natural gas or town gas is stored near atmospheric pressure at ambient temperatures. The volume of the container follows the quantity of stored gas, with pressure coming from the weight of a movable cap. Typical volumes for large gasholders are about 50,000 cubic metres, with 60 metre diameter structures. Gasholders tend to be used nowadays for balancing purposes (making sure gas pipes can be operated within a safe range of pressures) rather than for actually storing gas for later use.


The term gasometer was originally coined by William Murdoch, the inventor of gas lighting, in the late 18th century.[1]

Despite the objections of his associates that his so-called "gasometer"[clarify] was not a meter but a container, the name was retained and came into general use. The word is also used to describe a gas meter (a meter for measuring the amount of gas flowing through a particular pipe). The term "gasometer" is discouraged for use in technical circles, where the term "gasholder" is preferred[citation needed]


Design for the Troy Gas Light Company's Gasholder Building, built in 1873.

Before the mid 20th century gas was produced from coal through the process of coal gasification, which was piped to customers to burn for illumination, heating, and cooking. The first public piped gas supply was to 13 gas lamps, each with three glass globes along the length of Pall Mall, London in 1807. The credit for this goes to the inventor and entrepreneur Fredrick Winsor. Digging up streets to lay pipes required legislation and this delayed the development of street lighting and gas for domestic use. Meanwhile, William Murdoch and his pupil Samuel Clegg were installing gas lighting in factories and work places, encountering no such impediments. The first commercial gas works was built by the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coke Company in Great Peter Street in 1812 laying wooden pipes to illuminate Westminster Bridge with gas lights on New Year's Eve in 1813.

By the 1850s, every small to medium-sized town and city had a gas plant to provide for street lighting. Subscribing customers could also have piped lines to their houses. By this era, gas lighting became accepted. The advent of incandescent gas lighting in factories, homes and in the streets, replacing oil lamps and candles with steady clear light, almost matching daylight in its colour, turned night into day for many—making night shift work possible in industries where light was all important—in spinning, weaving and making up garments etc. Gas works were built in almost every town, main streets were brightly illuminated and gas was piped in the streets to the majority of urban households.

The telescopic gas holder was first invented as early as 1824, and the first working example was built in Leeds. The benefits of the greatly increased storage the holders provided for local gas works were soon appreciated, and gas holders were built all around the country in great quantities from the middle of the century. The large gas holders at King's Cross were built in the 1860s to provide gas storage for a large part of London.[2]

William Gadd from Manchester invented the spirally guided gas holder in 1890. Instead of the use of external columns or guide frames, his design operated with spiral rails. The first commercial design was built in Northwich, Cheshire in the same year. By the end of the century, most towns in Britain had their own gas works and gas holders.[2]

The inter-war years were marked by the development of improvements in storage, especially the waterless gas holder, and in distribution, with the advent of 2–4 inch steel pipes to convey gas at up to 50 psi (340 kPa) as feeder mains to the traditional cast iron pipes.


Gas holder schematic

There are two basic types of gasholder — rigid waterless and telescoping. Rigid waterless gas holders were a very early design which showed no sign of expansion or contraction. There are modern versions of the waterless gas holder, e.g. oil-sealed, grease-sealed and "dry seal" (membrane) types.[3]

Telescoping holders fall into two subcategories. The earlier of the telescoping variety were column guided variations and were built in Victorian times. To guide the telescoping walls, or "lifts", they have an external fixed frame, visible at a fixed height at all times. Spiral guided gasholders were built in the UK up until 1983. These have no frame and each lift is guided by the one below, rotating as it goes up as dictated by helical runners.

Both telescoping types use the manometric property of water to provide a seal. The whole tank floats in a circular or annular water reservoir, held up by the roughly constant pressure of a varying volume of gas, the pressure determined by the weight of the structure, and the water providing the seal for the gas within the moving walls. Besides storing the gas, the tank's design serves to establish the pressure of the gas system. With telescoping (multiple lift) tanks, the innermost tank has a ~1 ft wide by 2 ft high (30x60 cm) lip around the outside of the bottom edge, called a cup, which picks up water as it rises above the reservoir water level. This immediately engages a downward lip on the inner rim of the next outer lift, called a grip, and as this grip sinks into the cup, it preserves the water seal as the inner tank continues to rise until the grip grounds on the cup, whereupon further injection of gas will start to raise that lift as well. Holders were built with as many as four lifts.[4]

Dry-seal Wiggins type gasholder[edit]

A dry-seal gasholder can be designed to have a gross (geometric) volume ranging from 200 to 165,000 m3 (7,100 to 5,826,900 cu ft), whilst having a working pressure range between 15 and 150 millibars (1.5 and 15.0 kPa). The dry-seal gasholder is finished with an anti-corrosive treatment to counteract local climatic conditions and also any chemical attack from the stored medium. This anti-corrosive treatment is fully compatible with the sealing membrane and also the environment.[citation needed]

The dry seal gasholder has four major elements: the foundation; the main tank; the piston and the sealing membrane. Each of these elements can be divided into various sub-elements and associated accessories.


A concrete and hardcore base designed to withstand the weight of the steel gasholder structure constructed upon it and to withstand dynamic climatic conditions acting upon the gasholder etc.

Main tank[edit]

The main tank is designed to accommodate the design requirements laid down by the customer and climatic conditions There are three main sub-elements to the tank:

Tank bottom
The tank bottom forms a gas tight seal against the foundation and is "coned up" to facilitate drainage to the periphery. The bottom is covered with steel plates. The outer annular plates are butt welded against backing strips, whilst the infill plates are lap welded on the top side only. Welded to the bottom infill plates is the:
Piston support structure
When the piston is depressurised it rests on a steel framework which is welded to the bottom plates.
Tank shell
The shell of the tank is designed to accommodate the imposed loads and the general data supplied by the client. The shell is of butt-welded design and is gas tight for approximately 40% of its lower vertical height (known as the gas space) at which point the seal angle is located. The remaining upper 60% (known as the air space) of the shell has in it various apertures for access and ventilation. Attached to the shell are various accessories:
Staircase tower
For external access to the roof of the gasholder and also incorporates access to the inside of the gasholder via the shell access doors. A locked safety gate is usually located at the base of the staircase to prevent any unauthorised access to the gasholder.
Shell access doors
Doors located at pertinent points allowing access into the gasholder from the external staircase tower.
Shell vents
Allow air to be displaced from the inside of the gasholder as the piston rises.
Inlet nozzle
The connection nozzle allowing the stored gas to enter the gasholder from the supply gas main.
Outlet nozzle
For the export of the stored gas, this nozzle comes complete with an anti-vacuum grid to protect the sealing membrane during depressurisation. Depending on the operational process the inlet and outlet nozzles maybe a shared connection.
Shell drains
Allow condensates within the gasholder gas space to drain away in seal pots. The seal pots are designed to maintain the pressure with the gasholder.
Shell manways
Used for maintenance access into the gas space – only used whilst the gasholder is out of service.
Earthing bosses
To ensure that the gasholder is safe during electrical storms etc.
Volume relief pipes
Essential fail-safe system to protect the gasholder from over-pressurisation. Once actuated, by the piston fender, the volume relief valves allow the stored gas to escape to atmosphere at a safe height above the gasholder roof. As the volume relief valves open they actuate a limit switch.
Volume relief limit switches
Used to send signals to the control room to confirm the status of the volume relief valves.
Level weight system
A mechanical counter balance system to ensure that the pistons moments are kept in equilibrium. The level weights, which run up and down tracks located on the gasholder shell, also actuate limit switches to signal when the gasholder volume has reached pre-defined settings.
Level weight limit switches
Used to send signals to the control room to operate import and export valves etc.
Contents scale
On the gasholder shell is a painted scale displaying the volume of gas stored within the gasholder. An arrow painted on an adjacent level weight indicates the current status. Also painted on the scale is the location of the piston in relation to the shell access doors.
Seal angle
Welded to the inside of the shell this angular section is where the sealing membrane attaches to the shell.
Tank roof
The roof is designed to withstand the local climatic conditions and the possibilities of additional loads, such as snow and dust. The roof of the gasholder is of thrust rafter radial construction and has a covering of single sided lap welded steel plates. The roof has various accessories attached including:
Centre vent
Allows air to enter and exit the gasholder as the storage volume changes.
Roof vents
Small nozzle around the periphery used for the installation of the seal.
Roof manways
Allows access down to the piston fender when the gasholder is full.
Circumferential handrailing
Safety handrailing around the outside of the roof.
Radial walkway
For access from the staircase to the centre vent etc.
Volume relief valve actuators
Mechanical arms that operate the volume relief valves once the piston fender reaches a certain level.
Level weight pulley structures
Steel structures mounting the level weight rope pulleys and rope separators.
Load cell nozzles
For maintenance access to the load cell instrumentation used for volume recording purposes.
Radar nozzles
For maintenance access to the radar instrumentation used for volume recording purposes and piston level readings.
Roof interior lighting nozzles
For maintenance access to the gasholders interior lights.


The gasholder piston moves up and down the inside of the shell as gas enters and exits the gasholder. The weight of the piston (less the weight of the level weights) produces the pressure at which the gasholder will operate. The piston is designed to apply an equally distributed weight to ensure that the piston remains level at all times. The piston made up of the following sub-elements:

Piston deck
The outer annular area is formed from butt welded steel plates resting on steel section rest blocks. Lap welded steel infill plates form a dome profile to withstand the gas pressure in the gas space beneath it. For higher pressure gasholders the infill plates are lap welded on both sides, whereas, low pressure gasholders are only welded on the top side. The fully welded piston deck forms a gas tight surface, which rests on the piston support structure when the gasholder is depressurised. The following ancillary items can be found on the piston deck:
Piston manway
Used for maintenance access below the piston into the gas space – only used whilst the gasholder is out of service.
Load cell chain receptacle
A receptacle for gathering up the load cell chains as the piston rises.
Piston seal angle
Welded to the outer top side of the annular plates, this angular section is where the sealing membrane attaches to the piston.
Level weight rope anchors
Equally spaced around the periphery of the piston deck are the connections to which the level weight ropes are fixed.
Piston fender
The fender is a steel frame structure that is fixed to the piston deck annular plates and acts as a support structure for the abutment plates. Access can be gained to the top of the piston fender from either the shell access doors or roof manways depending on the gasholder volume. Attached to the piston fender are the following items:
Piston walkway
A platform around the top of the piston fender equipped with safety handrailing, used for inspection purposes.
Piston ladders
Rung ladders complete with safety loops for access to the piston deck from the piston walkway.
Radar reflector plates
Used to bounce the radar signal back to the radar instrument for volume indication recording and piston level readings.
Abutment plates
Fixed to the outside of the piston fender to form a circumferential surface for the sealing membrane to roll against whilst the piston moves during operation.
Piston torsion ring
Around the base of the piston fender is a torsion ring which helps keep the piston shape during pressurisation. Concrete ballast can be added to the torsion ring to increase the weight of the piston and subsequently be a cost-effective way to increase the pressure of the gasholder to the required level.

Sealing membrane[edit]

The seal of the gasholder is designed to operate in the conditions specified by the client and to suit the stored medium. The seal rolls from the shell to the abutment surface of the piston and vice versa providing the piston with a frictionless self-centering facility. During depressurisation the seal (Usually rubber) also provides a gas tight facility that protects the holder from vacuum damage by blocking the gas outlet nozzle. During commissioning of the gasholder the sealing membrane is set into an operating condition. This setting must be carried out every time the gasholder is depressurised, otherwise known as "popping" the seal.[citation needed]


Gasholders hold a large advantage over other methods of storage. They are the only storage method which keeps the gas at district pressure (the pressure required in local gas mains). Once the District Low Pressure Switch falls, and the booster fans come on, the gas in these holders can be at homes, being used, in a very short period of time. Gas is stored in the holder throughout the day, when little gas is being used. At about 5 pm there is a great demand for gas and the holder will come down, supplying the service area.

However, where the distribution system is robust and contains regulators, the gasholder advantages are made redundant.

By location[edit]


Gas holder at West Ham

The pollution associated with gasworks and gas storage makes the land difficult to reclaim for other purposes, but some gasholders, notably in Vienna, have been converted into other uses such as living space and a shopping mall and historical archives for the city. Many sites however were never used for the production of 'town gas', therefore the land contamination is relatively low.

Gasholders have been a major part of the skylines of low-rise British cities for up to 200 years, due to their large distinctive shape and central location. They were originally used for balancing daily demand and generation of town gas. With the move to natural gas and construction of the national grid pipework, their use steadily diminished as the pipe network could both store gas under pressure, and eventually satisfy peak demand directly.[5] London, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Salisbury and Glasgow (which has the largest gasometers in the UK[6]) are noted for having many gasholders. Some of these gasholders have become listed buildings. The gasholders behind St Pancras station in London were specially dismantled when the new Channel Tunnel Rail Link was being created,[7] with Gasholder No 8 being re-erected on a nearby site as part of a housing development.[8] Most gasholders are no longer used, and a program of dismantling is underway to release the land for reuse.[5]

A gasworks in South Lotts, Dublin, Ireland was converted into apartments.[9]

In the past, holder stations would have an operator living on site controlling their movement. However, with the process control systems now used on these sites, such an operator is obsolete. The tallest gasometer in Europe is 117 metres (384 ft) tall and is located in Oberhausen.[10]

In the U.K. as well as other European countries, a movement to preserve classic gasometers has emerged in recent years, especially after Britain's National Grid announced in 2013 their plans to tear down 76 gas holders, and soon afterwards, Southern and Scottish Gas networks announced that they would demolish 111 others. Christopher Costelloe, director of the Victorian Society, a leader in the campaign to preserve the gasometers said, “Gasometers, by their very size and structure, cannot help but become landmarks. [They] are singularly dramatic structures for all their emptiness.”[11]

United States[edit]

Gasometers are comparatively rare in the United States. The most notable of these were erected in St. Louis by the Laclede Gas Light Company in the early 20th century. These Gasometers remained in use until the early first decade of the 21st century when the last one was decommissioned and abandoned in place. The most recently used gasometer in the United States is on the southeast side of Indianapolis but it is to be demolished along with the Citizens Energy Group coke plant. Another pair of holders at the Newtown Holder Station, in Elmhurst, Queens, in New York City, was a popular landmark for traffic reporters until they were demolished in 1996 and became Elmhurst Park. The demolition of two larger "Maspeth Tanks" in nearby Greenpoint, Brooklyn, was described by The New York Times at length.[12]


Gasometers, though once common, have become rare in Australia. Most gasworks within the country were demolished or repurposed and few gasometers remain because of this. A good example of a largely intact gasometer is located at the Launceston Gasworks site in Tasmania. Though the gas bell has been removed, all other components are intact. The remains of two older 1860s gasometers are also visible on site but only the foundations remain.

For many years, a huge gasometer towered over the Arden Street Oval --- the home ground of the North Melbourne Football Club in the Victorian Football League. Television coverage of Australian Rules football matches played at the famous ground showed the gasometer dominating the landscape. It was demolished in late 1977/early 1978.

Other storage systems[edit]

Gas more recently was stored in large underground reservoirs such as salt caverns. In modern times however line-packing is the preferred method.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s it was thought that gasholders could be replaced with high pressure bullets (a cylindrical pressure vessel with hemispherical ends). However, regulations brought in meant that all new bullets must be built several miles out of towns and cities and the security of storing large amounts of high pressure natural gas above ground made them unpopular with local people and councils. Bullets are gradually being decommissioned. It is also possible to store natural gas in liquid form and this is widely practised throughout the world.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Luigi Fiorinoa, Raffaele Landolfob, Federico Massimo Mazzolani (2014). "The refurbishment of gasometers as a relevant witness of industrial archaeology". Engineering Structures. 
  2. ^ a b "Gasometers: a brief history". 
  3. ^ Super User. "Gasholder types". Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  4. ^ "Gasholders and their tanks" (PDF). 
  5. ^ a b "Will the UK's gas holders be missed?". 
  6. ^ "archiseek: The Gasworks, Dublin." (PDF). 
  7. ^ "St Pancras Gasometers". Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  8. ^ "Historic Gasholder No8 at King's Cross". King's Cross. Retrieved 5 July 2015. 
  9. ^ "National Grid Gasholder Demolition Case Study". 
  10. ^ "Gasometer Oberhausen". 
  11. ^ Sean O'Hagan, Gasworks wonders..., The Guardian, 14 June 2015.
  12. ^ Newman, Andy (July 9, 2001). "Last Days for Brooklyn's Giants; Twin Tanks Carry a Love-Hate Reputation to the End". Archived from the original on 2014-05-27. Retrieved 2014-05-27. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]