As one of the greatest producers of greenhouse gases in the world, the US has been subject to strict emissions reduction protocols for the past 25 years. Countries within the European Union have followed suit, however Greg Fowler, Managing Director at FITT Resources, believes Australia has continued to lag behind. He says the problem looms, but little seems to be done, as preparation for an emissions conscious future is well overdue.
Since the introduction of the US Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) Clean Air Act in 1990, Australian authorities have implemented numerous laws and standards across the chemical and petrochemical sectors. However, according to Mr Fowler, as industry is on a much smaller scale than that of the US and Europe, refinery managers across the country don’t seem to be taking emissions reductions as seriously as they should.
“It’s a big problem that can be alleviated via the right tools and maintenance programs, but unfortunately, the challenge lies in getting site managers to believe that the problem is real,” says Mr Fowler.
Finding the cause
By first identifying major sources of emission leakage across a plant, strategies can then be put in place to reduce this loss.
According to Chesterton Industrial Sealing Solutions, 60 per cent of emissions can be sourced from valves within a pump system, with relief valves, tanks, pumps and flanges individually making up only small percentages of overall emissions released into the air.
Each type of valve performs differently in terms of emissions. Actual leakage per valve type can be seen in Figure 2.
“The sources of emission leakage are wide and varied, says Mr Fowler, but if you consider Figure 2, this is a typical example of where you would find large emitters of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) or CO2.
“The blue bars indicate valve types that are leaking, and the red bars indicate the average parts per million (ppm)leakage of that number and type.
“If you consider that the EU’s current directive for VOCs and CO2 emissions is required to be below 100ppm, this graph indicates that there is plenty of opportunity to reduce emission levels.”
Effective Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) programs are the first step in discovering the source of emission leakage across a site. They are enforced by government agencies such as the EPA or directives of the EU and UN that are directly related to climate change.
Once identified, appropriate repairs should then be carried out by site technicians or qualified contractors that specialise in emission reduction programs. LDAR programs require the following:
- All VOC process stream valves must be monitored
- They must be assessed on either an annual, quarterly, or monthly basis depending on the level of emissions
- Repair work on items with high emission levels (> 100ppm) must completed within five to fifteen days
- All valves that are leaking must be re-packed
- Packing material used must comply with the American Petroleum Institute API 622 emissions standard for valve packing
The benefits of emissions reductions?
According to Mr Fowler, apart from steering clear of emissions related penalties, reducing emission leakage can benefit a plant in many ways.
“Emission leakage can cause long term health issues for both the immediate workforce and the wider community. By reducing emissions, a site is actively improving the health and safety of its workers.
“As well as this, a reduction in emission leakage results in an increase in product reliability. This is not only beneficial for the plant’s performance, but also reduces product loss into the atmosphere and associated costs.
“In terms of maintenance, if a site is able to consistently produce 100ppm or below in emissions, the frequency of emissions monitoring tests (LDAR programs) can fall to as little as one test per year.
“This can provide the plant with a significant reduction in maintenance costs across the board.”
Figure 3: Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) frequency for valves controlling VOCs
Enhanced LDAR requirements
If a plant continues to fall short of its emissions requirements, the site owner may be subject to a large fine and forced to sign a ‘Consent Decree’. A Consent Decree will then involve the company developing, and adhering to, an Advanced LDAR program.
An Advanced LDAR program involves more stringent requirements such as:
- Low leak packing must provide 100ppm leakage or less
- Mandates such as ongoing plans to measure and report leakage must be put in place
- Chosen packing must be tested to the API 662 standard for Plate Heat Exchangers for General Refinery Services
- Tighter repair timeframes with deadlines between five to fifteen days
- All results must be accurately documented by onsite valve technicians and outside contractors.
- Greater penalties apply if a site does not adhere to these requirements
Why should we start now?
Mr Fowler says that despite a fury of debate around greenhouse gas emissions and their impact upon global warming, there is no question that CO2 and VOC emissions are dangerous to the health of our populations and ecosystems. The stringent nature of EPA protocols and the harsh penalties for those that don’t comply suggest that the issue is real, and changes to reduce our global emissions need to be made.
“Apart from the health and safety benefits, the sooner emissions reduction strategies are put in place, the sooner a site is able to benefit from increased productivity, efficiency and product reliability, said Mr Fowler.
“It’s a win-win situation. By reducing emissions, your site benefits from increased productivity. You save money on maintenance and your personnel have a safer working environment, all while doing your bit for the environment.”
Supporting a solution
FITT Resources currently undertakes valve repacking programs across Australia and can provide site managers with a top emissions reducing solution.
“At FITT, we use a HPZ-09 water jet system designed for fast and efficient removal of valve stem packing, pump packing and flange gaskets. This means that we are able to efficiently un-pack and repack between 20-50 valves per day.
“Unlike outdated manual extraction methods, the HPZ-09 system can remove rock-hard packing quickly and cleanly without damaging the valve stem or stuffing box.
“We are then able to re-pack each valve with high emissions reducing packing if requested.
“We also do the job properly by removing all packing rings from the stuffing box, unlike many packing technicians that leave a few rings behind. This is bad for the integrity of the seal and will eventually cause the new packing to fail and the valve to leak.”
Packing to reduce emissions
FITT Resources is the only Australian supplier of the Chesterton 1622 Low Emissions Graphite Tape, winner of the 2011 Vaaler Award for its emissions reduction capability.
According to Mr Fowler, “Chesterton 1622 is the very best emissions reducing packing on the market and it is what we recommend to our clients. More often than not however, clients come to us requesting the 1622 as its high quality and success is already well known.”
The 1622 Low Emissions Packing complies with the API 622 packing standard and is ideal for block valve standardisation and exceeds current emissions requirements for the refinery, petrochemical, and chemical industries.
It is constructed from reinforced graphite with encapsulated blocking agents, meaning that is highly flexible and non-hardening that will not shrink or absorb moisture.
Provided as a single spool solution, 1622 is easy to install and can be used to standardise your block valve stem packings, reducing inventories and installation errors caused by wrong packing selection and installation.