I spend a significant amount of time in petrochemical plants, refineries and process plants. When I review the major on-site energy consumers at these sites, I find myself looking at steam generation and direct-fired process heaters. Depending on the specific plant, these two behemoths can use 70–80% of the total onsite energy. Thermal energy is the engine that drives our processes; plants can implement several energy conservation measures and best practices to optimize its use. Not only does this month’s column deal energy efficiency, but the topic also has a close connection to personnel safety.
Personnel safety is of prime importance and should not be compromised at any cost. We want to return home safe and sound to our families and friends every day. Every plant has a safety protocol and all of us abide by that protocol when on site. On a daily basis, it’s typical to find, in addition to plant personnel, several contractors on site, as well as other visitors. Our industry’s heavy dependence on thermal energy leads to extremely high temperatures in plants. Hence, we must ensure all high-temperature equipment, components, piping, instrumentation, etc. are properly insulated so their surface temperatures are such that no personnel can be injured if they accidentally or unknowingly happen to touch a hot surface. Note that process heaters, boilers, etc. have refractory on the inside and hot spots on the outside skin can pose a significant burn risk.