Sie sind auf Seite 1von 4
ENVIRONMENT Energy absorption probes control oily-water discharges New technology monitors oil-emulsion layer in water


Energy absorption probes control oily-water discharges

New technology monitors oil-emulsion layer in water separation processes and reduces pollution source-points

G. Agar and P. Clewis, Agar Corp., Houston, and C. Spencer, Litwin Engineers & Constructors, Inc., Houston

E nergy absorption instrumentation is rapidly

emerging as the preferred method of interface

control for separation processes. This high-fre-

quency electromagnetic measurement technique accu- rately senses volume percentages (not level) in phase separations such as water and oil. Instead of searching for or assuming a clean interface, the instruments mon- itor percentages of water at points in the system, and can measure either water in oil or oil in water mixtures. This sensitivity gives the operator “vision” inside the sys- tem and consequently, more reliable control. Now unit operations can effectively monitor and reduce their oily-water releases. Reducing the work load on existing wastewater treatment systems lessens oil-grease levels in effluent water. Tighter hydrocar- bon-release monitoring can bring discharges into com- pliance and diminish overall emission levels.

A need is met. This new technology confronts one of many problems associated with pollution source-point control: detection. Because operators cannot see through vessel walls, they must rely on other methods that show fluid lev- els. The emulsion’s nature further complicates level detection and adds to the dilemma. For most emulsions, the interface is not a clean-cut line. Rather it is a hydro- carbon/water transition zone where component con- centration varies especially with vertical position. Con- sequently, traditional level control techniques have not acknowledged this phenomenon. Thus they often gave false information that ultimately released hydrocar- bons into wastewater. New solution. State-of-the-art source-reduction solutions that are both effective and economical are

often attainable through improved instrumentation and process control. New technology for process control in separation processes must help in achieving compli- ance with increasingly rigid EPA regulations such as Benzene NESHAPS. Other interface control methods procedures for separation process control such as sight glasses and capacitance probes have been ineffective in detecting the hydrocarbon/water interface. Result— undercarry of hydrocarbons (and benzene) in wastewater streams. A new solution, energy absorption technology, measures hydrocarbon concentration in water, rather than the interface. This highly reliable method greatly reduces hydrocarbon undercarry.

Two case studies. A midwestern U.S. refinery and a large petroleum bulk terminal in Taiwan demonstrate the benefit of energy absorption. Both facilities expe- rienced significant improvement in loss control and reductions in effluent treatment costs from this tech- nique. The refinery met the latest Benzene NESHAP standards and reduced total benzene discharged 82%. Other project benefits included reduced capital costs for the same project. This refinery spent approximately $4 million on a source reduction project (less than $400,000 was spent on related instruments) and avoided investing over $70 million on a wastewater treatment unit (WWTU) project to meet the same regulatory com- pliance. A petroleum bulk terminal in Taiwan achieved similar results and cut oil-discharge concentrations to less than 10 ppm.

Source reduction—prevention is better than cure. Numerous studies detail the advantages of source-reduc- tion over treatment programs. 13 A good example is compliance with the NESHAP Benzene Waste Opera- tions regulation (40 CFR 61, Subpart FF—revised Jan- uary 7, 1993, 58 FR 3072). This regulation requires that all facilities discharging 10 metric tons per year (mtpy) or more total benzene must treat all wastestreams con- taining 10 ppm or more benzene. In a refinery, benzene originates from hydrocarbon undercarry in wastewater streams. Therefore, a source- reduction program that segregates total wastewater

Reprinted from HYDROCARBON PROCESSING® magazine, August 1993 issue, pgs. 55-59. Used with permission.

Outlet Transformer collector To chemicals injection control Inter- face level 2 Dump valve 4 1
To chemicals
injection control
Dump valve
Inverter pan
and supports

Installation at tank farm

Fig. 1. Bottom injected desalter or dehydrator.

flow into individual streams by using advanced control strategies can meet the required 10 ppm limit. Segre- gated low-concentration (< 10 ppm) streams would be exempt from treatment. Even in instances where stream exemption is not the goal, lessening the load on the WWTU justifies source reduction.

Defining sources. These EPA references show sepa- ration processes as the most significant contributors to generated wastewater. These can include both batch processes (tank dewatering, batch separators, etc.) and continuous processes (desalters/dehydrators, in-line separators, etc.). When manually controlled, these processes offer the greatest opportunity for improvement. Separators with

older technology can contribute significant pollutants to wastewater. Typical oily-water contributors for a refin- ery are:



Slop oil recovery and tanks—15%

Other processes—25%.

Thus, by cutting hydrocarbon undercarry from the primary contributors, one can achieve fewer losses and much less pollution.

Traditional approaches. Separation control schemes have traditionally been designed to control the height or level of a supposed clear-cut interface between a hydro- carbon phase and an aqueous phase in a separator. With very light hydrocarbons that rapidly and cleanly sepa- rate from the aqueous phase (e.g., gasoline and water), and without any turbulence, this approach is a capa- ble, acceptable control form. However, in processes where mixing energy and physical properties play a greater role, the phases tend to mix, inter-disperse and/or emulsify. When this occurs, the concept of level becomes meaningless, because no distinct point of phase

change (i.e., no clear-cut interface) exists. Instead, a transition zone or rag layer exists between the phases. Sight glass. A basic level-reporting technology, the sight glass, is intended to give visual indication of the interface. This method rarely, if ever, shows the pres- ence or size of an emulsion that may exist in the ves- sel. If the emulsion is positioned between the upper and lower sight glass connections, it cannot enter the sight glass and, therefore, cannot be detected. Also, poor fluid

exchange between the sight glass and the tank ensures longer residence time. Even if some of the emulsion does enter the sight glass, this level is not indicative of the

actual level.

Other technologies indicate a supposed interface level based on differential specific gravity. Some examples are floats, displacers and differential pressure cells.

However, all these methods give false indications of a

clear-cut interface when there is an emulsion. These

indications are unreliable in emulsions, and the hydro- carbons dispersed in the water will not measurably affect their output. Capacitance probe. Another traditional technol- ogy is measurement of the liquid’s capacitance or dielec- tric with a capacitance probe. This technique’s benefits are direct process contact and no dependence on spe- cific gravity. However, when installed vertically the capacitance probe acts as an averaging device, reporting total water and oil along the active antenna but pro- viding no information as to the distribution of the two phases. For example, if it is immersed in a 50% emul- sion, it could give the same reading as if it were half immersed in water and half in oil, with a clear-cut inter- face. When installed horizontally the capacitance probe can sometimes act as a point alarm, but it suffers from an inability to detect the presence of hydrocarbons in the aqueous phase. A capacitance probe relies on an insulating media (e.g., oil or oil with water droplets) between the capacitor’s plates. When process water (which is conductive) becomes the continuous phase, even if there is significant hydrocarbon in the water, the capacitance will short-circuit and the output will peg at full scale and falsely indicate 100% water.

Instrumentation requirements. When evaluating

control instrumentation to minimize effluent under- carry, and detect/control emulsions and dispersions, certain guidelines must be considered:

Direct contact with the process

Measurement of 0% to 100% hydrocarbon/water

concentration (not level) in both oil-continuous (water in

hydrocarbon) and water-continuous (hydrocarbon in water) phases.

Local or point measurement, instead of averaging

over a large area. This method avoids errors due to

hydrocarbon/water distribution or rag layer.

Minimal effect on measurement from fluid proper-

ties (specific gravity, pressure, temperature, viscosity

and coating buildups).

Innovative technique. A new technology, known as energy absorption, has been developed specifically to meet the previously described requirements. The output of energy absorption instruments is expressed in units


of volume percentages (concentration, not level) of the water in the near vicinity of the probe’s antennae. The instruments are positioned to penetrate the vessel at points where the measurement is desired. Consequently, the instruments not only serve to monitor the position of an interface, but also to track changes in the size, rate of growth or shrinkage and water content of rag layers, emulsions and dispersions. The energy absorption probe transmits a band of very high frequency electromagnetic energy impulses into the fluid around its antenna and measures the energy absorbed. Energy absorption allows for remarkably accurate measurement under varying process condi- tions of the hydrocarbon-in-water phase. Its ability to measure a small amount of hydrocarbon in water makes the most significant contribution when controlling the separation processes without allowing hydrocarbon undercarry.

Example—desalter control. Energy absorption tech- nology has been used with great success in refineries and petrochemical operations throughout the world. 4 Control applications have varied from the relatively simple storage tank dewatering processes to complex desalter control systems. The typical control strategy for a low velocity desalter is shown in Fig. 1. In the desalter control system, probes provide con- tinuous 4 to 20 mA output signals that are proportional to the water concentration at their locations. Probe 1 controls the brine outlet valve, using its ability to mea- sure small amounts of oil in water to maintain a very high (and unstable) percentage of water several feet above the bottom of the vessel. This allows suspended oil in the water phase to separate, thus inhibiting oil under- carry (as a primary control function). While probe 1 establishes this lower limit for the emulsion layer, probe 2 monitors the water content below the lower electri- cal grid to detect and alarm on emulsion growth (which must, by control, occur in the upward direction). This monitoring function allows the operator to avoid down- stream upset by advance warning of such growth, and allows time for corrective measures preventing under- carry or carryover. Probe 3, installed on the crude oil feed line near the tank farm, monitors the line for exces- sive water in the feed to the unit (also providing an advance warning). Probe 4 monitors the water phase of the desalter below the distributor, alarming on the presence of suspended oil that does not readily sepa- rate and threatens contamination of the brine (“reverse” emulsions).

Case studies. A U.S. midwestern refinery is an exam- ple of an economic source reduction program using the advanced technology. The refinery’s total level of ben- zene discharge was nearly 17 mtpy. Initially additional stripping capacity for WWTU was considered and planned. However, the new stripping system would reduce the benzene discharge by 41% and cost several million dollars. A project team consisting of company engineering and refinery personnel and a major engi- neering firm evaluated the available level control tech- nologies and selected energy absorption to bring the refinery into compliance more economically. Fig. 2 shows

Crude Finished Product tank Desalter Refining product farm tank farm Tank Tank Tank dewatering dewatering
tank farm
no. 1
no. 2
no. 3
Skimmer control
system no. 5
slop oil
Tank dewatering
system no. 4

Fig. 2. Oily-water process flow diagram.

Table 1. Refinery benzene source

Source Crude and product storage tanks (50 total) Crude unit desalters (2) Slop oil tankage and others





a typical block diagram for refining. A review of the pri- mary sources contributing to the refinery’s benzene dis- charge before modifications is summarized in Table 1. At times, the existing refinery control systems allowed undercarry of free hydrocarbons from desalter operations because of their inability to accurately detect the interface between the hydrocarbons and aqueous phases. This project used two methods to improve the undercarry quality: a hydrocarbon detection instru- mentation system and the addition of recycled water to the desalters. Testing showed that energy absorption instrumentation was able to detect the first traces of suspended hydrocarbons above the water draw-off in the desalters that virtually eliminated free-hydrocar- bon discharge in the undercarry.

Results. To control costs, all crude and product stor- age tanks were modified to use the energy absorption probes as a portable system. The probes would be installed on the vessels for tank-bottom-draw opera- tions. This method significantly lowered total capital

costs on the project. End-of-project results yield the refinery these benefits:

Total benzene discharge level dropped to approxi-

mately 3 mtpy

Improved operations yielded a 82% decrease in total benzene emissions

Project investment cost less than 5% of the origi-

nal estimate for the additional stripping capacity. Consequently, the refinery avoided a capital waste- water treatment project estimated over $70 million. Total capital investment for energy absorption instru- mentation was less than $400,000.

Bulk storage. Another rigorous test for tank-dewa- tering control was conducted at a large petroleum bulk storage operation in Taiwan. Average hydrocarbon


undercarry in effluent water from mixed-crude tank- age was several percent. Sidewalls of the tanks were hot tapped to allow entry of two energy absorption con- centration control instruments. The instruments were inserted at a 45-degree angle downward to allow for adjustment of the points of measurement (antenna loca- tions). The setpoints that closed water-drainage valves

tions). The setpoints that closed water-drainage valves The authors Gideon Agar is president of Agar Corp.

The authors

Gideon Agar is president of Agar Corp. Mr. Agar holds a BS degree in computer science from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Paul Clewis is regional applications manager at Agar Corp. and has 12 years of experience in petrochemical and production markets. He has extensive experience in refining unit oper- ations, specializing in the chemical and equip- ment technologies of oil/water treatment and peripheral operations. Mr. Clewis holds a BS degree in chemical engineering from Rice Uni- versity, Houston.

in chemical engineering from Rice Uni- versity, Houston. Calvin Spencer is technology director at Litwin Engineers
in chemical engineering from Rice Uni- versity, Houston. Calvin Spencer is technology director at Litwin Engineers

Calvin Spencer is technology director at Litwin Engineers & Constructors, Inc. He has 21 years of multi-media environmental regulatory and technology experience in refining, petrochemi- cal and polymer industries. Mr. Spencer holds a BS degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas, Austin.

had a range of 80% to 90% water (in high-water-con- tinuous or oil-in-water regime). The range control would shut down the system at the first signs of hydrocarbon mixture nearing the vessel’s effluent discharge point. A series of tests were conducted by the Environmental Inspection Division, an independent auditing group that found oil and grease concentration in the effluent water decreased from percentage levels to a residual of 7 to 8 ppm.

The challenge. Refining and petrochemical industries must balance environmental responsibility, tougher eco- nomic competition and increasingly rigid regulations governing air and water discharge limits. In some areas, new and/or larger units and other large-scale capital projects may be required to achieve the legislated pol- lutant removal levels. However, in many systems, the best place to start is the source(s) generating those pol- lutants. Advanced technologies such as energy absorp- tion allow control approaches that can eliminate many streams as pollutant sources. Only after reviewing the potentials for source reduction is there a certainty that cost-effective compliance can be achieved.


1 Internal and Environmental Audits of the Industrial and Transportation Operations

Can Identify Areas that Need Improved Control Management, 1987.

2 U.S. EPA, Development Document for Interim Final Effluent Limitations Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards for the Significant Organics Products Seg- ment of the Organic Chemical Manufacturing Point Source Category, EPA 440/1- 75/045, 1975.

3 U.S. EPA, Development Document for Effluent Limitations Guidelines for the

Petroleum Refining Point Source Category, EPA 440/1-79/014b, December 1979.

4 Putman, “What’s the Best Way to Control an Interface When an Emulsion Tends to Form Between the Phases?” Control Magazine, July 1992, pp. 47–49 .

Article copyright © 2000 by Gulf Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Printed in USA.