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Lessons from Catastrophic Heat Exchanger Failures

Lessons from Catastrophic Heat Exchanger Failures

Published on: Thursday, 13 October 2016


Peter Marsh of XBP Refining Consultants Ltd. Spoke about “Catastrophic Heat Exchanger Failures” at a lecture in CIT, attended by over 40 persons.   This was a joint Engineers Ireland and IChemE event.  

Pat Kennedy, CIT, Noreen Mackey, 3rd year Chemical & BioPharma Engineering CIT and Peter Marsh of XBP Refining Consultants Ltd.

Peter explained three case studies of equipment failure, resulting in severe damage, major financial cost, and loss of life.  The lecture was well received and gave a great insight into the areas of safety, material science and oil and gas production.  The key lessons were:

Engineering issues

  • Most pressure equipment in gas processing/oil refining is constructed from carbon or low alloy steels
  • Carbon and low alloy steels are susceptible to cold metal embrittlement when exposed to low temperatures (depressurisation/auto-refrigeration)
  • Carbon and low alloy steels lose strength when exposed to hydrogen at elevated temperatures and pressures (high temperature hydrogen attack)
  • Some low alloy Cr/Mo steels are susceptible to temper embrittlement after extended exposure to high temperatures but effect only evident when cool (startup, shutdown or hydrostatic test conditions)
  • Gradual changes to operating conditions due to equipment fouling or catalyst deactivation may lead to accidental breach of operating limits

Process safety management issues

  • Systematic process hazard analysis (PHA) vital for accident prevention
  • Procedures and gun drills essential for abnormal operating conditions
  • Startup, shutdown and emergency procedures to be rigorously enforced
  • Alarm review important to avoid too many alarms, poorly prioritised
  • Remote-operated isolation (shutoff) valves can reduce magnitude of leak
  • Safety Case agreed with regulator includes details of safety management system, risk assessment studies and emergency response (audit basis!)