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GBH Enterprises, Ltd. 101 THINGS THAT CAN GO WRONG ON A PRIMARY REFORMER - BEST
GBH Enterprises, Ltd. 101 THINGS THAT CAN GO WRONG ON A PRIMARY REFORMER - BEST

GBH Enterprises, Ltd.

GBH Enterprises, Ltd. 101 THINGS THAT CAN GO WRONG ON A PRIMARY REFORMER - BEST PRACTICES

101 THINGS THAT CAN GO WRONG ON A PRIMARY REFORMER - BEST PRACTICES GUIDE

CAN GO WRONG ON A PRIMARY REFORMER - BEST PRACTICES GUIDE Process Disclaimer Information contained in

Process Disclaimer

Information contained in this publication or as otherwise supplied to Users is believed to be accurate and correct at time of going to press, and is given in good faith, but it is for the User to satisfy itself of the suitability of the Product for its own particular purpose. GBHE gives no warranty as to the fitness of the Product for any particular purpose and any implied warranty or condition (statutory or otherwise) is excluded except to the extent that exclusion is prevented by law. GBHE accepts no liability for loss, damage or personnel injury caused or resulting from reliance on this information. Freedom under Patent, Copyright and Designs cannot be assumed.

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0 Introduction 1 Common Problems Affecting the Catalyst 9 1.1 Poisons 9 1.1.1 Chloride
0 Introduction 1 Common Problems Affecting the Catalyst 9 1.1 Poisons 9 1.1.1 Chloride

0

Introduction

1

Common Problems Affecting the Catalyst

9

1.1

Poisons

9

1.1.1 Chloride Poisoning

 

10

1.1.2 Arsenic

11

1.2

Carbon Formation and Hot Tubes

11

1.2.1 Causes of Carbon Formation

11

1.2.2 Carbon Laydown

Effect

of

13

1.2.3 High Hydrocarbons

Effect

of

13

1.2.4 Loss of Fuel

 

14

1.2.5 Purging of Feed System

14

1.2.6 Actions to Limit Carbon Laydown Down

14

1.2.7 Carbon

Removal by Steaming

15

1.2.8 More Severe Steaming

15

1.2.9 The ‘Wind Down’ Effect

15

1.3

Catalyst Breakage

16

1.3.1 Effect

of

Trips

 

16

1.3.2 Effect

of

Catalyst

Design

16

 

1.3.2.1 Example of a Catalyst with Good Breakage Characteristics

17

1.3.2.2 Example of a Catalysts with Poor Breakage Characteristics

17

1.3.2.3 Up Flow Fluidization Problems

18

 

1.3.3 Milling of the Catalyst

 

19

1.3.4 Effect of Water

19

 

1.3.4.1 Effect of Water Carry Over

19

1.3.4.2 Shattering of the Catalyst

20

1.3.4.3 Condensation

20

1.3.4.4 Passing Steam Valve

21

 

1.4

Catalyst Loading

21

1.4.1 Poor Catalyst Loading

 

21

1.4.2 Effect of Voids

22

1.4.3 Tube Expansion

23

1.4.4 In-Correct Catalyst Loading

23

1.5 Reduction of the Catalyst

 

23

1.6 Ammonia Formation

25

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2 Common Problems Affecting the Tubes 25 2.1 Hot Tubes 25 2.2 Tube Failure  
2 Common Problems Affecting the Tubes 25 2.1 Hot Tubes 25 2.2 Tube Failure  

2

Common Problems Affecting the Tubes

25

2.1 Hot Tubes

25

2.2 Tube Failure

 

26

2.2.1 Fundamentals of Tube Design

26

2.2.2 Tube Failure by Creep

28

2.2.3 Failure due to General Overheating

30

2.2.4 Thermal Cycling

 

31

2.2.5 Failure due to Localized Overheating

32

2.2.5.1 Flame Impingement

33

2.2.5.2 Tunnel Port Effect

 

33

2.2.5.3 Single Tube Catastrophic Failure

35

2.2.5.4 Pigtail

Nipping

 

35

2.2.5.5 Domino Effect

36

2.2.6 Loss of Feed

 

38

2.2.7 Tube Weld Positions

 

38

2.3 Failure of Mixed Feed Pre Heat Coil

39

2.4 Boxing

Up of Reformer

 

40

2.4.1

Storage of Tubes

41

2.5

Effect of Water

 

41

2.5.1

Effect of Water Carry Forward

41

2.5.1.1 Effect

on

the

Tube

41

2.5.1.2 Effect on the Catalyst and Tube

42

2.6

Stress Corrosion Cracking of Tube Tops and Bottoms

42

2.6.1 Tops

Tube

 

42

2.6.2 Bottoms

Tube

 

43

2.7 Bowed Tubes

 

44

2.8 Tensioning of Tubes

 

45

2.9 Pigtails

45

2.9.1 Failure

by

Creep

 

45

2.9.2 Failure

by

Cracking

46

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2.10 Differential Tube Metallurgy’s 47 2.11 Risers 48 3 Common Problems Affecting the Furnace Box
2.10 Differential Tube Metallurgy’s 47 2.11 Risers 48 3 Common Problems Affecting the Furnace Box

2.10 Differential Tube Metallurgy’s

47

2.11 Risers

48

3 Common Problems Affecting the Furnace Box

49

3.1

Fluegas Maldistribution

49

3.1.1 Top Fired Furnaces

49

3.1.2 Injection through Side Wall Peepholes

50

3.1.3 Injection through Burner Ignition Port

50

3.1.4 Foster Wheeler Furnaces

52

 

3.1.4.1 Fluegas Fan Effect

52

3.1.4.2 Flow Maldistribution between Cells

53

3.1.5

Tests for Mal Distribution

54

3.2

Coffins

54

3.2.1 Design of Coffin Roof

54

3.2.2 Effect of Damage to Coffins

55

 

3.2.2.1

Movement of Tunnel Walls

57

3.2.3 Coffin Damage on Kellogg Furnaces

57

3.2.4 Removal of Coffins

57

3.2.5 Modification to Port Layout

59

3.3 Effect of Wind on Box Stability

59

3.4 Purging of the Box

60

4 Common Problems Affecting Burners

60

4.1

Operation and Maintenance of Burners

60

4.1.1

Burner Misalignment

61

4.1.1.1 Cleaning of the Burner Tips

61

4.1.1.2 Damage to the Burner Quarls

62

4.1.1.3 Top Fired Reformers

63

4.1.2

Lighting Burners

64

4.1.2.1 Side Fired Furnaces

65

4.1.2.2 Foster Wheeler Furnaces

65

4.1.3

Non Optimal Firing in Foster Wheeler Furnaces

66

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4.1.4 Fuel Usage 67 4.1.5 After-Burning 67 4.1.6 Metal Dusting of Burner Tips 68 4.2
4.1.4 Fuel Usage 67 4.1.5 After-Burning 67 4.1.6 Metal Dusting of Burner Tips 68 4.2

4.1.4 Fuel Usage

67

4.1.5 After-Burning

67

4.1.6 Metal Dusting of Burner Tips

68

4.2 Flame Instability

68

 

4.3 NO X

68

4.4 SO X

69

5 Common Problems Affecting the Fluegas Duct

69

5.1

Too Much Excess Air

69

5.1.1 Rotary Air Preheaters

Leaks in

69

Areas of

5.1.2 Potential Air Leakage

70

5.2

Too Little Excess Air

70

5.2.1

Due to Insufficient ID Fan Capacity

70

5.3 Fluegas Coiling Fouling

71

5.4 Problems with Fans

73

5.4.1 ID

Fan

Trips

73

5.4.2 ID Fan Close to Maximum Speed Pressure Boxes

73

5.4.3 Governor Instability

73

5.4.4 Flue Gas Mal-Distribution – Effect on Box Pressure

73

6 Common Problems Affecting the Header Designs

74

6.1

Fuel and Fuel Header Designs

74

6.1.1 Symmetry

74

6.1.2 Deposition of Particular Matter in Fuel Headers

74

6.1.3 Fuel Valve

Suction

74

6.1.4 Purge CV Changes

74

6.2

Combustion Air Problems

75

6.2.1 Poor Combustion Duct Design

75

6.2.2 Combustion Air Maldistribution

75

 

6.2.2.1

Due to Mechanical Failure

75

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6.3 Process Headers 77 6.3.1 Inlet Process Gas Header Design 77 6.3.1.1 Dead Legs and
6.3 Process Headers 77 6.3.1 Inlet Process Gas Header Design 77 6.3.1.1 Dead Legs and

6.3

Process

Headers

77

6.3.1

Inlet

Process Gas Header Design

77

6.3.1.1 Dead Legs and Low Points

77

6.3.1.2 Headers too Hot

77

6.3.2

Exit Header Design

78

6.3.2.1

Exit Header Failure

80

7 Common Problems Affecting Refractory

81

7.1 General Refractory Damage

81

7.2 Tracking of Gas behind Refractory

81

7.3 Seals around Tube Inlets/Outlets

81

7.4 Peephole Refractory

82

7.5 Cooling of Hot Reformer Casing

82

7.6 Damage to Refractory Anchors

83

8 Common Miscellaneous Problems

84

8.1 Nickel Carbonyl Formation

84

8.2 On Line Analyzers

84

8.3 Temperature Measurements

85

8.3.1

Exit Header Temperature Measurement

85

8.3.1.1 M W Kellogg Furnaces

86

8.3.1.2 European Plant Experience

87

8.3.2 Variations in Exit Temperatures

87

8.3.3 Fluegas Temperature Measurements

88

8.4 Metal dusting of Waste Heat Boilers

89

8.5 Flowmeter Errors

89

8.6 Sample Shifting

90

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  8.7 Zinc Alloys 91 8.8 Power Failures 91 9 Troubleshooting 92 9.1 Process Troubleshooting
  8.7 Zinc Alloys 91 8.8 Power Failures 91 9 Troubleshooting 92 9.1 Process Troubleshooting
 

8.7 Zinc Alloys

91

8.8 Power Failures

91

9

Troubleshooting

92

9.1 Process Troubleshooting Guide

92

9.2 Mechanical Troubleshooting Guide

95

10 Conclusions

98

11 GBHE INTERNAL References

99

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0 Introduction This paper details some common problems that can occur on primary reformer, the

0

Introduction

0 Introduction This paper details some common problems that can occur on primary reformer, the associated

This paper details some common problems that can occur on primary reformer, the associated convection section and the waste heat boiler. These problems can lead to either a full plant shut down to effect repairs or to a loss of plant efficiency. The problems have been grouped into and under the following headings,

Catalyst,

Tubes,

Furnace box,

Burners,

Fluegas duct,

Header designs,

Refractory

Waste Heat Boilers.

Some typical examples include, but are not limited to,

Carbon formation.

Tube failure due to general overheating or overheating in a specific area.

Fluegas maldistribution.

Metal dusting of Waste Heat Boilers.

Damage to coffins or coffin removal.

Maintenance of burners.

Combustion air maldistribution.

Leaks in Rotary Air Pre-heaters.

Flame impingement.

Effect of water on tubes and catalyst.

Plant reliability could be defined by the following graph,

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After plant start up, there are a number of problems formally associated with commissioning, design
After plant start up, there are a number of problems formally associated with commissioning, design
After plant start up, there are a number of problems formally associated with commissioning, design

After plant start up, there are a number of problems formally associated with commissioning, design issues and the operators learning about the plant. Towards the end of the plants life, the problems are more associated with ageing hardware, loss of corporate memory, changes in plant personnel and changes in operating philosophy. It should be noted that many of these problems that have occurred in the past are starting to re-occur again. This is a function of the above issues and the reduction in plant personnel due to the effect of market forces on fixed costs. See reference12 for further details.

For details on reformer design, references 14 and 15 are recommended reading.

1

Common Problems Affecting the Catalyst

1.1

Poisons

There are a large number of poisons that can affect primary reforming catalyst; typical poisons include,

Sulfur compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, COS, mercaptans and thiophenes.

Chlorides and halides.

Mercury.

Arsenic.

Silica.

Phosphates.

Organo-metallic’s.

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• Heavy metals. • Alkali metals. • Vanadium – this can be a problem with
• Heavy metals. • Alkali metals. • Vanadium – this can be a problem with

Heavy metals.

Alkali metals.

Vanadium – this can be a problem with plants with a Vetrocoke system.

Sulfur can be moved by steaming as discussed in section 0. With the exception of sulfur, once the catalyst has been poisoned, either the affected portion or all of the catalyst will have to be discharged and replaced.

1.1.1 Chloride Poisoning

Chlorides are a particularly virulent poison. It should be noted that chlorides have an unusual effect on zinc oxide as they react on the surface of the pellets to form zinc chloride. This skin completely blocks off access to the internal volume of the pellet, thereby dramatically reducing he sulfur absorption capacity. The following figure illustrates this effect,

capacity. The following figure illustrates this effect, This means that if a chloride guard is not

This means that if a chloride guard is not installed then chlorides can pass through to the reformer very quickly and since the zinc oxide has been poisoned, the reformer will also see high levels of sulfur.

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1.1.2 Arsenic If the catalyst is poisoned by arsenic, then not only does the catalyst

1.1.2 Arsenic

1.1.2 Arsenic If the catalyst is poisoned by arsenic, then not only does the catalyst have

If the catalyst is poisoned by arsenic, then not only does the catalyst have to be discharged but the inside of the tubes have to be cleaned to remove any residual arsenic. If this is not done, then this residual arsenic will leach out of the parent metal and poison the replacement catalyst.

1.2 Carbon Formation and Hot Tubes

Carbon formation is normally highlighted by the formation of hot bands on the reformer tubes as highlighted by the following figure,

the reformer tubes as highlighted by the following figure, 1.2.1 Causes of Carbon Formation Carbon formation

1.2.1 Causes of Carbon Formation

Carbon formation occurs when one of the following occurs,

The plant is operated at a low steam to carbon ratio; this typically occurs during a plant transient such as shut down or start up.

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• The feedstock composition changes such that the feed includes more heavy hydrocarbons; this is
• The feedstock composition changes such that the feed includes more heavy hydrocarbons; this is

The feedstock composition changes such that the feed includes more heavy hydrocarbons; this is occurring more often as many gas wells are approaching the end of their useful life.

The catalyst activity drops such that the inside tube wall and/or the process gas temperature becomes high enough that carbon formation rate exceeds the carbon gasification rate; this typically occurs at the end of the catalyst life or if the catalyst has been poisoned. The latter problem is occurring with more regularity as many gas wells are approaching the end of their useful life.

The catalyst has poor heat transfer characteristics which cause an increase in tube wall and process gas temperatures.

Insufficient purging of the plant to remove residual hydrocarbon prior to restart.

Collection of liquid hydrocarbons in dead legs or low points.

Complete loss of steam whilst all or some of the feedstock is still being passed to the reformer. In the latter case, this cannot be removed even with steam (see section 0). Typically, this can be caused by a passing valve or a lack /poor instrumentation.

It should be noted that once carbon is laid down, a viscous circle is formed; this is because the carbon lay down causes,

A decrease in inside tube wall heat transfer coefficient.

A decrease in the inter pellet heat transfer coefficient.

A decrease in catalyst activity as the active nickel sites are covered by carbon.

An increase in resistance to flow through the affected tube, thereby decreasing the heat sink available.

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1.2.2 Effect of Carbon Laydown These all cause an increase in inside tube wall and

1.2.2 Effect of Carbon Laydown

1.2.2 Effect of Carbon Laydown These all cause an increase in inside tube wall and process

These all cause an increase in inside tube wall and process gas temperature and hence an increase in the rate of carbon deposition which then increases the effects of the above.

Eventually the outside tube wall temperature is increased such that it glows with the typical orange color that is a sure sign of carbon laydown. If nothing is done to halt the progress of the carbon formation, then eventually the tube wall temperature will increase such that it reaches the design tube wall temperature and hence becomes a plant limitation.

1.2.3 Effect of High Hydrocarbons

It is well known that slugs of high hydrocarbons can lead to hot banding if the steam to carbon is not adjusted accordingly. Such incidents are well known and relatively common.

Once such incident occurred on a South American plant. The upstream LNG plant has two stages of condensate removal, the first operating at 35°C and the second at –35°C. Both stages were subject to trips and shut downs and when they were out of service, large amounts of higher hydrocarbons were not removed from the natural gas and therefore passed to the steam reformer. This lead to excessive hot banding of the reformer.

The following figures illustrate some typical hot bands as observed on this reformer,

some typical hot bands as observed on this reformer, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process
some typical hot bands as observed on this reformer, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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The reformer was steam out and was successful since the hot bands were removed, 1.2.4
The reformer was steam out and was successful since the hot bands were removed, 1.2.4

The reformer was steam out and was successful since the hot bands were removed,

out and was successful since the hot bands were removed, 1.2.4 Loss of Fuel If the

1.2.4 Loss of Fuel

since the hot bands were removed, 1.2.4 Loss of Fuel If the fuel is lost to

If the fuel is lost to the furnace, then the exit reformer and fluegas temperatures from the furnace will start to drop very quickly. This latter effect causes a loss of feed pre heat and steam generation. If no action is taken, then it is possible for carbon formation to occur due to the reduction in steam to carbon ratio.

1.2.5 Purging of Feed System

If the front end of the plant is not purged adequately enough, then CO and CO 2 can be methanated to form CH 4 . On restart this can crack thereby depositing carbon on the surface of the catalyst.

1.2.6 Actions to Limit Carbon Laydown Down

Increasing the steam to carbon ratio and the hydrogen recycle rate is directionally the correct action to take once carbon formation has been detected.

This will only reduce the rate of carbon formation slightly. In reality it will not help gasify carbon that has already been laid down.

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1.2.7 Carbon Removal by Steaming The only method to ensure that carbon is removed is
1.2.7 Carbon Removal by Steaming The only method to ensure that carbon is removed is

1.2.7 Carbon Removal by Steaming

The only method to ensure that carbon is removed is to steam the catalyst. The following is a set of guidelines that should be followed when it is necessary to steam the catalyst,

1. The steam rate shall be set at a minimum of 50% of the design steam rate.

2. The reformer exit temperature shall be as high as possible and shall be in excess of 700°C.

3. The steam out shall be performed for at least 12 hours.

4. The gas exit the reformer shall be tested for methane and carbon dioxide; it should be noted that there will be little carbon monoxide since the water gas shift reaction favors the formation of carbon dioxide. The results of the test shall be trended as a measure of the progress of the steaming.

5. The exit reformer gases shall also be tested for hydrogen sulfide. An alternate is to test the process condensate for sulfites and hydrogen sulfide (in some cases a small test is adequate for detecting this).

6. If the gas sample is taken down stream of the process condensate knock out pot, the nitrogen shall be added at the mixing tee to act as a carrier gas.

Further details are available in Ref. 1 and 2.

1.2.8 More Severe Steaming

If normal steaming as detailed above, fails to remove the carbon from the tubes, then hydrogen can be added to speed up the process. If this fails, then air (or oxygen can be added to help remove the carbon by burning. If this fails, then the only option is to replace the catalyst.

1.2.9 The ‘Wind Down’ Effect

If a hot tube or hot spots develop, then it may often happen that the local firing around the affected tubes is reduced, to lower the tube temperature. In order to maintain the overall production rate, however, it is then deemed necessary to increase the general level of firing. This has been known to lead to more hot spots - so the local firing is reduced, and the general firing increased, as before. This process can lead to a vicious circle, ending with many damaged tubes, and reduced overall firing efficiency.

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It is probably advisable to live with the slight loss of efficiency caused by NOT
It is probably advisable to live with the slight loss of efficiency caused by NOT

It is probably advisable to live with the slight loss of efficiency caused by NOT increasing the general level of firing in the first place.

This is a particular problem if the original cause of the hot spot is due to carbon formation since it does mean that the tubes that have their firing increased will become hotter and therefore will be more susceptible to forming carbon.

1.3 Catalyst Breakage

Catalyst breakage can be caused by carryover of water (see section 0), excessive trips or poor catalyst design.

1.3.1 Effect of Trips

Excessive trips cause expansion and contraction of the tubes; the contraction of the tubes cases large stresses to build up on the pellets and these stresses can only be relieved by movement of the catalyst axially in the tube or pellet breakage. In reality, only the catalyst at the top of the tubes can move and the catalyst towards the bottom of the tube, where the temperature changes will be the greatest, are locked in position. Therefore, the only possibility is for the catalyst to fracture.

1.3.2 Effect of Catalyst Design

If the catalyst has been designed such that on breakage, it forms a large number of small fragments, the pressure drop will rise rapidly. An example of this phenomenon is given below.

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1.3.2.1 Example of a Catalyst with Good Breakage Characteristics Comp J four hole catalyst is
1.3.2.1 Example of a Catalyst with Good Breakage Characteristics Comp J four hole catalyst is

1.3.2.1 Example of a Catalyst with Good Breakage Characteristics

Comp J four hole catalyst is an example of a catalyst with good breakage characteristics, in that when it does break it forms large fragments which means that the pressure drop is relatively small. This is because,

Pressure drop is inversely proportional to effective pellet diameter – therefore if the fragments formed are large, then the effective pellet diameter only increases marginally,

Pressure drop is related to voidage by the following term (1-e)/e³ and therefore any decrease in voidage will cause large increases in pressure drop

in voidage will cause large increases in pressure drop 1.3.2.2 Example of a Catalysts with Poor

1.3.2.2 Example of a Catalysts with Poor Breakage Characteristics

An example of a catalyst with poor breakage characteristics if that of the Comp U Wagon Wheel (the extended Wagon Wheel – EW, with thicker ligaments may be better) and Comp H’s seven hole catalyst,

may be better) and Comp H’s seven hole catalyst, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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Breakage of the catalyst in a tube will lead to a high resistance to flow
Breakage of the catalyst in a tube will lead to a high resistance to flow

Breakage of the catalyst in a tube will lead to a high resistance to flow and therefore, the flow through the tube will be low. This will cause the tube to operate hot – a similar effect is caused by variability in the loaded voidage (see section 0).

1.3.2.3 Up Flow Fluidization Problems

The majority of reformers have the process gas flowing downwards and hence

there are no issues associated with fluidization of the catalyst, however, there are

a number of up flow circular reformer. If the design of the reformer is poor or the

plant has been uprated, then is it possible to achieve process side velocities that are sufficiently high to fluidize the catalyst. This will lead to catalyst attrition and breakage which will cause excessively high pressure drop and fouling of

downstream equipment by catalyst dust.

A potential solution to this problem is to install a hold down device with sufficient

mass to resist the fluidization force. A typical design is shown below.

the fluidization force. A typical design is shown below. Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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1.3.3 Milling of the Catalyst Milling of the catalyst can occur if the tube inlet

1.3.3 Milling of the Catalyst

1.3.3 Milling of the Catalyst Milling of the catalyst can occur if the tube inlet is

Milling of the catalyst can occur if the tube inlet is incorrectly designed. Typical designs of inlets are shown below for a side and top entry.

designs of inlets are shown below for a side and top entry. Both designs are acceptable,

Both designs are acceptable, however the separation between the inlet and the catalyst surface must be sufficiently large to ensure that catalyst damage does not occur. It should be noted that for side entry pigtails, the separation shall be a minimum of 100 mm and for top fired, a minimum of 200 mm.

At a European Plant, the customer complained of a high pressure drop and when the tubes where opened, it was found that the catalyst had been milled into spherical particles. In this reformer, the separation distance was only 100 mm and the jet of gas leaving the pigtails rolled the catalyst around.

1.3.4

Effect of Water

1.3.4.1

Effect of Water Carry Over

A further problem is water carry over from the steam drum, where the liquid is not fully disengaged from the steam. If this liquid is not vaporized in the steam superheater, then it is possible for boiler salts to be carried over to the reformer where it can be poisoned or a crust of salts can be formed on the catalyst.

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1.3.4.2 Shattering of the Catalyst Recently on an Ammonia plant in South America, the operator

1.3.4.2 Shattering of the Catalyst

1.3.4.2 Shattering of the Catalyst Recently on an Ammonia plant in South America, the operator managed

Recently on an Ammonia plant in South America, the operator managed to fill the bottom section of the reformer tubes with water. Upon restart, the pressure drop across the reformer was high and this lead to a shut down. After discharging the catalyst it was found to have had the edges sheared off as shown below,

was found to have had the edges sheared off as shown below, The cause of this

The cause of this was when the catalyst was heated up, the water could not escape from the centre of the ligaments, which represents the thickest part of the catalyst pellet, before it was vaporized. As soon as the water vaporized, there was a huge volume expansion which caused these sections to break away from the rest of the pellet.

1.3.4.3 Condensation

On a plant trip it is very possible that steam can condense and sit in dead legs or low points in the feed header system. On a plant restart, it is possible that the water is carried forward on to the catalyst. The catalyst is normally hot at this stage, and as the cold water hits the hot catalyst, the catalyst will be rapidly cooled and the stresses induced can shatter the catalyst.

This problem can be prevented by eliminating low points and dead legs during the design of the plant – it is usual that this kind of problem will be picked up during the plant HAZOP review. Suitable positioning of drains and correct start up procedures will also help in minimizing the risk.

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1.3.4.4 Passing Steam Valve If the process steam valve passes during a shut down or

1.3.4.4 Passing Steam Valve

1.3.4.4 Passing Steam Valve If the process steam valve passes during a shut down or whilst

If the process steam valve passes during a shut down or whilst the plant is shut

down, then it is possible for water to condense on the catalyst. On restart this can lead to a number of problems such as shattering of the catalyst and potential formation of concrete.

1.4

Catalyst Loading

1.4.1

Poor Catalyst Loading

Ensuring a good catalyst loading is fundamental in ensuring efficient operation of the primary reformer. Any deviations

in resistance to flow through the tubes

will result in differential flows between

tubes and this in turn will lead to tube wall temperature differences as illustrated to the right,

wall temperature differences as illustrated to the right, A good catalyst loading will cause even process

A good catalyst loading will cause

even process gas distribution and hence even tube wall temperature distribution as shown below

hence even tube wall temperature distribution as shown below Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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Another effect is that there will be process gas exit temperature spreads on the reformer
Another effect is that there will be process gas exit temperature spreads on the reformer

Another effect is that there will be process gas exit temperature spreads on the reformer which will artificially increase the methane slip from the reformer. The effect of this effect is illustrated below.

reformer. The effect of this effect is illustrated below. The industry has developed a number of

The industry has developed a number of pressure drop measurement devices, one of which is called the PD Rig which allows for tubes pressure drops to be measured at various points during catalyst loading. The results of this allow the operator to determine which tubes have a low resistance to flow (a low pressure drop) which need further vibration and those with a high resistance to flow (a high pressure drop) which need reloading.

Also the method of loading is very important. The traditional sock loading, can when applied correctly, give a very good catalyst loading. However, the more modern Unidense method can give a loading where little or in some cases no remedial action is required during and after catalyst loading to achieve a uniform catalyst loading.

1.4.2 Effect of Voids

Furthermore, a poor loading can give rise to localized voids within the tube which will be seen as hot spots on the tube. This can then limit the reformer performance since to keep these tubes cool; the firing around these tubes with hot spots has to be reduced.

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1.4.3 Tube Expansion Care should be taken to allow for the effect of tube expansion.

1.4.3 Tube Expansion

1.4.3 Tube Expansion Care should be taken to allow for the effect of tube expansion. Sufficient

Care should be taken to allow for the effect of tube expansion. Sufficient catalyst must be charged into the reformer tube when cold to make sure that when operating, and therefore hot, the catalyst does not settle down so far as to expose empty space at the top of the reformer tube.

as to expose empty space at the top of the reformer tube. 1.4.4 In-Correct Catalyst Loading

1.4.4 In-Correct Catalyst Loading

Another problem can occur if a two tier catalyst combination is being loaded with the top catalyst being potash doped. Unless the catalysts are a different shape or size, it is easy to load the catalyst the wrong way around. This means that there is no protection against carbon formation in the top of the tube and carbon will be a problem if the conditions as outlined in section 0 are fulfilled.

1.5 Reduction of the Catalyst

As with many catalysts, primary reforming catalysts are supplied in the oxide form and therefore require reduction. Unlike the majority of catalysts, there is normally no hydrogen to reduce the reforming catalyst.

It is normal practice therefore to start the plant up on steam and natural gas and allow the reduction to be performed by the cracking of natural gas. Once the plant is operating, it is possible to recycle hydrogen from the back end of the plant to complete the reduction.

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This initially incomplete reduction can lead to the observation from a customer that the tubes
This initially incomplete reduction can lead to the observation from a customer that the tubes

This initially incomplete reduction can lead to the observation from a customer that the tubes are hot and therefore the catalyst is not active. Another potential problem occurs with reformers where the inlet temperature is too low. Reformer catalysts are required to be at a sufficiently high temperature in order to be reduced – the required temperature is a function of the catalyst support as shown below,

is a function of the catalyst support as shown below, If the inlet temperature is less

If the inlet temperature is less than these figures, then the catalyst will not be reduced and the un-reduced section of the catalyst will remain until the operating temperature at that point in the tube exceeds the minimum reduction temperature. Since catalysts containing magnesium oxide require a very high temperature before they reduce, they are normally supplied with the top 15% as pre-reduced. This however, only good for the first start up – thereafter, all restarts which must a trip and subsequent oxidation, will suffer from the problem outlined above.

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1.6 Ammonia Formation Ammonia will be formed over primary reformer catalyst by combination of nitrogen

1.6 Ammonia Formation

1.6 Ammonia Formation Ammonia will be formed over primary reformer catalyst by combination of nitrogen from

Ammonia will be formed over primary reformer catalyst by combination of nitrogen from the feedstock and hydrogen formed within the reformer. Ammonia formation is favored by high temperatures and therefore the bulk of the ammonia is formed at the tube exit – this is also where the hydrogen content of the process gas is its highest. Nitrogen formation rate is also proportional to the nitrogen content of the process gas and the activity of the catalyst. This means that at start of run, the ammonia formation levels will be their highest, typically 30% of the equilibrium value and at end of run, they will be at their lowest, typically 10% of equilibrium.

2

Common Problems Affecting the Tubes

2.1

Hot Tubes

There are a number of forms of hot tubes, each with a different cause; the following figure illustrates the different forms,

cause; the following figure illustrates the different forms, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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The causes of this are, • Hot spots due to localized high voidage or catalyst

The causes of this are,

The causes of this are, • Hot spots due to localized high voidage or catalyst poisoning

Hot spots due to localized high voidage or catalyst poisoning (0).

Hot tubes due to low flow caused by a high loaded density (low voidage).

Giraffe necking,

Tiger tailing.

Speckled tubes due to small zones of high voidage where the catalyst is not touching the inside wall of the tube.

These hot zones on the tube can lead to a reduction in tube life and consequently, premature tube failure.

2.2 Tube Failure

There are many causes of tube failure within primary reformers of which some are discussed below. Some of these failures must be expected and others that can be deemed as premature.

2.2.1 Fundamentals of Tube Design

Due to the operating conditions of a primary reformer, that is high temperature and moderate pressure, the reformer tubes are operated in the creep regime; in this regime, the tubes are gradually being stretched and hence the tube loses strength and thickness. This process is similar to that which affects glass; if one where to look at an old glass window, it appears to be of variable thickness and appears ‘wavy’.

This fact has been accounted for in the design of the reformer tubes and it is typical that reformer tubes are designed to last for 100,000 hours (with an expectation that 2.5% of the tubes will fail before this time is reached). In many cases, tubes have lasted much longer than this due to over design of the tubes or operation at less than the design temperature and pressure.

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The process used to design the reformer tubes is to determine the hoop stress that
The process used to design the reformer tubes is to determine the hoop stress that

The process used to design the reformer tubes is to determine the hoop stress that is applied to the tube due to the differential pressure between the process gas and fluegas sides of the furnace. The Larsen-Miller plot (as shown below) to determine the maximum allowable operating temperature.

to determine the maximum allowable operating temperature. The reverse procedure can also be used where the

The reverse procedure can also be used where the design temperature is set and then the maximum allowable stress is calculated from the Larsen-Miller plot, which then allows the tube thickness of be determined.

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2.2.2 Tube Failure by Creep Failure of the tube is normally due to creep damage

2.2.2 Tube Failure by Creep

2.2.2 Tube Failure by Creep Failure of the tube is normally due to creep damage that

Failure of the tube is normally due to creep damage that occurs from the inside of the tube wall to the outside of the tube wall, as illustrated below,

wall to the outside of the tube wall, as illustrated below, The typical progression of creep

The typical progression of creep damage at the micro level is shown below,

of creep damage at the micro level is shown below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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The left hand figure shows the development of isolated creep voids between the grains. The
The left hand figure shows the development of isolated creep voids between the grains. The

The left hand figure shows the development of isolated creep voids between the grains. The middle figures shows how these develop into fissures between the grains and the right hand figures shows these fissures joining up and developing into cracks. Typical tube failures are shown below,

into cracks. Typical tube failures are shown below, Failures can also occur at the welds in

Failures can also occur at the welds in the tubes,

below, Failures can also occur at the welds in the tubes, This was a common problem

This was a common problem with older tubes since the weld material was somewhat weaker than the parent tube material. However, modern weld material, if properly applied will actually be stronger than the parent material and so this problem is now less common on modern furnaces.

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2.2.3 Failure due to General Overheating This situation is where either all of the majority

2.2.3 Failure due to General Overheating

2.2.3 Failure due to General Overheating This situation is where either all of the majority of

This situation is where either all of the majority of tubes have failed in a reformer due to operation at high temperatures. It is typical that this problem occurs during start ups or shut downs of the primary reformer. One of the root causes of such failures is that the process parameters are very different from the normal operating conditions and it is not normally obvious to the plant operators that there is a problem.

A classic example is the complete ‘burn down’ of the tubes in a Canadian primary

reformer. The plant was tripped due to loss of feedstock, however the feedstock

isolation valve did not close fully and feedstock continued to be passed forward

to the reformer. The set point on reformed gas pressure not reduced and the

reformer continued to be operated at 16 bar. Steam was introduced for plant restart at reduced rate and all the burners were lit (a deviation from operating procedure). At this time the steam reformer tubes "looked normal" but there was nearly three times the amount of fuel going to burners than there should have been. Also the fuel gas had a higher than normal calorific value which increased the heat release by a further 15%.

At this point the first tube started to rupture and the oxygen level in the furnace dropped to zero since the feedstock was now combusting in the furnace. Normally the high pressure furnace trip would have been activated but this was being bypassed. Flames were observed issuing from the peepholes and a visual inspection of the reformer found that the tubes were “white hot and peeling open”. The following are photos of the reformer after the plant was shut down,

are photos of the reformer after the plant was shut down, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery

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It should be noted that the reformer exit gas temperature on panel never exceeded 700°C
It should be noted that the reformer exit gas temperature on panel never exceeded 700°C
It should be noted that the reformer exit gas temperature on panel never exceeded 700°C

It should be noted that the reformer exit gas temperature on panel never exceeded 700°C (1290°F); it should be noted that the exit temperatures from the primary reformer during transients should not be used as a guide to tube temperature.

2.2.4 Thermal Cycling

During the life of a reformer tube, it will experience a number of full thermal and pressure cycles caused by plant start-ups and shut-downs. The cumulative effect of these cycles can be very damaging, and lead to accelerated creep cracking. The tube life is crudely related to the number of cycles it has seen, and possibly also the tube wall thickness.

Thick tubes (typically made from HK40 and similar alloys) may be defined as those in which the OD:ID ratio is greater than 1.35 (e.g. 17 mm (0.7 inch) wall thickness for a 100 mm (3.94 inches) bore tube are significantly less tolerant to thermal cycling than thin tubes. Fortunately, the availability of stronger alloys (such as 36X and XM) in recent years, leading to thinner tubes, has reduced the significance of this problem in new plants.

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2.2.5 Failure due to Localized Overheating There are many mechanisms for localized tube overheating which
2.2.5 Failure due to Localized Overheating There are many mechanisms for localized tube overheating which

2.2.5 Failure due to Localized Overheating

There are many mechanisms for localized tube overheating which cause a single tube or a group of tubes to fail catastrophically. One method of determining that the tubes have been subjected to is the color of the catalyst; at high temperatures, the catalyst support will be affected and spinel formation will start to occur.

The effect of this is to change the color of the catalyst as shown in the following picture from a Caribbean Plant,

as shown in the following picture from a Caribbean Plant, Typical color changes are highlighted below,

Typical color changes are highlighted below,

Plant, Typical color changes are highlighted below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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Additional information can be found in reference 10. 2.2.5.1 Flame Impingement There are a number

Additional information can be found in reference 10.

2.2.5.1 Flame Impingement

can be found in reference 10. 2.2.5.1 Flame Impingement There are a number of causes of

There are a number of causes of flame impingement on the tubes, for example, misaligned burners, fluegas mal-distribution (see section 0) and poor burner maintenance. The effects of these are discussed in the relevant section elsewhere in this document. The effect of these on the tubes is precisely the same, in that a small section of the tube will become overheated and eventually fail due to excessive localized creep.

2.2.5.2 Tunnel Port Effect

It had been noted that a number of large methanol reformers had suffered premature tube failures in the bottom section of the tubes; NDT had shown that the effect was limited to a length of 100-150 mm of the tube in the zones opposite the portholes.

Checks using a surface contact thermocouple, and both an optical and gold cup pyrometer were made on the tube temperatures in this zone and they were found to be significantly higher than expected as illustrated below,

be significantly higher than expected as illustrated below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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It was noted that the tubes had failed almost directly opposite the ports in the
It was noted that the tubes had failed almost directly opposite the ports in the

It was noted that the tubes had failed almost directly opposite the ports in the tunnels, as shown below,

directly opposite the ports in the tunnels, as shown below, Theoretical checks where then made using

Theoretical checks where then made using a Monte Carlo simulation to determine the paths that radiation would take from the inside of the coffin. This

radiation would take from the inside of the coffin. This shows that a beam of radiation

shows that a beam of radiation did escape from the tunnels and impacted on the tubes causing the tube temperature to be significantly greater than would be expected,

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It is typically found that this effect can raise the temperature of the tubes in
It is typically found that this effect can raise the temperature of the tubes in

It is typically found that this effect can raise the temperature of the tubes in this

zone by between 10 and 18°C which equates to a reduction in tube life of between 25 and 45% which explains the premature failure of the tubes. The short term solution is to install an insulated sleeve around this area; this does increase the methane slip and causes a short term plant inefficiency. A longer terms solution is to install a high activity/heat transfer catalyst in this zone to reduce the tube wall temperature.

2.2.5.3 Single Tube Catastrophic Failure

If a tube does fail, then it is still possible to continue to operate the furnace.

Checks should be made to ensure that the jet issuing from the failure point is not impinging on another tube, which could lead to localized overheating of and premature failure. This check should be repeated at regular intervals and if the

jet dies impinge on another tube, then the tube shall be nipped as quickly as possible.

2.2.5.4 Pigtail Nipping

If a tube or pigtail does fail, then it is

Pigtail Nipping If a tube or pigtail does fail, then it is possible on appropriately designed

possible on appropriately designed furnaces to nip the tube using a pig tail

nipper; the following picture illustrates

a tube that has been nipped (the yellow tube) ,

This tube will be significantly hotter than the other tubes since it is still receiving full heat flux from the burners, but there is no flow of process gas through the tube to cool it. Eventually the tube will fail as highlighted in the next picture,

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Note in this picture the collapsed coffin in the distance. 2.2.5.5 Domino Effect A North
Note in this picture the collapsed coffin in the distance. 2.2.5.5 Domino Effect A North
Note in this picture the collapsed coffin in the distance. 2.2.5.5 Domino Effect A North

Note in this picture the collapsed coffin in the distance.

2.2.5.5 Domino Effect

A North American Plant operator of a large reformer in the USA suffered a

significant number of tube s failure in the 1990’s. The root cause of this problem was their policy of fuel management after nipping failed tubes. As with many top fired furnaces, NA Plant operator had the capability to nip tubes.

After a tube failure, it was nipped, however, the NA Plant did not reduce the fuel

to

the burners around the failed tube – it should be noted that it is normal practice

to

reduce the fuel firing around a nipped tube. By not reducing the firing around

the nipped tube, the adjacent tubes received the heat from the burners associated with them and also from the burners next to the failed tube.

This increased their temperature significantly and lead to some of these adjacent tubes failing; the following figures illustrate what happen - note newly failed tubes are highlighted as red and previously failed tubes are highlighted as black.

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This effect then propagated down the row with the failed tubes as illustrated below, As
This effect then propagated down the row with the failed tubes as illustrated below, As
This effect then propagated down the row with the failed tubes as illustrated below, As
This effect then propagated down the row with the failed tubes as illustrated below, As

This effect then propagated down the row with the failed tubes as illustrated below,

down the row with the failed tubes as illustrated below, As the number of tubes that

As the number of tubes that failed increased, the tubes tube in the opposite row became to hot, and eventually lead to the failures jumping across to the adjacent rows. This then causes the adjacent tubes in these rows to fail, and the failures then started to propagate along the adjacent tube row as shown in the following figures,

the adjacent tube row as shown in the following figures, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process
the adjacent tube row as shown in the following figures, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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By the time the plant was shut down, approximately 25% of the tubes in the
By the time the plant was shut down, approximately 25% of the tubes in the

By the time the plant was shut down, approximately 25% of the tubes in the reformer had failed.

2.2.6 Loss of Feed

If the feed to the reformer is lost, then the operators face two potential problems. The first is that the fuel rate to the reformer must be reduced since there is no longer the steam-reforming reaction to keep the tubes cool. If the fuel rate is not reduced quickly enough then the tubes will be overheated and in the worst case, then the tubes will fail due to generalised overheating (see section 0).

2.2.7 Tube Weld Positions

When reformer tubes are manufactured they are produced in sections that are between 3,500 and 5,000 mm long. These sections are then welded together to produce the required reformer tube length. In the early days of tube manufacture, the weld material used was significantly weaker than the parent material and therefore represented a potential localized failure point. It was therefore common practice to ensure that the welds were not placed at the point of highest heat flux – on a Top Fired reformer this meant about one third of the way down the tube. With more modern alloys this is less of a problem since the weld material is now stronger than the parent material. However, it is still good practice to ensure that the weld is position away from such places in case of a weld defect.

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2.3 Failure of Mixed Feed Pre Heat Coil A European HYCO plant operator suffered a

2.3 Failure of Mixed Feed Pre Heat Coil

2.3 Failure of Mixed Feed Pre Heat Coil A European HYCO plant operator suffered a catastrophic

A European HYCO plant operator suffered a catastrophic tube (8 tubes out of 24)

and coil failure. The root cause of this failure was due to poor design of the mixed feed preheat coil, where one of the passes (out of a total of 11) received less flow than the other passes within that coil. The diagram to the right illustrates the layout of the coil.

The diagram to the right illustrates the layout of the coil. It is unknown whether there

It is unknown whether there

was a blockage in this pass or whether since this was the last pass, the pass received less flow than the others. However, it is clear that this pass did see high temperatures and that the pass failed due to exposure to high temperatures.

This caused the mixed feed to pass through the failed tube into the fluegas duct, leading to high box pressure; the high pressure trip did not activate due to a relay failure. The reformer tubes then saw low flow and this lead to the tube temperature increasing such that they failed as illustrated below,

increasing such that they failed as illustrated below, This in turn led to a fire in
increasing such that they failed as illustrated below, This in turn led to a fire in

This in turn led to a fire in the radiant box and in the penthouse leading to significant amounts of damage.

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2.4 Boxing Up of Reformer At a South American Methanol plant, on a plant trip,

2.4 Boxing Up of Reformer

2.4 Boxing Up of Reformer At a South American Methanol plant, on a plant trip, the

At a South American Methanol plant, on a plant trip, the operating procedure dictated that all firing be stopped and all fans immediately shut down. A ten minute steam purge was allowed but then all process flows were stopped hence there was no flow through the tubes. The furnace was then left to soak in a hot atmosphere.

The furnace is ceramic fibre lines with brick tunnels and brick floor. Therefore, the walls at 1050°C radiated to the tubes and the tubes warmed up a little for most of the length. As the ceramic fibre has a low density, the fibre cooled down to the tube temperature without heating the tubes up very much. However, the tunnels are also at 1050°C but have a large mass, warmed up the tubes in the tunnel region to quite high temperatures. This is its own right was not a problem as the tubes had little pressure inside them at this time.

As the furnace lost heat through the ceramic fibre lining, the upper section of the tubes cooled down, but the tubes at the bottom did not as the tunnels retained a lot of heat. The biggest problem was then on restart when a lot of steam flowed into the tubes. This flowed down the top 10m of tube which was at say 600°C and then flowed into the bottom 2m of tube that was still at say 950°C and created thermal shock of the tubes by cooling them from the inside too rapidly.

The overheating during the first stages after the trip could have used up some life if pressure was retained or the plant was re-pressured quickly. In the early days, of this South American Methanol plant, had a very poor power supply so many trips would have been rapidly restarted as there was no plant breakdown or repairs required, simply wait for the power to come back on.

The result is that the tubes in the top part of the furnace, which operated a lot cooler than design had very little creep, but the bottom of the tubes had up to 6% creep, and it was a very sharp change from the low creep to high creep which corresponded to the level of the tunnel tops. The problem with all this was that the South American Methanol plant, had run a crawler down the tubes after 10 years or so and pronounced them to be fine with max. creep at 1.5% or so. The crawler did not go down between the tunnels as it was too large.

The plant then restarted and some tubes failed and were found with large levels of creep, so they blamed this on 4-hole.

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2.4.1 Storage of Tubes Spare tubes should always be stored in a dry and clean

2.4.1 Storage of Tubes

2.4.1 Storage of Tubes Spare tubes should always be stored in a dry and clean warehouse

Spare tubes should always be stored in a dry and clean warehouse to prevent damage. The following picture illustrates what should not be done,

The following picture illustrates what should not be done, 2.5 Effect of Water 2.5.1 Effect of

2.5

Effect of Water

2.5.1

Effect of Water Carry Forward

If water is carried forward either from a saturator or from the process steam, it is possible to generate an extreme thermal shock due to the quenching of the inside of the reformer tubes. This creates both a high tensile stress on the inside of the tubes, and reduced ductility leading to sudden, deep cracking, or even shattering of tubes.

2.5.1.1 Effect on the Tube

Such a situation occurred in a Western European modern 1350 mtpd ammonia plant which was successfully commissioned, and shown to be capable of running well both at and above flowsheet rates. However, after less than a year in operation, a tube failed. This was followed by seven further tube failures in the following 8 months. On examination, non-destructive testing (NDT) revealed widespread cracking of tubes, particularly at welds. The tubes had generally failed by longitudinal splitting.

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The tubes split some 1.2-1.5 metres (4 - 5 feet) down from the top of
The tubes split some 1.2-1.5 metres (4 - 5 feet) down from the top of

The tubes split some 1.2-1.5 metres (4 - 5 feet) down from the top of the roof, with the split being typically 0.61 metres (2 feet) in length. In all cases, cracks had originated from inside the tube bore. Deep craze cracking was found to be common around the vicinity of the split, which were all brittle fractures which is typical of thermal over-stressing. Further creep of the remaining much reduced wall thickness led to final failure of the tubes over a period of time.

2.5.1.2 Effect on the Catalyst and Tube

In some cases where the catalyst has been wetted, the support material can be leached out and deposited on the inside of the tube walls. When this residue is dried out, a hard coating is formed on the inside of the tube wall which is very difficult to remove. A device known as a ‘frapper’ can be used to remove this coating; this device consists of a pear shaped metal head attached to a high

speed rotating shaft by a hinge.

Sterlington in the late 1990’s and took three days to clean out.

This problem occurred at Koch nitrogen at

2.6 Stress Corrosion Cracking of Tube Tops and Bottoms

Stress corrosion cracking (SCC) has been seen on a number of reformers around the world. Condensation (with associated concentration of impurities in condensate on re-evaporation) can occur, leading to premature tube failure due predominantly to stress corrosion cracking.

Careful design of tube ends, and suitable start-up and shutdown procedures to avoid the dew-point of steam being reached, are needed. This problem appeared to have receded, but has recently re-emerged, with several plants experiencing cracks at the tube tops.

2.6.1 Tube Tops

It should be noted that the tube tops, do protrude above the furnace roof and therefore is it recommended that the tube tops are insulated to keep them hot and prevent condensation.

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2.6.2 Tube Bottoms In some reformer designs, such as the original design for a European

2.6.2 Tube Bottoms

2.6.2 Tube Bottoms In some reformer designs, such as the original design for a European Methanol

In some reformer designs, such as the original design for a European Methanol Plant, the tube bottoms have a cold catalyst discharge end. The following figure illustrates the original Methanol plant tube bottom design,

illustrates the original Methanol plant tube bottom design, In order to prevent this occurring again, GBHE

In order to prevent this occurring again, GBHE has access to a hot bottom tube design which prevents SCC at the tube bottom and this is illustrated below,

SCC at the tube bottom and this is illustrated below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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2.7 Bowed Tubes Bowing of tubes can be caused by differential heating between the two

2.7 Bowed Tubes

2.7 Bowed Tubes Bowing of tubes can be caused by differential heating between the two sides

Bowing of tubes can be caused by differential heating between the two sides of the same tube. The bending stress produced is proportional to the deflection from the vertical, and increases with the degree of top tensioning. If, therefore, tubes are bowed, then the sum of the combined stress due to pressure, tensioning and bowing may be such that the allowable stress is exceeded, leading to shorter tube life. Since on many older plants, the welds are frequently weaker than the parent material, the location of welds on bowed tubes must be taken into account.

location of welds on bowed tubes must be taken into account. Excessive bending of the tubes
location of welds on bowed tubes must be taken into account. Excessive bending of the tubes

Excessive bending of the tubes can prevent easy movement of the tubes through the casing of the reformer. It this occurs then the tubes cannot expand axially and will be compressed increasing the stresses on the tube.

Furthermore, the tubes will tend to bend even more. This will lead to a reduction in tube life. Once a tube is bent then even after cooling, the tube will stay bent and even after being reheated, the tube will still stay bent. If the tube is bowed such that it deviates by more than one diameter from the tubes in the row, then it is recommended that the tube is replaced at the earliest opportunity possible.

This is because the bending on the tube induces stresses which are sufficiently high that the tube could fail prematurely.

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2.8 Tensioning of Tubes Almost all reformer tubes are top tensioned. This tensioning produces longitudinal

2.8 Tensioning of Tubes

2.8 Tensioning of Tubes Almost all reformer tubes are top tensioned. This tensioning produces longitudinal stress

Almost all reformer tubes are top tensioned. This tensioning produces longitudinal stress in the tube which must be added to the longitudinal stress caused by the pressure. Additional stresses can also be generated, for example by tube bowing.

If the tube is over tensioned due to poor set up or design of the spring hangers (or similar support systems), then additional stresses can be generated in the tubes which can lead to the failure of the tube. If the tube is under tensioned, then the tube will exert a force on the exit headers and this can reduced the life of the exit header.

2.9 Pigtails

Outlet reformer pigtails operate in the creep regime, and can fail either by creep of cracking of the pigtail welds.

2.9.1 Failure by Creep

Creep generally shows itself as bulging/ballooning of the material. This can be accurately measured at shut-downs using GO,NO GO gauges or circumferential (vernier) tapes. GO,NO GO gauges are manufactured from carbon steel frame shaped like a ‘G’ clamp with tungsten carbide tips. The gap is set at the tubes outside diameter for the material purchased plus 2½%. Therefore, if the exit pigtail is 38 mm (1.5 inches) OD then the gauge will be set at 38.95 mm (1.53 inches).

This can then be used to quickly accept or reject exit pigtails that have suffered excessive creep. It is also useful to manufacture a similar gauge set at 1% and 2%. These can then be used to assist in the decision making for future pigtail replacement planning. A pigtail is generally deemed unfit for service when 2½% creep has been achieved. This figure has been used by GBHE for many years and was developed from tests during the development of the “Pigtail Nipper”, to ensure the nip is successful. However, if pigtails are not going to be nipped it is not uncommon for this figure to be as high as 4% before replacement is necessary.

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2.9.2 Failure by Cracking The other mode of failure is cracking of the weld. This

2.9.2 Failure by Cracking

2.9.2 Failure by Cracking The other mode of failure is cracking of the weld. This can

The other mode of failure is cracking of the weld. This can be caused by a number of external sources, i.e. movement between the reformer tube and the outlet header or thermal gradients at the junctions. Depending on the type of reformer/pigtail configuration, the profile of the weld is extremely important. Foster Wheeler type reformers with short pigtails are particularly susceptible to

weld problems if the profile is not correct. With an incorrect profile the life in

cycles can be as little as 55 increasing to 250 with the correct profile. example of a poor weld is given below,

An

correct profile. example of a poor weld is given below, An Note the two problems here,

Note the two problems here, the first is that the pigtail has not fully penetrated into the sockolet leaving a gap and the second is that weld is not complete – again notice the triangular gap. An example of such a failure is shown below,

triangular gap. An example of such a failure is shown below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery

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An example of this occurred on a European Methanol Plant in 1994. A leak had
An example of this occurred on a European Methanol Plant in 1994. A leak had

An example of this occurred on a European Methanol Plant in 1994.

A leak had been detected during routine check but was deemed to be small

enough that the plant could continue to operate. Four days later, the plant tripped due to high box pressure and a fire was seen around the location of the failed pigtail.

a fire was seen around the location of the failed pigtail. Further details on this failure

Further details on this failure are given in reference 7.

2.10 Differential Tube Metallurgy’s

An Asian operator of an Uhde reformer had placed some of the tubes in one area

of the reformer using a 36X equivalent; the original tubes where HK40. To take

advantage of the improved metallurgy, the firing in this area with the 36X tubes was increased. This lead to an observed high temperature spread across the furnace.

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2.11 Risers Risers are only used in M W Kellogg furnaces as illustrated in the

2.11

Risers

2.11 Risers Risers are only used in M W Kellogg furnaces as illustrated in the figures

Risers are only used in M W Kellogg furnaces as illustrated in the figures below,

in M W Kellogg furnaces as illustrated in the figures below, On a South American plant,

On a South American plant, (an M W Kellogg methanol plant), the risers suffered from significant cracking around 30% of the way down the riser. The cause of this was thought to be due to flame impingement.

The short term fix was to insulate the upper part of the riser, this would however, cause a marginal reduction in radiant box efficiency. The longer term solution was to replace all the risers in the reformer.

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3 Common Problems Affecting the Furnace Box 3.1 Fluegas Maldistribution Mal distribution occurs on many
3 Common Problems Affecting the Furnace Box 3.1 Fluegas Maldistribution Mal distribution occurs on many

3

Common Problems Affecting the Furnace Box

3.1

Fluegas Maldistribution

Mal distribution occurs on many furnaces to some extent, however, in some

cases this can cause the methane slip to rise above the expected value. Below

is a discussion of some of the worst effects seen?

3.1.1 Top Fired Furnaces

This phenomenon was noted during a reformer survey on the Canadian Methanol Plant primary reformer. An unusual tubewall temperature profile was noted,

reformer. An unusual tubewall temperature profile was noted, As can be seen the outer rows are

As can be seen the outer rows are significantly cooler then the inner rows. At this stage some design problems were observed in the coffins by GBHE and recommendations were made to the plant operators who rectified these issues at

a shut down. However after the shutdown, there still was a significant mal

distribution – tests with injecting fire extinguisher powder into the furnace highlighted the following effects,

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Injection through Side Wall Peepholes As can be seen the fluegas near the wall is

Injection through Side Wall Peepholes

Injection through Side Wall Peepholes As can be seen the fluegas near the wall is flowing
Injection through Side Wall Peepholes As can be seen the fluegas near the wall is flowing

As can be seen the fluegas near the wall is flowing upwards.

3.1.2 Injection through Burner Ignition Port

The following pictures illustrate the injection of dry powder through the burner ignition ports,

injection of dry powder through the burner ignition ports, As can be seen the fluegas is

As can be seen the fluegas is flowing across the furnace roof and is impacting on the tubes.

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At this stage the furnace was modelled using CFD to determine theoretically whether we would
At this stage the furnace was modelled using CFD to determine theoretically whether we would

At this stage the furnace was modelled using CFD to determine theoretically whether we would expect the unusual flow patterns observed during the dry powder plant trials. The result of this model is shown below,

plant trials. The result of this model is shown below, As can be seen the model

As can be seen the model predicts that there is up flow at the walls and there is cross flow from the outer lanes to the inner lanes at the top of the furnace.

The root cause of the problem was a mismatch between the burner capacity, outer lane sizing and the outer coffin sizing.

As can be seen the flow patterns predicted by the CFD model match that seen on the plant. GBHE has a range of solutions to resolve this problem and these are discussed in more detail in reference 5.

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3.1.4 Foster Wheeler Furnaces 3.1.4.1 Fluegas Fan Effect Fluegas mal distribution is not limited to

3.1.4

Foster Wheeler Furnaces

3.1.4.1

Fluegas Fan Effect

Foster Wheeler Furnaces 3.1.4.1 Fluegas Fan Effect Fluegas mal distribution is not limited to top fired

Fluegas mal distribution is not limited to top fired furnaces, it can also occur on Foster Wheeler furnaces. A European Methanol Plant suffered from the ‘Camel Hump’ effect due to the position of the fluegas fans.

In this furnace the two fluegas fans where mounted on top of the convection section and these preferential drew fluegas towards them. This is shown below,

preferential drew fluegas towards them. This is shown below, The position of the fans should be

The position of the fans should be noted.

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This gave high fluegas flowrates directly below then and low fluegas flowrates in between the
This gave high fluegas flowrates directly below then and low fluegas flowrates in between the

This gave high fluegas flowrates directly below then and low fluegas flowrates in between the fans. This was seen as high tube wall temperatures directly below the fans and lower tubes wall temperature between the fans as illustrated below,

wall temperature between the fans as illustrated below, 3.1.4.2 Flow Maldistribution between Cells It is possible

3.1.4.2 Flow Maldistribution between Cells

It is possible on Foster Wheeler and Side Fired furnaces to achieve differential process gas flows to each reformer. This will give differential exit temperatures exit the furnace. A similar effect can be seen on the fuel system and the table below illustrates this,

Name

Units

Poorly Balanced

Well

   

Cell 1

Cell 2

Mixed Gas

Balanced

Fuel Flow

%

55

45

100

100

Exit Temperature

°C

869

810

840

842

Exit Slip

mol %

1.5

3.7

2.6

2.3

ATE

°C

11

11

16

12

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3.1.5 Tests for Mal Distribution Flue gas mal distribution can be checked for in two

3.1.5 Tests for Mal Distribution

3.1.5 Tests for Mal Distribution Flue gas mal distribution can be checked for in two ways,

Flue gas mal distribution can be checked for in two ways, the first is to inject dry powder from a fire extinguisher through either the peepholes or the burner ignition ports. The second method is to injection potassium bicarbonate through the burner ignition ports.

The peephole tests allow for checks on up flow at the walls and in the centre of the furnace whilst the burner ignition port checks allow for tests on cross blow and flame shape.

A combination of both of these tests allows for practical determination of the fluegas flow patterns within the radiant section. This combined with tube wall temperature measurements provides a powerful trouble shooting tool in analysing problems in the primary reformer. An example of the use of these tools is given in case study X4.

3.2

Coffins

3.2.1

Design of Coffin Roof

There are two options for the design of the coffin roof; the first is with the roof being supported directly from the side walls as illustrated below,

supported directly from the side walls as illustrated below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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This design of roof has lead to failures as the top of the side walls
This design of roof has lead to failures as the top of the side walls

This design of roof has lead to failures as the top of the side walls are only supported in the vertical direction and it is easy to move then to the left or the right. There is little margin before this movement causes the coffin roof to fall.

An improved design recommended by GBHE is to have a stepped section at the top of the side wall – not only does this improve the strength of the side wall but increases the margin if the roof or side wall moves.

but increases the margin if the roof or side wall moves. 3.2.2 Effect of Damage to

3.2.2 Effect of Damage to Coffins

If the coffins are damaged in any way then this will cause a mal-distribution in the localized area around the damage. An example of this was the collapse of the coffins at a South American (a 576 tube reformer). The following picture illustrates this,

The following figure illustrates the damaged area of the coffins and the effect that this damage has had on the flow distribution in the reformer,

damage has had on the flow distribution in the reformer, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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This in turn causes a distribution of temperatures along the length of the coffins as
This in turn causes a distribution of temperatures along the length of the coffins as

This in turn causes a distribution of temperatures along the length of the coffins as shown below,

temperatures along the length of the coffins as shown below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process
temperatures along the length of the coffins as shown below, Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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3.2.2.1 Movement of Tunnel Walls Another problem is the movement of the tunnel walls. If

3.2.2.1 Movement of Tunnel Walls

3.2.2.1 Movement of Tunnel Walls Another problem is the movement of the tunnel walls. If the

Another problem is the movement of the tunnel walls. If the movement of the tunnel walls is sufficiently great, then the tunnels can collapse. The following figure illustrates tunnels that have started to move,

figure illustrates tunnels that have started to move, 3.2.3 Coffin Damage on Kellogg Furnaces At a
figure illustrates tunnels that have started to move, 3.2.3 Coffin Damage on Kellogg Furnaces At a

3.2.3 Coffin Damage on Kellogg Furnaces

At a Middle Eastern Plant (a Kellogg Ammonia plant), one of the side coffins had collapsed and the debris was pushing against the half headers. This caused the half head to be moved to one side and cause a bend to be formed in the tubes. This bend would raise the stresses on the tube and lead to early failure of the tube.

3.2.4 Removal of Coffins

A number of plants have removed the coffins from the radiant section of the box because of either,

High pressure drop through the poses a limit to the plant rate.

Repair issues associated with damage to the coffins.

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The following figure shows the fluegas flow patterns with coffins installed – as is clear
The following figure shows the fluegas flow patterns with coffins installed – as is clear

The following figure shows the fluegas flow patterns with coffins installed – as is clear the fluegas in passing down the furnace in plug flow,

clear the fluegas in passing down the furnace in plug flow, The following figures shows that

The following figures shows that fluegas flow patterns with the coffins removed. As is clear there is a significant mal distribution of gas and much of that gas is flowing preferentially towards the fluegas extraction end.

flowing preferentially towards the fluegas extraction end. Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process

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The overall effect of this is to increase the tube temperatures at the fluegas extraction
The overall effect of this is to increase the tube temperatures at the fluegas extraction

The overall effect of this is to increase the tube temperatures at the fluegas extraction end of the furnace,

temperatures at the fluegas extraction end of the furnace, As can be seen the tube wall

As can be seen the tube wall temperatures are much higher at the fluegas extraction end of the furnace, and these tubes may fail prematurely due to excessive creep.

3.2.5 Modification to Port Layout

In an effort to reduce the pressure drop on the fluegas side of a furnace, some operators have increased the free area of the side wall of the coffins by removing some of the bricks. If the wrong number of bricks are removed r they are removed from the wrong position, then this can lead to flue gas mal-distribution similar to that discussed in section 0, albeit on a more localized level.

3.3 Effect of Wind on Box Stability

Wind can dramatically affect the performance of a furnace and lead to large temperature drops on the side of the furnace facing the wind. On a European Ammonia Plant, plates were installed on the side of the furnace to reduce the effect of the wind on the pigtails.

At Far Eastern Plant, the effect of the wind could drop the outlet temperatures by as much as 20°C. This will reduce the inlet waste heat boiler temperature, thereby reducing the amount of HP steam raised.

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3.4 Purging of the Box It is very important that the reformer box and auxiliary

3.4 Purging of the Box

3.4 Purging of the Box It is very important that the reformer box and auxiliary duct

It is very important that the reformer box and auxiliary duct are purged thoroughly to remove any hydrocarbons prior to restarting the plant. This will prevent ignition of any residual hydrocarbons in an uncontrolled manner. This is normally achieved by starting up the combustion air fans to flush the system with air.

4

Common Problems Affecting Burners

4.1

Operation and Maintenance of Burners

The importance of good burner operation in terms of good operation of the primary reformer and auxiliary duct firing must not be understated. Poor performance of burners can lead to poor process efficiency and premature tube failure. Reference 6 gives more details on the operation and maintenance of burners. The important areas that require checking are,

Tile to gun position.

Tip port dimensions.

Surface finish of holes.

Centricity of gun.

Condition of tile and security of fixings.

Condition of metallurgy (oxidation).

It is important to keep a good record of the vendor drawings of the burners to ensure that if they are ever removed for maintenance, that they can be re- installed with the appropriate dimensions for all components. The picture below shows some burner tips that have suffered from carbon laydown due to insufficient air,

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4.1.1 Burner Misalignment Burner or flame misalignment can lead to tube damage particularly in top
4.1.1 Burner Misalignment Burner or flame misalignment can lead to tube damage particularly in top

4.1.1 Burner Misalignment

4.1.1 Burner Misalignment Burner or flame misalignment can lead to tube damage particularly in top fired

Burner or flame misalignment can lead to tube damage particularly in top fired furnaces. Below are some examples of the causes of burner misalignment.

4.1.1.1 Cleaning of the Burner Tips

It is important that the burner tips are kept clean since any depositions on the burners will lead to misalignment of the flames.

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4.1.1.2 Damage to the Burner Quarls The quarl is the part of the burner that
4.1.1.2 Damage to the Burner Quarls The quarl is the part of the burner that

4.1.1.2 Damage to the Burner Quarls

The quarl is the part of the burner that sits in the furnace wall and is exposed to the hot gases in the radiant section of the reformer. These should be checked visually on a regular basis for damage such as cracking and gaps. Below is a picture illustrating the cracks that can occur in a burner quarl,

illustrating the cracks that can occur in a burner quarl, Any gaps can lead to a

Any gaps can lead to a mal-distribution of the fuel and air entering the furnace which will in turn lead to a misaligned flame.

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4.1.1.3 Top Fired Reformers If a burner is misaligned on a top fired furnace, then

4.1.1.3 Top Fired Reformers

4.1.1.3 Top Fired Reformers If a burner is misaligned on a top fired furnace, then the

If

a burner is misaligned on a top fired furnace, then the flame will not run parallel

to

the tubes and will play on the tube surface. This will lead to very high outside

tube wall temperatures and eventual tube failure. The figure and picture below illustrates this,

tube failure. The figure and picture below illustrates this, A good example (see Ref. 4) was
tube failure. The figure and picture below illustrates this, A good example (see Ref. 4) was

A good example (see Ref. 4) was on a small methanol plant which has only 72

tubes. Catastrophic tube failure occurred in the late 1980’s. After investigation, the sequence of events leading to the failure was found (in summary) to be,

Serious burner problems on a significant number of burners; the burner quarls were black, showing that the flame was not stabilized. Subsequently, many burners were found to have erosion at the tip, leading in the worst case to a hole. This gave rise to local overheating, which led to a small tube leak followed by catastrophic failure of a single tube. Burner problems of this type have been noted on several plants, and can be easily rectified by the choice of a suitable material for the burner tip.

The single tube failure led to a plant trip. An attempt was made to restart immediately after this trip. The large leak on the failed tube resulted in reduced flow to the other tubes. This, coupled with control of the reformer using unreliable temperature measurements, gave rise to severe overheating of the furnace in general. Addition of the natural gas during the start-up led to quenching of the reformer tubes, causing many other failures, predominantly at upper tube welds. The plant shut down again, and had to be completely retubed.

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4.1.2 Lighting Burners On start up, it is important that the burners are lighted in

4.1.2 Lighting Burners

4.1.2 Lighting Burners On start up, it is important that the burners are lighted in a

On start up, it is important that the burners are lighted in a sequence so that each tube receives an even heat flux and no tubes are over heated. A typical burner lighting pattern for a top fired reformer is highlighted below,

pattern for a top fired reformer is highlighted below, The principle shown above is can also

The principle shown above is can also be applied to Side Fired and Foster Wheeler furnaces.

Failure to follow the required procedure can lead to overheating of the tubes and potentially causing early tube failure (see section 0).

It should be noted that the majority of reformer burn downs do occur during plant start up and shut downs.

Some operators do not light off individual burners using an ignitor (typically a pizo-electric device). Instead they light off a few burners as usual and then rely on the fact the reformer is above the auto ignition temperature before introducing fuel to the unlit burners.

The main issues with this is that each time a burner valve is opened, fuel passes into the furnace and combusts – sometimes this occurs close to the tube causing flame impingement (see section 0). The second issue is that the sudden combustion of the fuel gas will lead to localized pressure increases which can stress the furnace casing.

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4.1.2.1 Side Fired Furnaces Misalignment on a side fired furnace is not a problem from

4.1.2.1 Side Fired Furnaces

4.1.2.1 Side Fired Furnaces Misalignment on a side fired furnace is not a problem from the

Misalignment on a side fired furnace is not a problem from the tube perspective

but can lead to refractory damage. The following figure illustrates the design of

a typical side fired burner and how they are positioned in the furnace,

fired burner and how they are positioned in the furnace, It should be noted that on
fired burner and how they are positioned in the furnace, It should be noted that on

It should be noted that on side fired furnaces there are large number of burners, which increases the maintenance costs for the furnace and increases the probability of a problem occurring.

4.1.2.2 Foster Wheeler Furnaces

In a Foster Wheeler furnace, the burner is angled such that the flames run parallel to the refractory. If the flames are not parallel, then the flame can impinge directly on the refractory and cause damage as illustrated below,

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4.1.3 Non Optimal Firing in Foster Wheeler Furnaces It is possible to have the wrong
4.1.3 Non Optimal Firing in Foster Wheeler Furnaces It is possible to have the wrong
4.1.3 Non Optimal Firing in Foster Wheeler Furnaces It is possible to have the wrong

4.1.3 Non Optimal Firing in Foster Wheeler Furnaces

It is possible to have the wrong split of firing between the two levels of burners in a Foster Wheeler furnace. By increasing the firing at the top level it is possible to increase the fluegas temperature and hence the amount of steam raised in the duct or by increasing the firing at the lower level it is possible to reduce the methane slip. The following table illustrates this effect,

Firing Split

%

45/55

50/50

45/55

Outlet Temperature

°C

769

769

770

Exit Composition

 
 

CH 4

mol %

12.97

12.97

12.97

 

CO

mol %

7.79

7.78

7.8

 

CO 2

mol %

11.04

11.04

11.03

H

2

mol %

63.54

63.5

63.54

N

2

mol %

4.67

4.67

4.66

Catalyst Pressure Drop

bara

1.2

1.2

1.2

Furnace Duty

MW

66.1

66.1

66.2

Max. TWT

°C

821

817

827

Min. TWT Margin

°C

137

140

131

Flue Gas Temperature

°C

988

1012

942

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4.1.4 Fuel Usage Burners are designed to operate on specific ranges of fuels and any

4.1.4 Fuel Usage

4.1.4 Fuel Usage Burners are designed to operate on specific ranges of fuels and any deviation

Burners are designed to operate on specific ranges of fuels and any deviation from this range of fuels may cause the burner to operate in such a way as to cause problems. Therefore, prior to any significant change in fuel gas composition, the burner vendor should be contacted to ensure that the burner has been designed to accept that fuel composition.

A simple to check to determine if a gas change is acceptable to check the Wobbe number; if the Wobbe number of the new gas is similar to that of a gas that the burner has been designed for, then it is likely that the new gas will also give acceptable combustion. The Wobbe number is defined by,

Wobbe = LCV /(ρ) 0.5

If burners have insufficient air supplied to them, then the flame shapes and length may deviate from the design requirement which can lead to unstable flames, misaligned flames or after-burning.

Insufficient combustion air can be attributed to,

Combustion air mal-distribution – see section 0.

Insufficient capacity on Forced Draft 1 (FD) or Induced Draft 2 (ID) fans – Sec

6.2.1

4.1.5 After-Burning

After-burning is caused by incomplete combustion in the top of the furnace which allows fuel to move down until it mixes with oxygen, at which point the fuel combusts giving the classic observation of flames licking around the tubes in the bottom half of the furnace.

To resolve this problem, additional combustion air needs to be supplied to the area affected by the after burning.

1 Combustion Air Fan.

2 Flue Gas Fan.

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After-burning can also occur in the flue-gas duct on plants where there are auxiliary burners
After-burning can also occur in the flue-gas duct on plants where there are auxiliary burners

After-burning can also occur in the flue-gas duct on plants where there are auxiliary burners or flue-gas from fired heaters is fed into the duct. This will be heard clearly as a rumbling which is indicative of multiple detonations. It should be noted that such after-burning causing local pressure rises (typically from one to eight bar) and it is this that causes the distinctive rumbling.

4.1.6 Metal Dusting of Burner Tips

Metal dusting of burner tips has been observed on methanol plants if they operate mainly on purge gas from a methanol loop. We have just had a very similar enquiry from a South American Methanol Plant, as they are suffering corrosion on burners in all 3 of their plants.

The tip can be just inside the metal dusting region in the 450 - 500°C temperature range even though the purge normally contains only 1% CO and CO 2 it does lie in the carbon forming side of the equilibrium.

The corrosion you have highlighted on the final photo is classic metal dusting pitting corrosion. Often burner tips are made from alloy 800 or a similar cast alloy. Alloy 800 is the WORST alloy for metal dusting resistance and the material could (should) be changed for one with less risk of metal dusting.

4.2 Flame Instability

At a South American Methanol Plant, there were serious problems with flame roll over around the burners leading to damage to the burner tips and the tiles (see ref. 11). In order to minimise the problem, John Zinc modified the tip design to reduce the deviation from the vertical of the flames.

4.3 NO X

The legal limits on NO X emissions have become tighter and tighter over the last few years. This pressure will increase and this will lead to more operators using low NO x burners.

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There have been a number of problems with low NO x burners, most notably at
There have been a number of problems with low NO x burners, most notably at

There have been a number of problems with low NO x burners, most notably at an Asian Plant. The main issue is around the flame shape and the flame stability. At an Asian Plant it was noted that the one row of low NOX burners installed in the reformer was very unstable leading to flame impingement.

4.4 SO X

Due to environmental considerations, SO X emissions are becoming more of a problem. It is normal that the top up natural gas used on the reformer is taken off from the feed gas close to battery limits. However, one plant has modified his take off point to after the zinc oxide bed to minimise the sulphur being passed to the reformer and hence limit the SO x production.

5

Common Problems Affecting the Fluegas Duct

5.1

Too Much Excess Air

Many plants operate with very high levels of excess air (more than 10%) in order

to overcome operational difficulties such as poor combustion air distribution or

high coil temperatures. Excess air does not cause any operational problems per se, but it does represent an inefficiency.

5.1.1 Leaks in Rotary Air Preheaters

A customer had noticed that the efficiency of his plant had been gradually

reducing over the previous six months. GBHE conducted reformer survey covering both the radiant and convection sections. Detailed flowsheeting of the front end of the plant showed that the plant was generally operating as would be expected; however, there was a heat imbalance across the combustion air pre heater; it should be noted that the pre heater was of a rotary design.

Further modelling of the combustion air pre heater indicated that there appeared to be a very large air leakage between the combustion air and the fluegas side. The plant checked the oxygen levels throughout the convection section and the air pre heater and it was found that there was 14% oxygen in the fluegas exit the air pre heater compared to 3 % inlet the air pre heater. This leak caused a plant inefficiency that is worth US$ 500,000 per year.

Refinery Process Stream Purification Refinery Process Catalysts Troubleshooting Refinery Process Catalyst Start-Up / Shutdown

Activation

Reduction In-situ Ex-situ Sulfiding Specializing in Refinery Process Catalyst Performance Evaluation Heat & Mass

Balance Analysis Catalyst Remaining Life Determination Catalyst Deactivation Assessment Catalyst Performance Characterization Refining & Gas Processing & Petrochemical Industries Catalysts / Process Technology - Hydrogen Catalysts / Process Technology – Ammonia Catalyst Process Technology - Methanol Catalysts / process Technology – Petrochemicals

Specializing in the Development & Commercialization of New Technology in the Refining &

Petrochemical Industries

Web Site: www.GBHEnterprises.com

5.1.2 Areas of Potential Air Leakage Other than the air preheater there are many other
5.1.2 Areas of Potential Air Leakage Other than the air preheater there are many other

5.1.2 Areas of Potential Air Leakage

Other than the air preheater there are many other places where air can leak into the radiant and convection section of the reformer; these include, but are not limited to,

Peephole doors.

Radiant and convection section construction joints.

Header box joints.

Tubes entry and exit points through the radiant box casing.

Burner attachment to the reformer casing.

Explosion protection plates.

5.2

Too Little Excess Air

5.2.1

Due to Insufficient ID Fan Capacity

During a routine reformer survey of a world scale Methanol customer’s primary reformer, it was noted that there was severe after burning was occurring in the centre of the radiant box. After-burnin