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13th December 2018, Bergen op Zoom

Track record for composites in chlorine manufacturing

For 30 years Sabic has been using composite pipes and assemblies in its chlorine manufacturing operations in Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands, to be used in different parts of the site, where various types of thermoplastic resins are produced.

Chlorine is manufactured using solid salt as a raw material, which at the beginning of the process is dissolved in water. The heart of the operation is the Cell room which houses a large series of electrolysis cells, converting the brine into chlorine, with hydrogen, hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide produced as by-products.

The plant has been in operation since 1987. © AOC Aliancys

After the electrolysis, the gas streams of chlorine and hydrogen are compressed. The compressed hydrogen is transported through pipelines to a boiler for conversion into steam. The compressed chlorine is liquefied and sent (in liquid phase) to another production unit at the site. The side streams of hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide are pumped into storage tanks to await further processing. As part of the chlorine drying process, concentrated sulphuric acid is used.

“We want to make sure that chemicals like chlorine, hydrochloric acid and hydrogen remain inside an enclosed environment and are well-contained”, explains Thana Kammeijer, manager of chemical operations at Sabic’s chlorine unit. “We want to ensure that the plant is a safe place to work, and that we are running our processes in a responsible way. At the same time, we do not want an eventual equipment failure to interrupt the continuous operation of the chlorine unit, as this may affect the downstream processes on this site. Therefore, we closely follow the conditions of all piping and equipment, and take the right actions for preventive maintenance.”

The plant was designed by German Engineering Company UHDE, and has been in operation since 1987.

 “The brine, hydrochloric acid, sulphuric acid and sodium hydroxide are obviously highly corrosive materials,” says Paul Peterse, mechanical integrity engineer at Sabic. “For that reason, composites pipes and vessels have been used right from the start. In some applications we chose to use pure composite piping, while for other applications we selected composite pipes with thermoplastic liners like PVC and PTFE).

Every four years the chemical plants on the Bergen op Zoom site are subject to a planned extensive turnaround. © AOC Aliancys

Peterse has worked with composite materials for more than eleven years. He is one of the leading engineers at the site to monitor the integrity of the chlorine plant operations.

“We inspect pipes and pipe connections continuously in order to understand their condition and minimize the risk of potential leaks,” he adds. “We use mostly visual inspection methods, and to some extent X-ray and Ultrasound techniques. This gives great insight into the condition of the parts, and confirms composites are very reliable construction materials for contact with corrosive chemicals at elevated temperatures.”

Every four years the chemical plants on the Bergen op Zoom site are subject to a planned extensive turnaround. This enables execution of larger maintenance jobs and equipment modifications for process improvements. It also allows detailed inspection of pipes and vessels. Through the inspection of the composite components it is determined whether these can remain in operation for another four year cycle, or whether they need to be replaced.

Many of the pipes, fittings and assemblies used by Sabic have been supplied by Versteden also based in Bergen op Zoom and involved in the construction of the plant. It has been supporting Sabic ever since.

“In the early years Sabic was cautious about using composites and replaced pipes and tanks in critical areas every eight years,” says Erwin Simons, technical director at Versteden. “Since then, we have worked with the company and learned together how these materials perform over a longer period of time. As a result we were able to extend the lifetime of composite components and assemblies through optimising part design, fine-tuning part production processes and improving overall quality consistency.

Many of the pipes, fittings and assemblies used by Sabic have been supplied by Versteden. © AOC Aliancys

“During part production at Versteden all elements of the process are monitored and recorded, so we can trace any anomalies. Our employees in production are well trained and certified by external parties in the processing of composite materials.”

Versteden uses Atlac 580, Atlac E-Nova FW 2045 and Atlac 382 resins from AOC Aliancys for making the composite components.

“We like to work with AOC Aliancys and its distributor Euroresins,” says Simons. “The Atlac resins have a long track record of consistent performance in pipes and assemblies used in chemical plants. The great resin quality gives us a huge predictability and consistency of our production.”

Paul Peterse is also actively involved in the education of young engineers at the HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht.

“Many of my students quickly realise that steel has its limitations, and therefore for corrosive environments, composites are a better alternative,” he says. “I help them to gain insight in the use of composite parts in chemical plants by providing design and inspection guidelines. Based on my experience over the years, I can say that composites are the material of choice.”

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