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Reprinted with permission from CEP (Chemical Engineering Progress),

May 2006. Copyright © 2006 American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Environmental Management

Flare Testing
Advanced flare testing at full-scale can help
Jianhui Hong ensure that the system operates as designed.
Charles Baukal This article explains what’s involved
Robert Schwartz
Mahmoud Fleifil and the parameters that should be
John Zink Co. measured and evaluated to demonstrate
performance, reliability and safety.

■ Figure 1. An industrial-scale flare test facility should be able to evaluate a wide range of flows.

oday’s process industries expect more from flare acceptable disposal of waste gases produced from industri-
systems than ever before. Chemical and petroleum al operations (1, 2), and it’s easy to understand why pro-
processing plants depend on flares to burn hydro- cessing industries can benefit from flare testing as a safe-
carbons, such as propane, propylene, ethylene, butadiene, guard against unexpected problems in the field. Testing a
butane and natural gas, found in waste gases. Landfills and flare before installation is a proactive measure to minimize
wastewater treatment plants, oil-and-gas exploration and the uncertainty of flare performance, emission levels, and
production facilities, and loading terminals also use flares the expense of repairs in the event of a problem.
to destroy potentially harmful gases. But testing flares in the field is generally difficult or
In each case, the flare system must separate the gases impossible for several reasons. Operating flares usually do
from any liquids present, ignite the gases, and provide the not have the instrumentation required for assessing per-
stable combustion necessary for destruction, while mini- formance. Operating conditions are not easily modified or
mizing smoke, thermal radiation and noise. And, it must controlled, and taking the plant off-line to test the flare is
operate reliably and safely under a wide range of operating impractical. In addition, flares are nearly impossible to test
conditions, including weather extremes. under critical design conditions once installed.
With a greater demand for increased smokeless capaci- Characterizing flare performance for reliability and safe-
ties, higher turndown and more-efficient plant production, ty requires comprehensive, accurate testing at full-scale and
a flare failure can carry a big price tag. Factor in the under controlled conditions to collect and analyze critical
essential role flares play in the safe and environmentally data. Although flare performance might be estimated based

CEP May 2006 www.cepmagazine.org 35

Environmental Management

■ Figure 2. A
test facility
includes ground,
enclosed and
elevated flares.

on scaled-down experimentation and empirical data, industri- and 2) should offer industrial-scale testing and measurement of
al-scale testing is the most reliable method due to the com- smokeless capacity, required purge rate, blower horsepower or
plexity of the process. While testing custom-designed burn- steam requirements for assisted flares, radiation and noise. To
ers for process heaters has been common for decades, that properly characterize flare performance, a test facility must
has not been true for large industrial flares, primarily due to have the capability and flexibility to evaluate a wide range of
the lack of adequate testing facilities. With the advent of ground, enclosed and elevated flares, including a variety of
state-of-the-art flare test facilities, large-scale flare testing is flare sizes, operating conditions at full-scale, fuel compositions,
recommended to ensure proper performance. flowrates, assist media and other factors. Advanced flow con-
trol and data acquisition systems are required to control the
Advanced flare testing tests and ensure accurate measurements.
Just as flares have evolved into modern-day, technology- Safety is one of two critical features of a world-class
based systems, flare test facilities must also mature into flare test facility. In addition to in-plant safety protocols,
state-of-the-art, full-scale operations, offering extensive equipment safety features and trained specialists, a test
capabilities with sophisticated tools and instrumentation. facility should include exhaustive, redundant safety meas-
While flare manufacturers view these flare test facilities as ures within its controls, automation software and operating
the vehicle for developing cleaner, more-efficient flare procedures to protect against potential problems.
innovations, global industries and environmental agencies The second critical feature is flexibility. A test facility
recognize them as a valuable resource to measure flare per- should support a wide range of fuel flowrates and test fuels,
formance, system reliability and environmental compliance. such as propane, propylene, ethylene, butane, natural gas, and
In the past, industry lacked the ability to test flares in a com- blends of these, including inerts such as nitrogen. Higher
prehensive manner. Today’s test facilities (such as in Figures 1 flowrates can be achieved with a storage vessel filled with fuel

36 www.cepmagazine.org May 2006 CEP

objectives. These include, for example, the gas flowrates,
fuel pressures and compositions specified by the test pro-
Desired Mass Flowrate

120% tocol. For assisted flares, the steam or air flowrate to the
100% flare is generally controlled for a given test point.
80% Atmospheric conditions (wind speed and direction, ambi-
ent temperature and pressure, and relative humidity),
Automatic Control while not controllable, need to be measured because they
40% Manual may have a significant effect on flare performance.
Outputs, on the other hand, include noise, thermal radi-
0% ation, flame stability, smokeless capacity and flame quali-
p m :2 3

pm : 5 8

pm : 1 5
p m :4 8

pm :06

p m :4 0
p m :3 1

ty. Some of these measurements (e.g., flame stability) are




3 :1

3 :1


3 :1


3 :1

subjective and require the expertise of qualified engineer-

Time ing staff, while others (e.g., noise) can be measured with
appropriate instrumentation.
■ Figure 3. Target flowrates can be reached quickly and To ensure data accuracy and to minimize testing costs,
maintained more tightly with automatic controls. the facility’s flow control system must be capable of
reaching the target flowrate very quickly and maintaining
gases at an elevated pressure to increase the available that rate. This is best accomplished with automatic con-
hydraulic capacity. A compressor can circulate the gases in the trols (Figure 3). Because a wide range of flows may be
storage vessel to ensure that blends are well-mixed. The fuel tested — from purge rates up to the maximum hydraulic
flows should be accurately controlled and measured before capacity of a large flare tip — multiple sets of flow meter-
going to the flare. Multiple metering runs of different sizes ing and control runs are recommended to ensure accuracy
can significantly increase the available flow range. Between and controllability for both extremes.
tests, the lines should be purged with an inert gas for safety
and to prevent fuel contamination in subsequent tests. Thermal radiation
A test facility should offer a variety of flare testing venues Thermal radiation is one of the most important consid-
to accommodate virtually every flare size and type used in erations in flare design. Stack height is often chosen so the
industry. In Figure 2, flare-testing venues are in place to test flare is tall enough to meet certain radiation heat-flux cri-
enclosed flares, multi-point ground flares, air-assisted flares, teria at specified locations. Effective tip design, however,
steam-assisted flares, high-pressure flares, and flare pilots. can have a tremendous
A facility should have the capability of testing flares impact on the radiation
with capacities up to 300,000 lb/h or more of fuel. Flare- characteristics of a flare,
pilot test stands should be capable of simulating wind as it can reduce the radi-
speeds in excess of 150 mph (blowing against both the pilot ation fluxes from the
and the pilot mixer) and rain at more than 30 in./h (3). flame and make it possi-
Because many flares use some type of assisting media, ble to use a shorter flare
typically steam or air, to meet the specified smokeless stack, which reduces the
capacity, a test facility must be able to provide adequate cost of the flare system.
quantities of both media. For flares that do not require any To test a flare’s radia-
assisting media, such as high-pressure flares, the facility tion flux, multiple
should be able to produce the higher gas pressures radiometers (Figure 4)
encountered in those applications. are recommended to
measure the radiation
Test parameters field, which is typically
Depending on the information required, the variables non-uniform due to
typically measured during a flare test include flame length, wind effects and varies
smokeless capacity, blower horsepower for air-assisted with distance from the
flares, steam consumption for steam-assisted flares, and flare. Through sophisti-
cross-lighting distance for multi-point flares. Two types of cated mathematical ■ Figure 4. This radiometer is
measurements are taken — inputs and outputs. analysis, the measured used, as part of an array,
Inputs are the controlled parameters set by the test radiant fluxes can be to determine the radiation field
from a flare.

CEP May 2006 www.cepmagazine.org 37

Environmental Management

Btu/h-ft2 kW/m2
1 500.00 1.58
–400 2 1,000.00 3.15
3 1,500.00 4.73
Wind 4 2,000.00 6.31
–300 Speed = 20 m/s
Direction = 109 deg.

Distance, ft

200 3
■ Figure 6. This microphone is part of the sound measurement
300 1
system used for flare testing.

400 flux at the ground will be higher than desired, which may
–400 –200 0 200 400 be dangerous to personnel and equipment in the area dur-
Distance, ft ing a flaring event.
Figure 5 is a plot of constant radiation lines (isoflux
■ Figure 5. Isoflux radiation profiles for a high-pressure flare. lines) at ground level for a high-pressure flare test. This
plot was generated using measurements from an array of
used to determine the coordinates of the effective epicen- radiometers positioned at various distances and angles
ter of the flame and the radiant fraction (i.e., the fraction from the flare.
of heat released from combustion that is emitted as ther-
mal radiation). Noise
Numerous calculation methods have been proposed for Noise from a flare must be adequately controlled to
estimating the radiation from a flare. Predictions can vary protect personnel in the vicinity of a flare event. To study
over a wide range, depending on which model is used and the effects of noise from flares, a test facility requires a
what assumptions are made (4). Overestimating radiation sound measurement system that includes multiple micro-
results in a flare stack that is taller and more costly than phones, such as the one shown in Figure 6. The duration
necessary. Underestimating radiation means the radiant of measurements, microphones, type of data recorded, and

JIANHUI HONG, PhD, is an advanced development engineer at John Zink Co. LLC ROBERT E. SCHWARTZ, P.E., is a senior technical specialist at John Zink Co.
(11920 E. Apache, Tulsa, OK 74116; Phone: (918) 234-5845; Fax: (918) 234- LLC (11920 E. Apache, Tulsa, OK 74116; Phone: (918) 234-5753; Fax: (918)
1827; E-mail: jianhui.hong@johnzink.com). He has several U.S. patents on 234-1986; E-mail: bob.schwartz@johnzink.com). He has over 40 years of
the ultra-stable WindProof flare pilot, low-NOx incinerator control apparatus experience in the fields of combustion, heat transfer and fluid flow, and
and methods, steam-assisted and air-assisted flares, and flare control has been granted 51 patents for inventions on a wide range of combustion-
methods. He has also worked in the areas of kinetic simulation involving and process-related products and methods. He has authored numerous
NOx, SOx, and soot; global optimization of steel stack structures; and articles and papers on flares, and is a contributing author and associate
phased array of thermal radiometers for measuring the flame epicenter and editor of “The John Zink Combustion Handbook.” He holds BSME and
radiant fraction of industrial flares. He holds a BS from Tsinghua Univ. MSME degrees from the Univ. of Missouri.
(Beijing) and a PhD from Brigham Young Univ., both in chemical engineering. MAHMOUD FLEIFIL, PhD, is an acoustics engineer with John Zink Co. LLC
CHARLES E. BAUKAL, Jr., PhD, P.E., is the director of the John Zink Institute (11920 E. Apache, Tulsa, OK 74116; Phone: (918) 234-2748; Fax: (918) 234-
(11920 E. Apache, Tulsa, OK 74116; Phone: (918) 234-2854; Fax: (918) 234- 1827; E-mail: mahmoud.fleifil@johnzink.com). His areas of expertise are
5895; E-mail: charles.baukal@johnzink.com). He has over 25 years of fluid dynamics, combustion instability and noise control. He has over 23
experience in the field of industrial combustion in the metals, minerals, publications on active control of combustion instability in IEEE,
petrochemical, textile and paper industries. He has nine U.S. patents and Combustion Science and Technology, and Combustion and Flame Journals.
has authored two books, edited four books, and written numerous He has a PhD in mechanical engineering from a co-supervisory program
technical publications. He holds a BS and an MS from Drexel Univ. and a between Ain Shams Univ. and MIT. He is listed in Who’s Who in America,
PhD from the Univ. of Pennsylvania, all in mechanical engineering, and an Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, and Lexington Who’s Who, and on
MBA from the Univ. of Tulsa. He is a Board Certified Environmental The National Aviation and Space Exploration Wall of Honor. He is a member
Engineer (BCEE) and a Qualified Environmental Professional (QEP), and is a of ASME and AIAA.
member of ASME, AWMA and the Combustion Institute.

38 www.cepmagazine.org May 2006 CEP

type of spectrum analyzers used are among
the numerous conditions that can be varied 90
for noise testing.

Overall Sound Pressure Level, dB

Figure 7 illustrates the sound pressure Mic-2
data recorded by two microphones at differ- Mic-5
ent locations during a typical flare test. The
spikes at 0 s and 10 s are not related to flare 75
noise, but represent noise from the safety
horn alerting personnel in the area of an 70
impending flare test. In this example, there
is a rapid rise in the sound level at the start 65
of the test, followed by a steady decline as
the fuel flowrate is reduced according to 60
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
the test plan. Time, s
Collecting accurate data for measure-
ment and analysis requires a sophisticated
■ Figure 7. Sound levels decrease as flowrate is reduced during a flare test.
data-acquisition system. In the control room
pictured in Figure 8, three time-synchro-
nized computers capture critical test infor-
mation, which is recorded on a single test
record. The first computer collects general
data, such as ambient conditions, fuel tem-
perature and flowrates, tip pressure, radia-
tion fluxes, and locations of radiometers
and microphones. Another computer records
digital video from multiple cameras strate-
gically positioned at various locations,
while the third computer records noise data.

A new era in problem-solving

In the past, flares have been designed
using semi-empirical and simplified analyti-
cal models that can sometimes produce less-
than-optimum results. This has primarily
been due to the inability to gather compre-
hensive experimental data from industrial-
scale flares and the lack of industrial-scale
flare testing capabilities. Today, industrial-
scale test facilities should provide important ■ Figure 8. Data acquisition during tests is monitored from the control room.
data for greatly improving flare design and
in-field performance of existing flares.
The quest for flare knowledge has Literature Cited
taken many leaps forward with the
1. Schwartz, R., et al., “Flares,” Chapter 20 in “The John Zink Combustion
advancement of these test facilities, and Handbook,” Baukal, C. E., ed., CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL (2001).
hydrocarbon and chemical processing 2. American Petroleum Institute, “Recommended Practice 537: Flare Details for
industries will benefit from this progress. General Refinery and Petrochemical Service,” API, Washington, DC (2004).
3. Schwartz, R. E., et al., “The Flare Pilot,” Hydrocarbon Engineering,” 7 (2), pp.
Through a better understanding of com- 65–68 (2002).
bustion science, full-scale testing and real- 4. Schwartz, R. E., and J. W. White, “Flare Radiation Prediction: A Critical
world simulation, cleaner, more-reliable Review” (Paper 12a), presented at the 30th Annual Loss Prevention Symposium,
American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Spring National Meeting, New
flare performance can stay a step Orleans, LA (Feb. 29, 1996).
ahead of industry requirements.

CEP May 2006 www.cepmagazine.org 39