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2009 FAI Seminar

Safety in the Global Ammonia Industry

Venkat Pattabathula Global Ammonia Technology Manager Incitec Pivot Ltd Brisbane, Australia

Incitec Pivot

Largest fertiliser manufacturing and distributing company in Australia Has largest explosive grade AN manufacturing base in North America, operates as Dyno Nobel One of the key values of the company

Incitec Pivot Australia

Mount Isa Phosphate Hill

Major Manufacturing and Distribution Sites Distribution Sites Phosphate Hill/Mt Isa: MAP /DAP: 975 ktpa Sulphuric Acid: 1Mtes Gibson Island: Urea: 280ktpa Ammonia: 300 ktpa Ammonium Sulphate: 200 ktpa Cockle Creek: Superphosphate: 250ktpa Kooragang Island: Bagging and Distribution Geelong: Superphosphate: 450ktpa Portland: Superphosphate: 250tpa

A network of coastal and inland distribution centres supports Incitec Pivots manufacturing facilities

Dyno Nobel, North America

North America is the largest explosives market in the world No.1 USA & Canada By Product: 60% AN based explosives 23% Initiation systems products 9% boosters and dynamite, 5% packaged products 3% other
Powder River Basin

Appalachian Coal Basin

AIChE Ammonia Safety Symposium

American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Ammonia Safety Symposium became a main platform for worldwide ammonia industry. Sharing of experience helped the industry and made plants safer, reliable and efficient. Ammonia industry grown by about six folds in last 20 years from about 30 to 190 Mt/year. Papers on various topics Fires, Explosions, Ruptures and Other Incidents Plant Performance Plant Debottlenecks Process Technology Developments Maintenance & Metallurgical Improvements

Industry Major Incidents

163 Listed in a table with year reported, incident, root cause and remedy action taken. Incidents involved fatalities. Incidents that had major impact on business - Reformer tube failures - Waste heat boiler failures on front and backend - Explosion of storage tanks and CO2 line - Start up heater failures - Fire and explosions in synthesis loop - Synloop heat exchanger failures - Ammonia converter failures - Failure of ammonia storage tanks

Failure of Ammonia Injector Pumps

In 1989, high-pressure casing of ammonia injector pump in ICIs Billingham, UK, urea plant failed catastrophically, killing two employees. Crankshaft fractured, plungers came out of cylinders, caused uncontrolled release of ammonia. Fatigue crack caused the crankshaft to fracture. Initial design of machine not ensured the plungers do not come out of cylinders on crankshaft failure. Better design would have improved ammonia containment. ICI developed extensive list of improvements, included - design changes to injector pumps, - modified emergency and normal operating procedures.

Accident in a Lithuanian plant In 1990 Symposium, Bengt Orval Andersson reported on Lithuanian fertiliser plant accident happened in March 1989, destroyed a 10,000tonne-ammonia storage tank. Whole ammonia tank slid from its foundation, smashed with great force through a surrounding wall of reinforced concrete, finally landed 40m from the foundation. Enormous devastation around the tank, 70cm deep liquid ammonia. Large quantities of ammonia evaporated, vapour caught fire and whole plant engulfed in flames. About 32,000 people evacuated from a nearby town, rescue operation continued for three days. Seven people died, 57 were injured. Ammonia tank over-pressured when its contents rolled over. Warm ammonia supplied to tank bottom, caused the rollover while tank refrigeration compressors out of service.

Explosion of Ammonia Separator

Hans Dieter Marsch (Uhde) reported in 1990 Symposium : Ammonia separator in a 1000 tpd plant exploded into at least 80 fragments.

Multishell separator was in service for 10 years. Most likely cause: presence of mercury (Hg), affected steel properties and formed explosive compounds.

Lesson from this: If Hg detected in feed gas, it should be removed to the lowest possible level.

Explosion and Fire in Ammonia Synthesis Section In 1991, a loud explosion followed by a large fire damaged Ammonia Unit 2 of Krishak Bharati Cooperative Ltd (KRIBHCO), Hazira, India. Synloop exchangers exposed to flames and shells of exchangers overheated. Cold insulation of chillers and separators burnt off. Motorised actuators, many instruments and power cables damaged. Control room window panels and frames shattered. Causes of the incident: Popping of a relief valve in synloop caused an explosive mixture in vent header with ingress of air from a drain line on tail pipe as a valve left open after manual draining. Ignition caused by a spark from friction in the pipeline. Remedial actions: RV relocated with a new support; high pressure trip of syngas compressor; purging of cold vent header with N2; new water seals on drain lines and reduction of window panels in control room.

WHB Failure after Debottlenecking Process Air Compressor

In 1991, BASF ammonia plant No.3 in Ludwigshafen, Germany had emergency shutdown from WHB boiler failure. Sudden loss of water level in boiler from a ruptured tube. Several leaks and erosion noticed on boiler tubes. NH3 plant capacity increased with debottlenecking of process air compressor, caused two-phase flow in boiler tubes and eroded the tubes. Complete boiler was replaced in a 4-week shutdown


Failure of two primary make gas boilers

ICI Chemicals and Polymers Ltd, Billingham plant in England reported tube failure of primary waste heat boilers in 1993. The principal damage occurred as a consequence of ferrule failures and subsequent loss of refractory. Total duration of inspection and repair including the replacement of ferrules was 35 days, involved approximately 4,000 man-hours. Lesson learned from this failure: prolonged operation with serious tube leaks should be avoided.


Explosion of H2 in CO2 Line

On 13 April 1997, CO2 transfer line from ammonia plant exploded at Hydro Agri Prosgrunn facilities in Norway. No injuries, but 850 meters line totally destroyed and glass windows on nearby buildings broken. H2 rich gas entered pipeline, line not purged effectively with N2, explosive mixture formed with air ingress, then ignited. Trip system modified and new separate sampling lines installed for each to eliminate common mode failure. A new analyser provided for reformer section start up.

Inner Basket Failure of Ammonia Booster Reactor

In 1997, ABF Bintulu ammonia plant in Malaysia experienced a major failure of inner basket of ammonia booster reactor. Catalyst leaked, plugging downstream synthesis loop high pressure equipment and piping. Missing bolts on catalyst basket and strips, numerous trips coupled with defective valves caused the incident. Basket was repaired and reinforced after unloading the catalyst. Converter internals can be improved to increase its robustness.


Primary Reformer Failure

Agrium Fort Saskatchewan Nitrogen Operations experienced a massive reformer failure in November 1998 during a re-start following a short maintenance outage. Approximately half of the tubes completely failed, tube failures occurred mainly at welds. No risers failed, but overheating was evident. All reformer radiant tubes were replaced in 39 days. Russian-built cargo planes transported tubes from the UK to Canada. Agrium installed automatic shutdown system to protect from overheating during start-up and modified operating procedures to reflect changes in communication between shifts.

Reformer tube failure


Failure of inner shell of a double wall ammonia storage tank

In 1999, a 5,000 tonne ammonia storage tank decommissioned at Coromandel Fertilisers Ltd in India. Noticed ammonia liquid level in annulus area of the double integrity tank, ammonia collected from splashing during ship unloading at high levels. Level transmitter indication wrong, inner cup failed when draining from a hydrostatic head of ammonia in annulus. Bottom plates fractured and circumferential welds failed.Tank repaired, bottom plates renewed. Many improvements made on tank instrumentation: new TI on annulus with a low temp alarm; interlock to trip ammonia pumps if annulus level reaches 400mm level; separate level indications for inner cup and annulus and up-to-date documentation on ammonia tank.

Explosion of MDEA Storage Tank In August 1999, an explosion in MDEA storage tank at Alaska Nitrogen Products (ANP) plant in Kenai, Alaska, propelled the tank off its base and into the air. Tank landed on an adjacent air-cooled heat exchanger, which was filled with synthesis gas. Impact of tank on air-cooled heat exchangers initiated a second explosion and fire. Three operators received minor injuries. Reverse-flow phenomena caused process gas to enter the storage tank, ignited by an unknown source. ANP installed check-valves in MDEA system, equipped storage tank with inert gas-blanketing system. Conducted PHA on MDEA system, revised operating procedures to improve operator awareness of reverse-flow and other startup/shutdown conditions.

MDEA Tank Explosion


Converter Start-up Heater Failure In 2005, rupture of coil primarily caused by inadequate flow of syngas through the coil at Incitec Pivot Ltd Direct cause - short term overheating ruptured the coil, allowing high pressure syngas in to the fire box. H2 rich syngas contacted the naked flames from the burners and led to a fire/explosion. Root cause of the incident: 1. Installation of the force and bypassing of a critical trip system. 2. Failure to remove the force/trip bypass prior to starting up the main burners.



Fire on Start Up Heater


Fish mouth failure of cross over pipe



Retubing of reformed gas boiler

In 1993, Rashtriya Chemicals & Fertilisers Ltd (RCF) ammonia plant in India reported 33 tubes leaked after 600 days in operation. Cracks behind tube to tubesheet weld joints on hot compartment. Boiler low level experienced on few occasions. Accumulation of sludge and sediments noticed on waterside despite continuous and intermittent boiler blowdown. Half of the tubes collapsed within one meter of inlet tubesheet. Complete In-situ retube took 34 days.

Waste Heat Boiler Damage

Incident happened in 1994 at Jianfeng Chemicals, Fuling, Sichuan, PR China. Cause of failure - high pH of boiler water. In-situ repairs took 115 days, boiler achieved design production rates after repair.



Catastrophic Failure of WHB

In 1994, Terra N2, Courtright plant in Ontario, Canada experienced a boiler failure after 9 years in operation. Weld joints failed behind tube to tubesheet and tubesheet to shell forging. Cause of failure: departure from nucleate boiling, initiated by increase in plant rates. New boiler design incorporated - larger dia tubes in front section, increased diameter of shell and a new riser design. New section installed in 1996.


Metal Dusting on Waste Heat Boilers

In 1994 Symposium, DSM, The Netherlands reported metal dusting on 3 plants in between secondary reformer and HT shift converter. Modern plants operate at low S/C ratio and high pressure, will increase CO, a potential for carbon formation. Metal dusting process can be slowed or even halted by: the prevention of carbon formation, the prevention of carbon adsorption, the formation of a less stable intermediate carbide.



Remedial Actions to WHB Failures

Between 1988 and 1995, major failures experienced on WHBs at two Asmidal plants in Arzew, Algeria. Localised refractory failures and subsequent overheating on boiler tubes. Partial repairs done on one plant and boiler replaced on other ammonia plant.


Replacement of Waste Heat Boiler

Between 1990 and 1994, failures on WHBs at Fauzi Fertiliser Co. Ltd in Pakistan resulted into a down time of 91 days. Loss of boiler water level and subsequent heat up of WHB with process steam flow through air coil caused the failure. Observed tube holes, micro-cracks on tube to tubesheet weld joints, ligaments and weld chips. A partial replacement of 101 tubes lasted for 9 months and finally WHB replaced.



Benfield solution storage tank explosion

In 2006, an explosion occurred in a Benfield solution storage tank at Borealis Agrolinzs ammonia plant in Austria. During hot work to install an additional vent on the tank, the roof blew off. Investigations and laboratory tests carried out in association with the University of Erlangen identified the root cause as the evolution of hydrogen.


Benfield solution storage tank



Ammonia Storage Fatality

In 2005, NH3 tank emptied out for a repair, at Yara facility in Rostock, Germany. One person killed while recommissioning the tank and another injured. 100 tonnes of ammonia released. Tank rupture from high pressure Root Cause: - Thin layer of oil prevented mixing of anhydrous ammonia with aqueous ammonia which was used to cover tank bottom. When a valve on tank outlet opened, caused violent reaction and raised tank pressure causing rupture.


Ammonia tank rupture




All accidents are preventable. In spite of 90 years of NH3 industry, there are still challenges in process safety. AIChE NH3 Safety Committee call upon ammonia producers, regulators, process licensors and equipment suppliers to join hands in improving safety, reliability and efficiency of the plants. We are in the noble cause of feeding billions of people across the globe and lets prevent all incidents to save human lives, reduce injuries and protect property.



Incitec Pivot Ltd (IPL) My co-authors: Don Timbres and Bhaskar Rani Our friend, Walter Benson for all his support All the authors, presenters who spent their valuable time in writing and presenting papers over many years.



Thanks !!!

Any Questions please?