Energy absorption probes control oily-water discharges
New technology monitors oil-emulsion layer in water separation processes and reduces pollution source-points
G. Agar and P. Clewis, Agar Corp., Houston, and C. Spencer, Litwin Engineers & Constructors, Inc., Houston often attainable through improved instrumentation and process control. New technology for process control in separation processes must help in achieving compliance with increasingly rigid EPA regulations such as Benzene NESHAPS. Other interface control methods procedures for separation process control such as sight glasses and capacitance probes have been ineffective in detecting the hydrocarbon/water interface. Result— undercarry of hydrocarbons (and benzene) in wastewater streams. A new solution, energy absorption technology, measures hydrocarbon concentration in water, rather than the interface. This highly reliable method greatly reduces hydrocarbon undercarry. Two case studies. A midwestern U.S. refinery and a large petroleum bulk terminal in Taiwan demonstrate the benefit of energy absorption. Both facilities experienced significant improvement in loss control and reductions in effluent treatment costs from this technique. The refinery met the latest Benzene NESHAP standards and reduced total benzene discharged 82%. Other project benefits included reduced capital costs for the same project. This refinery spent approximately $4 million on a source reduction project (less than $400,000 was spent on related instruments) and avoided investing over $70 million on a wastewater treatment unit (WWTU) project to meet the same regulatory compliance. A petroleum bulk terminal in Taiwan achieved similar results and cut oil-discharge concentrations to less than 10 ppm. Source reduction—prevention is better than cure. Numerous studies detail the advantages of source-reduction over treatment programs. 1–3 A good example is compliance with the NESHAP Benzene Waste Operations regulation (40 CFR 61, Subpart FF—revised January 7, 1993, 58 FR 3072). This regulation requires that all facilities discharging 10 metric tons per year (mtpy) or more total benzene must treat all wastestreams containing 10 ppm or more benzene. In a refinery, benzene originates from hydrocarbon undercarry in wastewater streams. Therefore, a sourcereduction program that segregates total wastewater
nergy absorption instrumentation is rapidly emerging as the preferred method of interface control for separation processes. This high-frequency electromagnetic measurement technique accurately senses volume percentages (not level) in phase separations such as water and oil. Instead of searching for or assuming a clean interface, the instruments monitor percentages of water at points in the system, and can measure either water in oil or oil in water mixtures. This sensitivity gives the operator “vision” inside the system and consequently, more reliable control. Now unit operations can effectively monitor and reduce their oily-water releases. Reducing the work load on existing wastewater treatment systems lessens oil-grease levels in effluent water. Tighter hydrocarbon-release monitoring can bring discharges into compliance and diminish overall emission levels. A need is met. This new technology confronts one of many problems associated with pollution source-point control: detection. Because operators cannot see through vessel walls, they must rely on other methods that show fluid levels. The emulsion’s nature further complicates level detection and adds to the dilemma. For most emulsions, the interface is not a clean-cut line. Rather it is a hydrocarbon/water transition zone where component concentration varies especially with vertical position. Consequently, traditional level control techniques have not acknowledged this phenomenon. Thus they often gave false information that ultimately released hydrocarbons into wastewater. New solution. State-of-the-art source-reduction solutions that are both effective and economical are
Reprinted from HYDROCARBON PROCESSING® magazine, August 1993 issue, pgs. 55-59. Used with permission.
Solids buildup alarm
Installation at tank farm
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Outlet collector Inverter pan distributor and supports
To chemicals injection control
Dump valve controller P+1 To recorder
Fig. 1. Bottom injected desalter or dehydrator.
flow into individual streams by using advanced control strategies can meet the required 10 ppm limit. Segregated low-concentration (< 10 ppm) streams would be exempt from treatment. Even in instances where stream exemption is not the goal, lessening the load on the WWTU justifies source reduction. Defining sources. These EPA references show separation processes as the most significant contributors to generated wastewater. These can include both batch processes (tank dewatering, batch separators, etc.) and continuous processes (desalters/dehydrators, in-line separators, etc.). When manually controlled, these processes offer the greatest opportunity for improvement. Separators with older technology can contribute significant pollutants to wastewater. Typical oily-water contributors for a refinery are: • Desalters—40% • Storage—20% • Slop oil recovery and tanks—15% • Other processes—25%. Thus, by cutting hydrocarbon undercarry from the primary contributors, one can achieve fewer losses and much less pollution. Traditional approaches. Separation control schemes have traditionally been designed to control the height or level of a supposed clear-cut interface between a hydrocarbon phase and an aqueous phase in a separator. With very light hydrocarbons that rapidly and cleanly separate from the aqueous phase (e.g., gasoline and water), and without any turbulence, this approach is a capable, acceptable control form. However, in processes where mixing energy and physical properties play a greater role, the phases tend to mix, inter-disperse and/or emulsify. When this occurs, the concept of level becomes meaningless, because no distinct point of phase
change (i.e., no clear-cut interface) exists. Instead, a transition zone or rag layer exists between the phases. Sight glass. A basic level-reporting technology, the sight glass, is intended to give visual indication of the interface. This method rarely, if ever, shows the presence or size of an emulsion that may exist in the vessel. If the emulsion is positioned between the upper and lower sight glass connections, it cannot enter the sight glass and, therefore, cannot be detected. Also, poor fluid exchange between the sight glass and the tank ensures longer residence time. Even if some of the emulsion does enter the sight glass, this level is not indicative of the actual level. Other technologies indicate a supposed interface level based on differential specific gravity. Some examples are floats, displacers and differential pressure cells. However, all these methods give false indications of a clear-cut interface when there is an emulsion. These indications are unreliable in emulsions, and the hydrocarbons dispersed in the water will not measurably affect their output. Capacitance probe. Another traditional technology is measurement of the liquid’s capacitance or dielectric with a capacitance probe. This technique’s benefits are direct process contact and no dependence on specific gravity. However, when installed vertically the capacitance probe acts as an averaging device, reporting total water and oil along the active antenna but providing no information as to the distribution of the two phases. For example, if it is immersed in a 50% emulsion, it could give the same reading as if it were half immersed in water and half in oil, with a clear-cut interface. When installed horizontally the capacitance probe can sometimes act as a point alarm, but it suffers from an inability to detect the presence of hydrocarbons in the aqueous phase. A capacitance probe relies on an insulating media (e.g., oil or oil with water droplets) between the capacitor’s plates. When process water (which is conductive) becomes the continuous phase, even if there is significant hydrocarbon in the water, the capacitance will short-circuit and the output will peg at full scale and falsely indicate 100% water. Instrumentation requirements. When evaluating control instrumentation to minimize effluent undercarry, and detect/control emulsions and dispersions, certain guidelines must be considered: • Direct contact with the process • Measurement of 0% to 100% hydrocarbon/water concentration (not level) in both oil-continuous (water in hydrocarbon) and water-continuous (hydrocarbon in water) phases. • Local or point measurement, instead of averaging over a large area. This method avoids errors due to hydrocarbon/water distribution or rag layer. • Minimal effect on measurement from fluid properties (specific gravity, pressure, temperature, viscosity and coating buildups). Innovative technique. A new technology, known as energy absorption, has been developed specifically to meet the previously described requirements. The output of energy absorption instruments is expressed in units
HYDROCARBON PROCESSING / AUGUST 1993
of volume percentages (concentration, not level) of the water in the near vicinity of the probe’s antennae. The instruments are positioned to penetrate the vessel at points where the measurement is desired. Consequently, the instruments not only serve to monitor the position of an interface, but also to track changes in the size, rate of growth or shrinkage and water content of rag layers, emulsions and dispersions. The energy absorption probe transmits a band of very high frequency electromagnetic energy impulses into the fluid around its antenna and measures the energy absorbed. Energy absorption allows for remarkably accurate measurement under varying process conditions of the hydrocarbon-in-water phase. Its ability to measure a small amount of hydrocarbon in water makes the most significant contribution when controlling the separation processes without allowing hydrocarbon undercarry. Example—desalter control. Energy absorption technology has been used with great success in refineries and petrochemical operations throughout the world.4 Control applications have varied from the relatively simple storage tank dewatering processes to complex desalter control systems. The typical control strategy for a low velocity desalter is shown in Fig. 1. In the desalter control system, probes provide continuous 4 to 20 mA output signals that are proportional to the water concentration at their locations. Probe 1 controls the brine outlet valve, using its ability to measure small amounts of oil in water to maintain a very high (and unstable) percentage of water several feet above the bottom of the vessel. This allows suspended oil in the water phase to separate, thus inhibiting oil undercarry (as a primary control function). While probe 1 establishes this lower limit for the emulsion layer, probe 2 monitors the water content below the lower electrical grid to detect and alarm on emulsion growth (which must, by control, occur in the upward direction). This monitoring function allows the operator to avoid downstream upset by advance warning of such growth, and allows time for corrective measures preventing undercarry or carryover. Probe 3, installed on the crude oil feed line near the tank farm, monitors the line for excessive water in the feed to the unit (also providing an advance warning). Probe 4 monitors the water phase of the desalter below the distributor, alarming on the presence of suspended oil that does not readily separate and threatens contamination of the brine (“reverse” emulsions). Case studies. A U.S. midwestern refinery is an example of an economic source reduction program using the advanced technology. The refinery’s total level of benzene discharge was nearly 17 mtpy. Initially additional stripping capacity for WWTU was considered and planned. However, the new stripping system would reduce the benzene discharge by 41% and cost several million dollars. A project team consisting of company engineering and refinery personnel and a major engineering firm evaluated the available level control technologies and selected energy absorption to bring the refinery into compliance more economically. Fig. 2 shows
Crude tank farm Tank dewatering system no. 1
Finished product tank farm Tank dewatering system no. 3
Tank dewatering system no. 2
Recovered oil Slop oil tanks
Recovered slop oil
Skimmer control system no. 5
Tank dewatering system no. 4
Fig. 2. Oily-water process flow diagram.
Table 1. Refinery benzene source
Source Crude and product storage tanks (50 total) Crude unit desalters (2) Slop oil tankage and others Contribution,% 45 45 10
a typical block diagram for refining. A review of the primary sources contributing to the refinery’s benzene discharge before modifications is summarized in Table 1. At times, the existing ref inery control systems allowed undercarry of free hydrocarbons from desalter operations because of their inability to accurately detect the interface between the hydrocarbons and aqueous phases. This project used two methods to improve the undercarry quality: a hydrocarbon detection instrumentation system and the addition of recycled water to the desalters. Testing showed that energy absorption instrumentation was able to detect the first traces of suspended hydrocarbons above the water draw-off in the desalters that virtually eliminated free-hydrocarbon discharge in the undercarry. Results. To control costs, all crude and product storage tanks were modified to use the energy absorption probes as a portable system. The probes would be installed on the vessels for tank-bottom-draw operations. This method significantly lowered total capital costs on the project. End-of-project results yield the refinery these benefits: • Total benzene discharge level dropped to approximately 3 mtpy • Improved operations yielded a 82% decrease in total benzene emissions • Project investment cost less than 5% of the original estimate for the additional stripping capacity. Consequently, the refinery avoided a capital wastewater treatment project estimated over $70 million. Total capital investment for energy absorption instrumentation was less than $400,000. Bulk storage. Another rigorous test for tank-dewatering control was conducted at a large petroleum bulk storage operation in Taiwan. Average hydrocarbon
HYDROCARBON PROCESSING / AUGUST 1993
undercarry in effluent water from mixed-crude tankage was several percent. Sidewalls of the tanks were hot tapped to allow entry of two energy absorption concentration control instruments. The instruments were inserted at a 45-degree angle downward to allow for adjustment of the points of measurement (antenna locations). The setpoints that closed water-drainage valves
Gideon Agar is president of Agar Corp. Mr. Agar holds a BS degree in computer science from Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.
had a range of 80% to 90% water (in high-water-continuous or oil-in-water regime). The range control would shut down the system at the first signs of hydrocarbon mixture nearing the vessel’s effluent discharge point. A series of tests were conducted by the Environmental Inspection Division, an independent auditing group that found oil and grease concentration in the effluent water decreased from percentage levels to a residual of 7 to 8 ppm. The challenge. Refining and petrochemical industries must balance environmental responsibility, tougher economic competition and increasingly rigid regulations governing air and water discharge limits. In some areas, new and/or larger units and other large-scale capital projects may be required to achieve the legislated pollutant removal levels. However, in many systems, the best place to start is the source(s) generating those pollutants. Advanced technologies such as energy absorption allow control approaches that can eliminate many streams as pollutant sources. Only after reviewing the potentials for source reduction is there a certainty that cost-effective compliance can be achieved.
LITERATURE CITED Internal and Environmental Audits of the Industrial and Transportation Operations Can Identify Areas that Need Improved Control Management, 1987. U.S. EPA, Development Document for Interim Final Effluent Limitations Guidelines and New Source Performance Standards for the Significant Organics Products Segment of the Organic Chemical Manufacturing Point Source Category, EPA 440/175/045, 1975. U.S. EPA, Development Document for Effluent Limitations Guidelines for the Petroleum Refining Point Source Category, EPA 440/1-79/014b, December 1979. Putman, “What’s the Best Way to Control an Interface When an Emulsion Tends to Form Between the Phases?” Control Magazine, July 1992, pp. 47– 49 .
Paul Clewis is regional applications manager at Agar Corp. and has 12 years of experience in petrochemical and production markets. He has extensive experience in refining unit operations, specializing in the chemical and equipment technologies of oil/water treatment and peripheral operations. Mr. Clewis holds a BS degree in chemical engineering from Rice University, Houston. Calvin Spencer is technology director at Litwin Engineers & Constructors, Inc. He has 21 years of multi-media environmental regulatory and technology experience in refining, petrochemical and polymer industries. Mr. Spencer holds a BS degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas, Austin.
Article copyright © 2000 by Gulf Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Printed in USA.