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Pressure Safety Valve (PSV) is one of safety devices in oil and gas production

facility, which ensure that pipes, valves, fittings, and pressure vessels can never be
subjected to pressure higher than their design pressure. Therefore, the selection of
PSV to be installed must be conducted in a careful and proper manner.
Pressure Safety Valve by definition
Cited from API 520 part 1 (Sizing, Selection, and Installation of Pressure-
Relieving Devices in Refineries; Sizing and Selection) about Safety Valve
definition: A safety valve is a spring loaded pressure relief valve actuated by the
static pressure upstream of the valve and characterized by rapid opening or pop
action. A safety valve is normally used with compressible fluids. Figure 1 shows
Conventional PSV, which is purposed for description only.

Figure 1. Conventional Pressure Safety Valve (Taken from API 520 part 1)
How does it work?

How does the PSV work? Figure 2 is a simple sketch of pressure relief valve
which shows the disc held in the closed position by the spring. When system
pressure reaches the desired opening pressure, the pressure force of the process
fluid pass through the inlet and then it is acting over Area A1 equals the force of
the spring, and the disc will lift and allow fluid to flow out through the outlet.
When pressure in the system returns to a safe level, the valve will return to the
closed position.
Certain area of the disc and nozzle will allow certain amount of the gas/liquid
volume. The area of the nozzle (so called as Orifice) needs to be calculated in
order to have proper amount flow of the process fluid. This certain area has been
standardized in API 526 (Flange Steel Pressure Relief Valves) and designated into
certain alphabetic as shown on Table 1.

Since PSV will most likely to be in closed position, it is a good idea to choose
some kind of seal between disc and the nozzle to keep the process fluid from
leaking to the outlet of the PSV.
Conventional, Bellows or Pilot type?
Backpressure considerations
Types of PSV are created due to existence of backpressure. The effect of
backpressure can be depicted by Figure 3 which incorporate forces from spring
(Fs), process fluid from the pressurized system (PVAN), and backpressure
(PBAN). The PV is the pressure due to the changes over the pressurized system,
and the PB is the pressure which exist in the outlet of the PSV, we recognize this
as a back pressure. As you may see, that the spring denotes with the Fs is
having main contribution to the force balance, and have a positive direction along
the PB. The overpressure in the pressurized system will increase the magnitude of
the PV, and eventually it will affect the balance of the pressure force, and hence
the sum of the PBAN and the Fs will be less than the PVAN. The spring, which
holds the disk and isolates the pressurized system into the outlet of the PSV, is
moving upward and the disk will not contain the pressurized system anymore.

Figure 3. Effect of Backpressure to the set pressure (Taken from API 520 part 1)
An extreme example, in the closed position, if backpressure is high enough to
compensate the force pressure of process fluid, the force resultant will be zero, in
other words the PSV will remain close. In this condition, the PSV is not
successfully to fulfill its function. We will examine types of PSV.
Conventional type
This type of PSV is the simplest one as you may see on Figure 4. Usually, this
type of PSV is used whenever the existence of back pressure is relatively small
(less than 10% of set pressure), or nearly zero. Due to its low immunity to back
pressure, the conventional type outlet is vented into atmospheric, and mostly, the
fluid to be vented is non-hazardous fluid i.e.: water steam.

Figure 4. Conventional Pressure Safety Valve (Taken from API 520 part 1)
Bellows type
PSV with bellows type or balanced-bellows type is used when the backpressure
does not exceed than 50% of set pressure. This type of PSV is almost the same
with the conventional ones, but there is additional bellows in it as you may see on
Figure 5. The bellows itself has a function to reduce the effect of the backpressure
force (PBAN) over the disk as you may clearly see on the forces diagram on
Figure 3. The bellows contained the upper side of the disc and the rod which
connected to the spring from pressure force of process fluid/pressurized system
in which connected through PSV outlet and the inside chamber of the bellow
will be vented to the atmospheric, which obviously has constant pressure.
Commonly, this type of PSV does not have a wide range of PSV, hence, it is not
so flexible in alteration of set pressure.

Figure 5. Bellows Pressure Relief Valve (Taken from API 520 part 1)
Pilot type
A pilot-operated pressure safety valve consists of the main valve, which normally
encloses a floating unbalanced piston assembly, and an external pilot as shown on
Fig.6. The piston is designed to have a larger area on the top than on the bottom.
Up to the set pressure, the top and bottom areas are exposed to the same inlet
operating pressure. Because of the larger area on the top of the piston, the net
force holds the piston tightly against the main valve nozzle. As the operating
pressure increases, the net seating force increases and tends to make the valve
tighter. This feature allows most pilot-operated valves to be used where the
maximum expected operating pressure is higher than 90% of MAWP
The pilot type has a sensing line and its function is transmitting the built-up
pressure that may exist in the pressurized system to the pilot valve. As the
pressure in the pressurized system is increasing and reaching the set pressure, the
pilot valve will actuate the PSV spring inside the main valve to pop up the PSV.
Due to the actuator has no direct contact with the venting system the valve will
not relatively be affected by backpressure. Moreover, this type of PSV has a wide
range of spring setting, it will be an advantage if we want to change the set
pressure on a wide range alternatives.

Figure 6. Typical pilot-operated valve
Multiphase Fluid
How about if we need to release multiphase fluid? Is there another type of PSV
which is able to handle that kind of case? Well, it is good question actually. If we
are using conventional PSV, we will have big problem in the backpressure
consideration if we do have large backpressure or even a variation of

Another option is pilot. It also has a week point which is critical on multiphase
handling since there will be possibilities that the sensing line will be plugged with
non-clean fluid. None will guarantee whether or not the process fluid is clean
(containing of liquid and gas only). They may have little solids or debris which
eventually plug the sensing line.

The last option is the bellows type, since it is relatively unaffected by the
backpressure and it has no sensing line like the pilot type has. We will choose this
last option, because we only have three available type in the market. It is obvious
now that every possible case is not available in ready-on-stock PSV type, we have
to conduct an engineering judgment on any possible case within available type.
For comprehensive understanding between types of PSV, Table 2 is describing the
advantages and disadvantages each one of them.

What are required for PSV Sizing?
After we have selected the type of the PSV, we should calculate the size of the
orifice. Of course this is one of the important step to select PSV. Why do we have
to calculate the PSV anyway? If you dont calculate your PSV, youre not really
sure whether the size is adequate or not to handle the fluid relief. The main
principle of PSV sizing: it is fit for purpose. Smaller size of PSV means smaller
capacity of the valve and also, bigger size of PSV means bigger capacity of the
The application of the smaller capacity of PSV than its design capacity shall be
avoided. Because if the PSV is unable to allow the process fluid to be released,
then the pressure in pressurized system is tending to increase and adjacent parts of
the pressurized system will be burst or rupture. In other words, the PSV is unable
to fulfill its main function.
It is almost similar to the application of bigger capacity of PSV than its design
capacity. The bigger capacity from its design capacity means PSV is allowing the
process fluid too much. If we have pressurized system to be in overpressure
condition, the set pressure of the PSV is reached and the process fluids will be
vented through the outlet. Due to its large capacity, the pressure in the pressurize
system will be decreased rapidly and then the PSV will re-close. But, as the PSV
is closing, the pressure in the pressurized system is increasing again and the set
pressure of the PSV is reached again, and the PSV will open again. This is what
people called as chattering, and most of cases the chattering itself is more like to
be a rapid vibration. This is an example of bad sizing of PSV because the PSV
will be damaged after a chattering. In other words, the PSV is unable to fulfill its
main function again.

As a basic of PSV sizing, these following process data as shown on Table 3 shall
be provided to calculate the orifice designation.
PSV Sizing using Software
Is there any chance that we can size PSV easier? The answer is yes. But you
must be careful then, wise people said that: its not about the gun, its about the
man behind the gun. Software is only calculating what is coming through it, and
do what we told. In another word: garbage in, garbage out.
You can use specific software, which made special for it. The useful software tool
for PSV sizing I ever had is Instrucalc Version 5.1, the user interface is as shown
in Fig.7. I will use Instrucalc Version 5.1 as description-purposed only, even there
are other software which have the same capability.

Figure 7. Instrucalc version 5.1 for PSV sizing.
This software is non-vendor oriented, since its calculation relied on API-520 and
ASME Sect.VIII, and almost all vendors are taking reference to those two
standards. Instrucalc is best on describing the size of orifice designation, inlet and
outlet size and maximum capacity of the valve could handle. Moreover, for Gas
Relief and Liquid Relief case, the calculation result of Instrucalc and vendor
software is most likely to be the same, that would be a reason for choosing
Instrucalc as a general calculation software.

However, for some specific types of PSV from certain vendor, I would rather
choose vendor software which is able to calculate various outputs based on their
PSV models, especially when reviewing vendors proposal. For an instance,
Instrucalc will generate certain size of inlet and outlet, which any vendor does not
have that size of inlet/outlet. If there is discrepancy with Instrucalc, it doesnt
mean that vendor calculate incorrectly, they just dont have that size, as Instrucalc
has calculated. As long as the size and liquid/gas capacity from vendor proposal is
adequate with our technical data, that would be all good.

For some reasons, certain vendor is not allowing their software to be installed side
by side with other vendors software in a computer. This is a difficult problem
since the softwares bugs were intentionally created by vendor, which
eventually we cannot fix. In case youre facing this problem, consult your vendor
representative for more assistance.

Proper material for parts

Compatibility with the process fluid is achieved by careful selection of materials
of construction. Materials must be chosen with sufficient strength to withstand the
pressure and temperature of the system fluid. Materials must also resist chemical
attack by the process fluid and the local environment to ensure valve function is
not impaired over long periods of exposure. The ability to achieve a fine finish on
the seating surfaces of the disc and nozzle is required for tight shut off. Rates of
expansion caused by temperature of mating parts is another design factor.

Comparison among Vendors

We have some basic knowledge about basic of PSV selection, lets do some real
job here.

Correctness of calculation
We require to pay attention for process data. Mostly, they are root cause of
incorrect calculations, wrong data will lead you to some confusing results, so be
careful then. Having the process data correctly, we need to see the result and
compare them (vendors and ours), are they different badly? We need to see,
whether the discrepancies are critical or not. As example, the calculation of orifice
area from each vendor can be different with the same process data and method of
calculation (API-520), but you must pay attention that vendors will refer to the
same orifice designation. The same way if vendors offer 1.5 inch of inlet size,
while according to our own calculation we need 2 inch. That would be fine if the
valve capacity is capable to handle our data process with the size of inlet/outlet
pipe is not too large or too small compared to our own calculation.

Material is another important issue since we need the PSV to be seated for some
years and most probable to handle bad fluid process characteristics.

The most critical parts are the spring, seat and disc. We need to pay attention on
their material to be proposed by your vendors. The internal part of the PSV is
shown in Figure 8.

Figure 8. Internal part of the PSV (Taken from API 520 Part 1)

Springs material is one of the important consideration, since it is muscle of the
PSV. There are many alternatives for the springs material, i.e : chrome steel,
inconel. Different material will be impacted to the overall price, you should select
the material properly.

Seating surface or seat for short has a function to contain the pressurized
system and the vented system, since it is clutching the disc. Usually, we have a
soft seated and hard seated options. The hard seated means that it is made from
the metal material, i.e : steel. While the soft seated means that it is made from the
non-metal material, i.e : kalrez, viton. The advantage of having soft seated that it
will have a good isolation, because it is softer than the hard seated, so its shape
is more flexible to clutch the disk, which the disk is commonly made of stainless
The most exposed part to the process fluid is the disk. That would be a reason that
we have to choose a good material of it. Usually the disk is made of stainless steel
because of its properties to be able stand on the harsh environment.

Price criteria
In most cases, money talks. High price means high quality, low price means low
quality, but you should remember, it is not always true. You shouldnt believe, for
instance, with the low price of the PSV also will has low quality, either with the
high price. There must be some overheads over the price components or even low
quality of the materials. You should examine vendors proposal very carefully and
thoroughly, you must go into as detail as possible. If you have any doubt about
some points, you must ask to vendor for explanations until you have satisfaction
on the answers and you have confident to determine whether or not you are going
to accept vendors proposal.

References :
1. Crosby, Pressure Relief Valve Engineering Handbook
2. API 520 Part 1, Sizing, Selection, and Installation of Pressure-Relieving
Devices in Refineries; Sizing and Selection
3. API 526, Flange Steel Pressure Relief Valves
4. Ken Arnold, Maurice Stewart, Surface Production Operations,Vol.2, Design of
Gas Handling Systems and Facilities,2nd edition,1999,