Ammonia Storage:

Selection & Safety Issues

This article describes the advantages and disadvantages of various structures of ammonia storage tanks. It also provides the various codes and standards applicable for flat bottomed, vertical and cylindrical storage tanks. The author also lists rel-

evant safety aspects to be considered for storage of liquid ammonia.


G S Lele is a chemical engineer and an alumnus of Laxminarayan Institute of Technology, Nagpur. He is presently Deputy General Manager - Process, with Uhde India Ltd, where he is "actively involved with the Cryogenic Storage Group. He has participated in the conceptualization, design and commisisoning of Uhde India's cryogenic storage projects.

Chemical Industry Digest. May 2008



Storage of liquid ammonia has been done in the chemical industry for the past several decades, right from the time ammonia began to be commercially produced. Due to the inherent physical property of ammonia, the earlier designs for handling liquid ammonia used the pressurized storage concept as ammonia liquid could be stored at ambient temperatures. However the tanks were to be designed for elevated pressures. To enable liquid ammonia to be stored at near atmospheric conditions meant that ammonia had to be cooled and refrigerated to -33°C. Inspite of the best insulation methods utilized, a refrigeration system is required to keep the ammonia in liquefied form.

ally have outer tanks or walls made from pre-stressed concrete, reinforced concrete with an earth embankment or one of the metals specified for the inner tank.

Types of the ammonia storage tanks

Primarily, there are 3 prevalent methods for storing liquid ammonia.

• Pressurized storage at ambient temperature for small capacities (up to 100 MT) in horizontal pressure vessels (pressure: 12-18 kg/ ern-g)

• Semi-refrigerated storage in spheres for capacities upto 2000 MT (pressure 4-6 kg/ cm2g)

• Atmospheric pressure storage at -33°C for large ca~----------"" pacities (2000 MT and higher) with

the following types:

o Single wall tank

o Double wall tank

Until the 1970's it was normal practice to store refrigerated ammonia in single containment tanks. Since that time it has increasingly become the practice for the inner tank for ammonia to be surrounded by an outer tank or wall. The outer tank or wall is intended to prevent the release of the liquefied products into the surrounding area in case of leakage from or damage to the inner tank. This philosophy results in increased safety for the surrounding area. Such constructions are known as double containment and full containment tanks. The double

Disadvantages of pressurised storages

For large scale atmospheric cryogenic storages for liquefied gases like ammonia, design can be selected from three basic types as defined in BS 7777 taking into account local regulations, location of the storage tank with respect to adjacent plants, inhabitants and type of product stored.

o Double wall full containment tank

There are certain limitations in storage of ammonia in pressurized tanks. Some of them are outlined below:

• Limitations in terms of storage capacity (1000- 2000 MT), as present day large capacity plants need more storage space.

• A major factor is the safety aspect wherein escape of ammonia under pressure is potentially more dangerous than leakage of ammonia from an atmospheric tank.

• Construction of pressurized spherical tank is much more difficult and costly per MT of ammonia stored in comparison with an atmospheric tank.

containment tanks and full containment tanks gener-

Inner cup

Mineral wool insulation

For large scale atmospheric cryogenic storages for liquefied gases like ammonia, design can be selected from three basic types as defined in BS 7777

Atmospheric ammonia storage tanks

PUF insulation with AI cladding e-:


/4---tank .-+-- AnnUlar space

foam glass

I-- __ =san""-d --I slpcrex


siporex blocks

FIG· 1 Typical double containment tank


Chemical Industry Digest. May 2008

(single, double and full containment design) taking into account local regulations, location of the storage tank with respect to adjacent plants, inhabitants and type of product stored. Toxicity, flammability, explosive limits, auto ignition temperature & density of vapor need special attention.

Single wall tank

In this type of design, primary container (Inner tank) is provided to hold liquid at low temperature and vapor product under normal/design operating conditions. Insulation is provided on the external surface to minimize heat leakage.

External secondary containment is provided in the form of low height dyke wall to contain the liquid coming out due to rupture of inner tank. Emission to atmosphere of vaporized gas is reduced by providing suitable foaming system. This design has been adopted for storages of gases because of its low toxic-

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ity hazards. For ammonia, these designs have been used in some plants which have been located far away from populated areas due to safety reasons.

Double wall tank

A double containment tank is designed and constructed so that both the inner & outer tanks are capable of containing the refrigerated liquid stored independently. The inner tank contains the refrigerated liquid and vapor under normal operating conditions. The outer tank (which is located < 6m distance from inner tank) is intended to contain refrigerated product leakage from the inner tank but is not intended to contain any vapor result-




q "I >

): "


vapor ammonia

Vapo rs

Inner cup

Ammonia storage tank

FIG - 2 Typical screw compressor refrigeration system

Chemical Industry Digest. May 2008


th ""'i!IIj.~~~~=~~=~~~:- tures down to -165 C.

ing from product leakage from e in- The present day tanks

ner tank which means, it will be re- are constructed on elevated leased to atmosphere. concrete foundations to

The outer container is normally avoid the problem of ice provided in the form of "Bund Wall" formation and propagation of height corresponding to hold in the soil below. Addi-

equivalent amount of liquid in the .

h tionally, double integrity

storage tank. This concept again as J'

been used for storage of non-toxic tanks provide an extra vagases like hydrocarbons world-wide, por space of 15 - ~O% debut not for storage of toxic material pending on dimensions. like ammonia.

API STANDARD 620 10th edition, Feb. 2002 - Addendum 1, June 2004 - Design and construction of large, welded, low pressure storage tanks. Appendix R- Low pressure storage tanks for refrigerated products.

- DIN 4119, sheet 1 & 2, Edition 1961 for roof structure design.

IS 4544: 2000

Double wall full containment tank

In this type both the inner and outer tanks are capable of containing the refrigerated liquid stored independently. The inner tank contains the refrigerated liquid under normal operating conditions. Th~ roof is supported by the outer tank. The outer tank IS capable of containing both the refrigerated liquid and the vapor resulting from product leakage and is located between 1-2 meters from the inner tank. In such tanks, secondary containment in the form of dyke wall is not required. The double containment tank design, also known as the "cup-in-tank" (Double Integrity) design is widely adopted for Ammonia Storage Tanks. The inner cup of the tank is separated from the outside tank by a suspended deck resting on the top of the inner cup. A typical sketch of a full containment tank is attached as Fig 1.

The present day tanks are constructed on elevated concrete foundations to avoid the problem of ice formation and propagation in the soil below (a problem experienced with tanks resting on the surface with consequences of likely damage to tank bottom plates due to frost heaving). Additionally, double integrity tanks provide an extra vapor space of 15 - 20% depending on dimensions, which is very useful for maintaining tank pressure within operating limits especially under emergency conditions.

Applicable codes & standards BS -7777 - 1993

Applicable for flat bottomed, vertical and cylindrical storage tanks for low temperature service.

• Part 1- Guide to the general provisions for design, construction, installation and operation.

• Part 2- Specification for the design and construction of single, double and full containment metal tanks for the storage of liquefied gas at tempera-

It is a standard for ammonia code of safety.

- Prescribes a code of safety concerning the hazards related to ammonia.

- It also describes the properties and essential information for safe handling and use of ammonia.

ANSI K61.1-1999

It prescribes safety requirement for the storage and handling of anhydrous ammonia.

- This standard is intended to apply to the design, construction, repair, alteration, location, installation, and operation of anhydrous ammonia systems including refrigerated ammonia storage systems.

- This standard does not apply to

o Ammonia manufacturing plants

. 0 Refrigeration systems where ammonia is used solely as a refrigerant

o Ammonia transportation pipelines

o Ammonia barges and tankers

The above standard also prescribes guidelines for installation of refrigerated storage tanks (aboveground). Some of these are outlined below:

- Tanks shall be supported on suitable non combustible foundations designed to accommodate the type of tank being used.

- Adequate protection against flotation or other water damage shall be provided wherever high flood water might occur.

- Tanks shall be supported in such way that heat shall be supplied to prevent the effects of freezing and subsequent frost heaving of the soil. Wherever dike is employed, the capacity of the dike enclosure shall be 110% of the capacity of the largest tank served.

- Each refrigerated tank container shall be equipped with an approved liquid level gauging device and high liquid level alarm.

- In addition to the above, this standard also gives


Chemical Industry Digest. May 2008

the guidelines for,

• Requirement of number of compressors

• Provides guidelines for the pressure relief valves capacity, location etc

• Requirement of minimum safety equipment

• Other general guidelines

Types of insulation used

As liquid ammonia is stored in refrigerated condition in the atmospheric tank, it is important to keep heat ingress into the tank to the minimum possible. Insulation plays a key role in this aspect. The insulation type and thickness decides the overall boil off rate from the storage tank, i.e. the kg of ammonia evaporated per day per ton of tank capacity. The boil off rate therefore is indicative of the atmospheric heat ingress into a storage tank when other tank operations are not taking place. The commonly used insulation for the tanks is Polyurethane foam (PUF) which is cast in situ on the outside tank shell and covered with aluminum cladding. Insitu application of PUF is also used for large bore piping and equipments. For small bore piping, pre-cast PUP split sections are available.

Other than the tank outer surface, insulation is required to be provided at various other places in and around the tank. It can be summarized as below:

• Shell bottom - foam glass (load bearing insulation) along with sand

• Below annular space between cup and shell

- Siporex block or perlite block or wooden block. The presence of ammonia vapor in the annular space between the cup and shell acts as an insulating media and helps in reducing the heat ingress from outside. In some cases, the annular space is filled with a naturally occurring insulating material like perlite.

• Suspended deck top - mineral wool (resin bonded glass wool). Between the suspended deck and the top roof, the presence of ammonia vapor acts as an insulating media. There is no insulation required on the top of the roof as no liquid comes in contact with the suspended deck.

• Generally a sand layer is placed between cup bottom and shell bottom plate

Safety aspects for ammonia storage system

As ammonia storage terminal and its associated facilities are generally located away from plants, following considerations in design are made to ensure safety

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of storage tank and connected operations:

• Remote shut-off valves on liquid ammonia main inlet and outlet line to / from ammonia storage tank.

• Dual measurement for tank level/pressure and interlocking with refrigeration compressors, ammonia receipt and pumping, emergency vent to flare.

• Dual level measurement for the annulus portion of the tank and annulus draining facility. This is important as there is a possibility of damage to the cup bottom plates due to buoyancy effect (caused when annulus level exceeds cup level).

• Refrigeration system based on reliable screw compressors. Optional auto loading/unloading facility for tank pressure control can be included.

• Stand-by equipment for critical duties and utilities.

• Closed vent and drain system for ammonia.

• Redundancy in critical instrumentation & control.

• Adequate fire water grid and water curtain around ammonia pumps and road tanker loading stations.

• Thermal relief valve are installed on the ammonia lines where there is any possibility for blockage or heat ingress.

• Ammonia leak detection system for storage installation.


Chemical Industry Digest. May 2008

• Lightening protection and earthing protection for storage tank

• Emergency power to one refrigeration holding compressor to maintain tank pressure during power failure.

• Flare for controlled venting under extreme emer-

gency situation.

• Safety and vacuum relief valves on tank top (designed as per API 520).

• Wind direction indicator.

• Emergency plant lighting.


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