Advantages and disadvantages of lead sheathed cables

In the petrochemical industry cables are used which may be subjected to hydrocarbons including oils, solvents, gases or other chemicals. The cable systems in the petrochemical industry are qualified as critical. To protect the inside of the cables against all kinds of (aggressive) substances the industry has always trusted lead sheathed cables for optimal protection.ction.


Lead sheathed cables

A lead sheath can be used as a chemical barrier in low, medium and instrumentation cables for all kinds of petrochemical projects. The advantages of lead sheathed cables are:

  • Protection against the entry of hydrocarbons.
  • Protection against moisture ingress.
  • Can be used as an earthing or grouding system.
  • Excellent corrosion resistance.

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Disadvantages of lead sheathed cables

Besides the advantages of lead sheathed cables, there are also some disadvantages. Lead is both a heavy and a soft metal. The heavy weight of this metal is regarded as a disadvantage since it increases labour intensity, making it more costly to install. Furthermore, there are also environmental concerns of using lead in underground cabling systems. Lead is harmful and even in some Scandinavian countries forbidden to be used in the ground.

Alternatives for lead sheathed cables

Due to these concerns, alternatives to lead sheathed cables have been proposed by industry manufacturers. Some of the lead free cable designs include an inner layer of longitudinal aluminium bound with a HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) sheath and PA (Polyarmide) cover. The advantages of lead free alternative designs are the lower cable weight and reduced diameters, which can be beneficial in the installation. A sheath which is composed of aluminium, HDPE and PA has the same functionality and as a sheath of lead.

Advantages of HDPE

HDPE is a versatile plastic with a lot of advantages and is easy to recycle. Some of the advantages of this plastic are:

  • It is lightweight and very strong.
  • It is impact resistant and can withstand a decent punch.
  • It has a long lifespan and it is weather resistant.
  • It is resistant to mould, mildew and rot.

HDPE is used in a lot of industries in most cases as a substitute for heavy metals. For instance in the automotive industry, HDPE is used for fuel tanks.

Lead or plastic: our recommendations

Lead sheathed cables are still widely used within the industry nowadays and have a proven track record of success. Designers and installers trust the reliable performance of lead sheathed cables and generally choose this design for critical petrochemical applications. Also, there is not much experience yet with the alternatives.

Choosing lead sheathed cables is an understandable choice and, in some cases, lead is the only solution. When given conditions at a location are suitable for both types of sheathed cables, we recommend the plastic sheath as an alternative because:

  • It is resistant to water and aggressive substances.
  • It has a similar lifespan.
  • It is lighter in weight, which makes transport and installation of the cable cheaper.
  • Most importantly, it is much more environment-friendly.

More about petrochemical cables?


Receive our eBook you can find the following content:

  • Petrochemical processes.
  • Petrochemical cable types.
  • Type of installation.
  • Petrochemical cables in hazardous environments.

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