Mechanical Seals with Oil as Buffer in High-Pressure Centrifugal Pumps

High-pressure centrifugal pumps offer such operational advantages as mechanical reliability and low maintenance cost. Buffer fluid used in most of the pumps is water, which can cause freezing and pump warping. The operating experience with tandem mechanical seals using oil as a buffer fluid shows that it is reliable and efficient.

Arif Jamal Fauji Fertilizer Company Ltd., Goth Machhi, Sadikabad, District Rahim Yar Khan, Pakistan

Plant Fauji Fertilizer Company Ltd. (FFC) operates two Ammonia I urea plants at Goth Machhi, Pakistan. The first plant (Plant I) was commissioned hi early 1982 with design capacities of 1,000 metric ton of ammonia and 1,725 metric ton of urea per day. The plant was successfully revamped to 122% of design capacity in 1990. The second plant (Plant II) with design capacities of 1,100 metric ton of ammonia and 1,925 metric ton of urea per day was commissioned in March, 1993. Both plants employ Haldor Tops0e technology for ammonia and the Snamprogetti process for urea. FFC opted for use of modern technologies in its plants. High-speed centrifugal ammonia feed pumps were selected for the urea unit of Plant 2. The pump model selected was Sundstrand Model HMP 5112, similar to high-pressure carbamate pumps which have been successfully proven in many urea plants throughout the world. A similar model for carbamate service has been operating virtually troublefree at Plant I.

Ammonia Pump Table 1 contains ammonia pump data. To produce urea, liquid ammonia is required at very high pressure. Liquid ammonia arrives at a urea plant battery limit of about 15 bar and 36°C from the ammonia plant and it is stored in a vessel. Downstream of this vessel, two booster pumps increase the ammonia pressure from about 15 bar to 23 bar. This low-pressure liquid ammonia is then pumped to high-speed, two-stage centrifugal pumps driven by 6.3-kV electric motors. A gearbox is provided to increase pump speed. Both stages operate at the same speed. Discharge of the second stage at about 223 bar is sent toward the urea reactor as feed for the urea synthesis reaction. Composition of liquid ammonia is as follows:
NH3 H20 Oil 160

99.80 wt. % 0.20 wt. % 5 ppm (max.)


Table 1. Ammonia Pump Data Fluid handled Temp, min/oper/max. Density at min/oper/max. Temp. Pump speed Suction pressure nor/max. Discharge pressure Differential pressure Capacity min/nor/rated N.P.S.H available Estimated absorbed power Sealing type Flushed fluid No. of impellers Dia. first stage design/max. Dia. second stage design/max. Liquid Ammonia 20/36/40 610/586/579 20562 23/28 223 204
67.7/119/127 (152 max.)

°C kg/m3 rpm bar bar bar

m kW

150 1,220 Tendern Mechanical NH3 + Buffer

mm mm

2 130.81/136.27 158.24/164.5
seal chambers of both stages through pressure letdown orifices. Low-pressure differential switches monitoring the buffer oil flow in seal chambers of first and second stages are set to alarm when flow decreases (Figure 1). The seal flush is drawn off the first-stage discharge, filtered and introduced through a pressure control valve to the first stage and directly to the second stage. Low-pressure differential switches monitor the seal flush flow in both stages (Figure 2).

At any time, one pump shall remain in service while the other is on standby. Changeover/startup is only done in the field after thorough checking. Motor/pumps are equipped with various alarms and trips to safeguard one of the most critical machines of the complex.

Seal System
The Fauji HMP-5112 ammonia pumps incorporate tandem mechanical seals arrangements, using a seal flush with process fluid and a seal buffer with oil. The buffer oil is drawn from the reservoir tank and pumped to both stages. Prior to entering the seal chambers of both stages, the pressure is monitored by orifices which also are provided at the downstream of buffer seals to prevent ammonia vaporization. The buffer system has a bypass, pressure differential control valve PDCV to reduce the buffer oil pressure during startup and shutdown. The valve position is controlled by pressure transmitters which help in responding to process pressure and buffer oil pressure and in maintaining a differential pressure between process and buffer oil. The buffer oil is introduced in

The process side seals are John Crane Type 8 AB with hydro pads (Figure 3). The hydro pad design provides additional film thickness for sealing light fluids. These stationary seals are carbon graphite with 78% balance face. A retainer material SS 316 retains the face, and four antirotation lugs in the retainer prevent the face rotation. Four springs keep the stationary and rotating faces together. The seal-mating face (rotating face) is of tungsten carbide encapsulated by a SS 316 ring. Buffer oil seals are similar in construction except for






M' N M'

Figure 1. Buffer oil system of Fauji pumps.

Figure 2. Seal flush system of Fauji pumps.










Figure 3. Seal details.

Figure 4. Modification in buffer oil seals.




Figure 5. Nitrogen pressurizing. hydraulic balance (65%) and face material (graphite with 70% silicon carbide). The hydro pads are not provided here, since it is sealing viscous oil.

Operating Experience
During the first year of operation, the buffer seal failure incidents were unexpectedly high. All the failure incidents were investigated. To address the problem, a modification was also carried out by the manufacturer in buffer seals to improve the reliability of seals. Eventually, all the problems were overcome, and seal performance is now satisfactory. Following are details of some of the incidents. Buffer oil seal failures Initially, the average life of seals was about two months. The majority of the failures were of buffer oil seals. Wearing of Antirotation Lugs. Almost all of the failed seals exhibited a common problem, which was premature wearing of the antirotation lugs. Premature wearing of antirotation lugs was due to various reasons. Pressure Differential Control Valve. The buffer oil seal arrangement is simple and employs flow orifices for pressure monitor. The pressure differential control valve is the only control valve buffer circuit; however, its malfunction has direct effect on seal life. The response of the pressure differential control valve installed at the buffer oil circuit had not been up to

expectations until its root problem was rectified. Deterioration in the internal parts of its controller and transmitters was very frequent. Various attempts were made to calibrate the controllers and transmitters, but results were not positive. This valve had to be operated manually on a number of occasions when it started malfunctioning. During the investigation it was discovered that external vibrations transmitting from piping was causing distress in the control valve's transmitters. The transmitter was relocated to a more remote location where vibration could not be induced from the surroundings. This resolved the problem and allowed the control valve to be put back in automatic operation. Recycle Flow Valves. Fauji pumps are furnished with recycle flow valves which help maintain the pump operation within the operating range. The pumps tripped a number of times due to malfunctioning of these flow valves. These valves were problematic since the commissioning of the urea plant. It was observed that the buffer oil seal life was shortened further when pumps encountered more startups and shutdowns. Extensive work was carried out to rectify the abnormal behavior of these valves, but the problem could not be resolved. To avoid such trips, however, the flow is being controlled using a manual isolating valve as a recycle control valve. Process Fluid Temperature Variation. Variation in ammonia temperatures at pump suction causes changes in the axial thrust of the pump rotor. The rotating seal faces that are mounted on the rotor also move axially with rotor axial movement. About 10°C temperature variation results in 0.02-0.03 mm of rotor axial movement. This axial movement aggravated the deterioration of antirotation lugs of buffer seals. Blockage of Flow Orifices. The flow orifices installed downstream of buffer oil seal chambers plugged a number of times. This caused low flow in the seals which resulted in seal damage. Such plugging occurred mainly due to small pieces that occasionally dislodged from buffer seal faces and choked the orifices. As a countermeasure, strainers were installed upstream of these orifices. Blockage has not been experienced after this modification. Modification in Buffer Oil Seals. To address the frequent wearing problem of antirotation lugs, the buffer

seals were modified by the pump manufacture (Figure 4). Instead of providing antirotation lugs, an antirotation pin of tungsten carbide was installed. This modification has been proven as the permanent solution of the problem. To improve the reliability, seal O rings were also changed from neoprene to teflon U cup rings. Shattering of Rotating Faces. During the initial period of commissioning, process seals failed several times when the pump was shutdown and depressurized (Figure 5). In these incidents the rotating faces of process seals were found shattered. Investigation revealed that rotating faces were damaged due to thermal shock. These faces underwent thermal shocks when the seal was hot and exposed to low temperature as a result of pump depressurization. The problem was successfully resolved by depressurizing/pressurizing under positive nitrogen pressure.

Conclusion Despite the initial seal-related problems, the pump has achieved a high service factor. After overcoming the problems of seal failures, the tandem mechanical seals using oil as buffer fluid is now regarded as a reliable arrangement in high-pressure ammonia pumps, which can be recommended for urea plant service. Acknowledgment The author wishes to acknowledge his gratitude to M/S Adil Bin Rauf and Imran Ghauri, Machinery Engineers of Fauji Fertilizer Company Ltd., Goth Machhi, for providing active support during the preparation of this article.




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