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Services to improve
steam reformer
Johnson Matthey offers a number of different and equally powerful techniques to monitor
reformer operation and resolve reformer problems. By focussing on solving specific issues and
tailoring the offer to the needs of the operator, Johnson Matthey has a tool for assessing every
reformer problem.

any customers consider the burners which can lead to flue gas against similar reformers and trouble-
steam reformer (reformer) to be maldistribution causing high TWTs or shooting operational problems. This type
the most complex and expensive ineffective reformer performance; of survey allows the operations team to
part of their ammonia, methanol or hydro- l poor maintenance allowing degradation make changes to the reformer balancing to
gen plant. Monitoring the plant during both of refractory which increases reformer improve reformer performance, often deliv-
normal and unfamiliar operations is there- heat losses; ering significant value to the customer and
fore extremely important. In extreme cases, l damage to the tunnels resulting in flue improved plant production and efficiency.
getting it wrong can lead to complete gas mal-distribution and hence TWT Reformer surveys consist of an on-site
reformer tube failure. Whilst these cases mal-distribution; visit from one or more experienced engi-
tend to be the result of deviation from pro- l reformer tubes and sub components cor- neers, allowing them to accurately assess
cedure, operation under normal conditions rosion or operation above design temper- the reformer performance. First, the engi-
can also be far from optimum, having an atures leading to premature failure; neer conducts a visual inspection of the
impact on plant efficiency and reliability. l maldistribution of combustion air lead- reformer to highlight any issues associated
Any time and money spent on monitor- ing to TWT variations. with, or damage that has occurred to the
ing a reformer is therefore a worthwhile reformer tubes, refractory, burners and
investment; a well operated reformer is Plant operators have a variety of tech- tunnels. The engineer then conducts the
key to ensuring that a synthesis gas plant niques available to allow continual moni- measurement of TWTs (Fig. 1). By using a
remains efficient, produces the maximum toring of reformer performance including
potential product and operates reliably with on-line temperature and pressure meas- Fig 1: Measuring tube wall
minimal downtime. Furthermore, optimised urement instruments on both the process temperatures with Reformer Imager
reformer operation reduces emissions per and radiant sections of the reformer. How-
unit of product and is potentially safer. ever, in order to achieve the best possible
Reformers suffer from a range of poten- reformer performance, monitoring should
tial issues which can all lead to limitations go well beyond this to a regular examina-
on achievable production rates, reformer/ tion of the reformer TWTs. The most basic
plant efficiency and can lead to significant way to monitor TWTs is to use an optical
down time determining the root cause and (infrared) pyrometer on a regular basis
making repairs. Problems on the reformer to provide an indication on how well the
can be due to: reformer TWTs are balanced.
l catalyst poisoning due to incorrect
operation of the purification section of Reformer surveys
the plant leading to excessive carbon
formation and hence high tube wall Johnson Matthey goes beyond straight-
temperatures (TWTs); forward TWT measurement and incorpo-
l tube failure due to excessively high rates temperature correction and process
TWTs or operational upsets; engineering simulations to characterise
l poor design or maintenance of reformer a reformer performance, benchmarking

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Fig 2: Three dimensional model of corrected reformer TWTs Fig 3: Benchmark example of an ammonia top fired
reformer comparison of TWT spread

vs. ammonia top-fire only


bottom corrected TWT spread, C




1 11 21 31 41
number of plants

proprietary calculation methodology, John- TWT measurement techniques optical pyrometer was selected as the tool
son Matthey is able to correct the meas- to complete the TWT measurement.
ured TWTs to account for the effect of Accurate measurement of TWTs is vital As can be seen in Fig. 4, there is signifi-
background radiation from refractory and and TWT history may allow operators to cant TWT spread across the reformer, with
flue gas. estimate remaining tube life. Inaccurate cold areas on both sides of the reformer.
Plant data is simultaneously collected readings could seriously impact plant Investigation in the penthouse of the reformer
including flow rates, temperatures, compo- operation e.g, high readings may lead to found that the flow of fuel gas and combus-
sitions and pressures and this data is then an artificial limitation of plant rate to stay tion air to the burners was restricted in these
reconciled using Johnson Mattheys in inside design limits while lower readings areas and were therefore being fed less fuel
house process simulation tools1,2 to elimi- compared to actual may mean that the and air. Discussion with the operator showed
nate any measurement inaccuracies. The tube life will be shorter than expected. that this was due to the burners being over
reconciled data is then used in a process Johnson Matthey can employ a range of specified during the original plant design.
simulation to compare calculated TWTs TWT measurement techniques as part of a A detailed reformer balancing procedure
against those measured and to provide a reformer survey. was provided to the operator and this was
detailed assessment including pressure Table 1 gives a summary of how each implemented. The overall TWT spread was
drop, carbon formation potential, approach reformer measurement device works. The reduced to around 50C, offering a signifi-
to design temperature, fuel requirements requirement for background radiation cor- cant improvement in operation which led to
and flue gas conditions. All of which are rection with some techniques is not an the ability to increase firing on the reformer,
useful in determining the root cause of issue as Johnson Matthey uses proprietary reducing methane slip and increasing pro-
reformer problems. programs for this. duction through efficiency delivering signifi-
The measured and corrected TWTs are cant value to the customer.
statistically and graphically analysed to Optical pyrometer
highlight any hot and cold zones or rows Optical pyrometers have been used and Gold cup contact thermocouple
within the reformer and are compared proven over the decades and provide The gold cup contact thermocouple is a
against the visual inspection findings. good results when background radiation is direct contact pyrometer which eliminates
For example, in Fig. 2, the reformer has accounted for. background radiation so is the ultimate
a cold zone shown in the graph which cor- tool when very accurate TWTs are required.
responded to an area where the burner Optical pyrometer reformer survey
valves were partly closed in one part of the In this case study, a customer asked John- Gold cup contact thermocouple reformer
reformer. son Matthey for a reformer survey at the survey
Finally, the performance of the reformer start of life for a new catalyst charge. As In the next example, the customer had
is compared against similar reformers to no specific issues had been identified an identified using their own optical pyrometer
benchmark the reformer operation (Fig. 3).
This is done using the data from the huge Table 1: Comparison of different TWT measurement techniques
number of reformer surveys conducted by
Johnson Matthey. The database includes Tool Tube wall temperature Background correction
a large number of different data items, measurement required?
including reformer type, catalyst age, Optical pyrometer yes single point yes
feed and fuel types, TWT measurement Gold cup contact thermocouple yes single point no
techniques, TWT measurements and TWT Reformer Imager yes whole surface yes

Nitrogen+Syngas 333 | January-February 2015 44


Fig 4: C
 orrected TWT results illustrating temperature spread Fig 5: Measuring TWTs with a gold cup

that they may be running with hot tubes ture spread was low, Johnson Matthey video images of the inside of the reformer.
and they were concerned that this could were able to give the operator confidence This new technique captures very high reso-
cause a major reliability issue as these hot that they were operating as efficiently as lution images coupled with a wide viewing
tubes could fail prematurely. possible within the parameters of their angle therefore temperature readings are
The gold cup contact thermocouple was plant, and would not be causing unneces- available for every pixel in the image as well
selected by Johnson Matthey and the com- sary damage to the reformer tubes. as being able to see part of the tubes that
bination of the TWT measurement results cannot be seen by the naked eye, e.g. the
with process simulations allowed Johnson Reformer Imager tops and bottoms of the tubes. The videos
Matthey to accurately model the tempera- The Reformer Imager is the newest addi- are recorded directly to a laptop and can be
tures and correlate this with plant data. tion to the range of reformer survey tools taken away for further analysis and can be
The survey (Fig. 5) found that the maximum from Johnson Matthey. The Reformer used as reference to compare reformer per-
TWT was not being exceeded. Coupled with Imager operates at a suitable wavelength formance over a given time period. In the
the fact that the overall reformer tempera- for the reformer radiant section and takes comfort of the office, the software can be

Fig 6: Example of data captured by the Johnson Matthey Reformer Imager

44 Nitrogen+Syngas 333 | January-February 2015


Fig 7: Hot zone visible towards the top of the tubes the reformer. However, as can be seen in
Fig. 7, the Reformer Imager was able to
identify a hotter zone in the top section of
the tube. The normal temperature profile
expected in this design of reformer is seen
in the bottom two-thirds of the profile.
Using the Reformer Imager allowed
insight into the profile temperature along
the whole length of the tubes, and demon-
strated that the temperatures in these hotter
areas were still lower than the temperatures
seen further down the tubes, and well within
the design conditions for the tubes. Detailed
process modelling of the reformer then indi-
cated that, for the gas composition being
fed to the reformer, the operating condi-
tions, and the catalyst installed, the profile
was exactly as expected.
The cause of these hotter areas and
the unusual temperature profile through
the tubes was due to the requirement
of feed flexibility for much heavier feeds
and the catalyst installed in the top of the
tubes. The combination of the TWT meas-
urement technique, together with Johnson
Matthey proprietary modelling, determined
that there would be no issues operating
manipulated to see problems before they ral gas through to naphtha. As naphtha had in this manner for the campaign, despite
can be seen with the naked eye, e.g. hot not been used on the reformer for some the slightly unusual profile observed. Not
spots starting to form. These are unique time and was not expected to be used only that, additional modelling by Johnson
advantages over any other temperature again, the customer was unsure as to the Matthey at higher plant rates and as the
measurement technique. cause of the hot bands. The customer catalyst aged determined that no issues
Figure 6 shows the output from the therefore requested assistance from John- would be expected and the catalyst should
Reformer Imager. The points on the tubes son Matthey in identifying what the problem complete its design life without any opera-
have been selected by the engineer to could be. tional incidents.
review the temperatures. At the time of the survey, the reformer
was operating at significantly lower rates Reformer analysis and solution
Reformer Imager reformer survey than normal. The TWT spread in the development
A customer had identified hot areas on the reformer was also very low, approximately
top section of their reformer tubes when 30C at the bottom of the reformer, which Where Johnson Matthey is approached
operating with a light feedstock. The cata- is very good. To the naked eye, there was by customers with specific problems, a
lyst loading in the plant had been selected no evidence of the hot banding or hot areas quick diagnosis of the problem is made
to allow for flexible feeds, ranging from natu- reported by the customer in the top part of and the relevant equipment taken to site

Fig 8: View from the peep hole: unable to see tubes at the roof. Imager allows Fig 9: Optimising loading solution
viewing of the tubes at the top. from reformer analysis

highest activity
carbon protection

optimum activity
low pressure drop


44 Nitrogen+Syngas 333 | January-February 2015


Fig 10: Reformer monitoring techniques available from Johnson Matthey and partners The CatTracker requires no exter-
nal sheath, and is approximately 6 mm
in diameter and it is this combination of
small diameter and Johnson Matthey load-
gold cup TWT pressure surveys Reformer Imager MANTIS ing technique that ensures there is no
measurements tube inspection impact on catalyst loading and therefore
reformer operation. The sensors give tem-
perature readings at 11 different points in
corrosion the reformer tube; the location of these
remnant tube design philosophy computational investigations sensors is determined by Johnson Matthey
life calculations review fluid dynamics and analysis using proprietary modelling program, indi-
cating the best heights for a given reformer.
There are many potential benefits
CatTracker in-tube including:
tube failure maldistribution assessment of
temperature l Continuous on-line monitoring of the
analysis checks burners
measurements tube temperature profile, with the pro-
file available in real time through the
plant DCS system.
combustion air reformer l Installation of alarms and trips based
optical pyrometer
survey benchmarking on reformer process gas temperatures,
preventing costly reformer damage dur-
ing transients.
l Determination of the tube temperature
profile leads to more accurate predic-
for the survey. In this case, a large top- Other reformer monitoring techniques tion of operating proximity to the carbon
fired reformer was suffering with severe formation zone, and hence the ability to
localised hot spots. The plant was using In addition to TWT measurement, John- avoid catalyst steam-outs as a result of
catalyst from a Johnson Matthey competi- son Matthey and its partners can offer a carbon formation.
tor and only achieving short catalyst lives. range of reformer monitoring techniques3
The plant had also suffered hot spots in (Fig. 10). The combination of techniques For those operators who want to know
similar areas early in life of the new charge selected for an individual customer is tai- which reformer tubes will need replace-

of competitive catalyst, and the hot spots lored to the specific problems faced by the ment, LOTIS and MANTIS tube inspec-
had resulted in a burst tube. plant operator to enable a targeted and tion techniques can be employed to
Johnson Matthey completed a full diag- comprehensive analysis of the issues. determine the amount of creep that a
nostic survey and identified a key issue for As part of an extended reformer survey, reformer tube has suffered during opera-
the plant: operating with a very tight carbon additional process simulations can include tion and hence give an indication of which
margin (rich feed), such that transients or both the reformer and the convection sec- tubes to replace. This service is provided
upsets were likely to take it into the carbon tion to reconcile the heat and mass balance through Johnson Mattheys partner Quest
formation operating zone. over both areas. The results of the process Integrity who has developed LifeQuest
The reformer imager was used as part simulation are used to cross check plant Reformer which uses the creep measure-
of the Johnson Matthey diagnostics survey. measurements which can highlight plant ments and process data to determine the
As shown in Fig. 8, the ability of reformer measurement and operational issues. remnant life of the reformer tubes. This
imager to see round corners allowed the Johnson Matthey has access to a range powerful technique allows the operator to
on-site Johnson Matthey engineers to meas- of simulation tools such as computational determine which tubes need replacement

ure higher points up the tube than was fluid dynamics for detailed fluid flow simula- at future plant turnarounds. (LOTIS , MAN-

possible with the optical pyrometer. The tion of reformers and associated equipment TIS and LifeQuest Reformer are trade-
competitive catalyst installed did not have items. The results of these simulations can marks of Quest Integrity Group.) n
the carbon prevention ability needed to be used to determine the performance of
cope with the duty, and locations were iden- equipment on the plant and highlight the
tified where tubes were operating above the effects of potential modifications. References

design temperature even though the plant The CatTracker catalyst temperature 1. Cotton W.J., Davies M. and Fisher B.:
operators had been strenuously managing tracking system, available exclusively from Advanced modelling tools and techniques
for primary reformers; AIChE ammonia plant
the reformer burners to reduce hot areas. Johnson Matthey, is now used as a pro-
safety symposium (Sep 2004).
The detailed reformer model arising cess gas temperature measurement in
2. Cotton W.J. and Foster C.: REFORM The
from survey allowed Johnson Matthey to reformer tubes providing customers with
Worlds Leading Reformer Simulation Pro-
provide a tailored solution to resolve the a unique insight into the process condi- gram, Johnson Matthey Catalysts (2003).
issue. This consisted of an ultra-high activ- tions inside the tubes of their reformer.
3. Brightling J. Mowbray K.: Improvements in
ity catalyst in the top section of the tube Each CatTracker probe is inserted into the reformer monitoring by in-tube temperature
and a larger catalyst for the bottom section centre of a reformer tube using a Johnson measurement, Nitrogen+Syngas 2014 Con-
of the tube, reducing overall pressure drop. Matthey patented loading technique. ference, Paris (Feb 2014).

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