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Explosion and Fire Destroy Chemical Plants. It would be hard to say how frequently this phrase has appeared in Newspapers and Safety Bulletins. Certainly more often than anyone would like. There is no doubt that we would like to eliminate these accidents. Yet despite all our precautions explosions and fires do occur. The design engineer must make provisions for the possibility of explosions and fires so as to limit the extent of damage. The consequences of poor design can be expensive and disastrous. When deciding the safety requirement of a pressure system, the first approach, although unrealistic and impractical, is to design the vessel to absorb the maximum internal pressure which may be encountered under the worst possible conditions. This will result in overdesigning and increase in cost. The more practical approach to the problem will be to design the pressure system for normal operating conditions and provide adequate venting facilities to handle excessive pressure developed by extraordinary circumstances.


The pressure relief system design engineers must consider several factors when selecting the relief systems and designing the discharge header. These are :(1) (2) (3) (4) (5) Physical properties of the system constituents; The ASME Code; Relief device operating characteristics and capacities; Design pressure of the operating equipment associated with the relief device; and Line capacities and lengths.

The ASME Code is a safety guide for the processing industries; it establishes the Regulations for safe practice in design, construction, inspection and repair of pressure vessels handling petroleum and other hazardous liquids and vapors. In accordance with the ASME Code, all unfired pressure vessels shall be protected by pressure relieving devices that will prevent the pressures in the vessels from rising 10 % above the maximum allowable working pressure (i.e. Design Pressure), except when the excess pressure is caused by fire and or other unexpected source of heat. In the event of over-pressure of the latter, the pressure relieving devices shall be capable of preventing the pressure from rising more than 20 % above the maximum allowable working pressure when all pressure relieving devices are blowing. Size of the outlet pipe shall be such that any pressure that may exist or develop in the discharge line will not reduce the relieving capacity of the safety devices below the amount required to protect the vessel from over-pressures.


Relief Valve: - A Relief Valve is an automatic pressure relieving device actuated by the static pressure upstream of the valve, and which opens further with increase in pressure over the set pressure. It is used primarily for liquid services and attains rated capacity at 25 % over-pressure. Safety Valve: - A Safety Valve is an automatic pressure relieving device actuated by the static pressure upstream of the valve and is characterized by the full opening or POP action upon opening. It is used for steam, gas or vapor services. Rated capacity is reached at 3 %, 10 % or 20 % over-pressures depending upon the applicable code. Safety-Relief Valve:- A Safety-Relief Valve is an automatic pressure relieving device actuated by the static pressure upstream of the valve and is characterized by an adjustment to allow either a POP or a NON-POP action and a nozzle type entrance. It is used on steam, gas, vapor and liquids (with adjustments) and is probably the most general type of valves in Petrochemicals and Chemical Plants. Rated capacity is reached at 3 % or 10 % over-pressures, depending upon the code and/or process conditions. Conventional and Balanced Valves;- The Standard Conventional and Balanced Valves operate satisfactorily only when there is relatively constant back pressure. Changes in back pressures can seriously affect its flow capacity. The Balanced Bellow Type Safety Relief Valves operate satisfactorily under varying back pressures as this has little influence on performances. The normal back pressure limit for the standard Conventional Type is 10 % of the valve set pressure and that for the Balanced Bellows Type is 50 % of the valve set pressure. Rupture Disc; - A Rupture Disc is a thin diaphragm held between flanges and designed to burst at a predetermined pressure. Each bursting requires the installation of a new disc. The absence of a valving mechanism or seat makes them particularly advantageous for sticky or gummy and corrosive materials. There are two basic classes of rupture discs- metallic and non-metallic. The metallic discs are formed into hot shapes and is made of metals like Aluminium, Stainless Steel, Monel, etc. For use in certain corrosive applications, rupture discs covered on either side with special corrosion resistant coatings like Teflon are available. When systems operate under vacuum or alternating pressure and vacuum, the rupture disc will tend to collapse causing premature disc failures. To avoid this, a vacuum support is used. This is a thicker disc designed to withstand full vacuum and is closely mated to the concave side (pressure side) of the rupture disc. The vacuum support is either perforated or slit that the covering the rupture disc is always in contact with the system pressure. Non-metallic discs are usually made of impervious graphite, a material well known for corrosion applications in chemical process industries. Pressure-Vacuum Valves:- Pressure-Vacuum Relief Valves or what is commonly known as Breather Vents provided to permit escape of vapors as the tank is being filled and emptied or due to change in ambient conditions. These are provided for above-ground flammable solvent storage. Vents on tanks containing flammable liquids with a flash point below 110F required to have flame arresters.


SET PRESSURE: - The set pressure in psig, is the inlet pressure at which the safety valve is adjusted to open. OVER-PRESSURE:- Pressure increase over the set pressure of the relieving device is the set pressure. ACCUMULATION: - Pressure increase over the maximum allowable working pressure (Design Pressure) of the vessel during discharge through the safety or relieving expressed as percent of that pressure is called accumulation. BLOW DOWN: - Blow Down is the difference between set pressure and the relieving pressure of a safety or relieving valve expressed as percent of the set pressure. BACK PRESSURE; - Back Pressure is the pressure developed on the discharge side of safety valves is back pressure.


The set pressure is usually selected as high as possible but never more than the maximum allowable working pressure. One widely used rule is to maintain a minimum differential between the set pressure and the normal operating pressure the system at 15 psig, or more, or 10% of the set pressure whichever is greater. When the set pressure equals that of maximum allowable working pressure, the system would require the smallest valve. Safety Valves are identified by the sizes of the inlet, orifice code and sizes of the outlet. The orifice code identifying the alphabetical letter with orifice area required for discharge of fluid through the valves:

Orifice letter

Area in Sq. Inches

0.110 0.196 O.307 O.503 O.785 1.287 2.853

Orifice letter
M N P Q R 0r S T U

Area in sq. Inches

3.600 4.340 6.380 11.O5 16.OO 19.64 26.OO


For vessels with entering streams that are principally vaporous, safety valves must accommodate the normal vapor quantity including steam and any other vapors entering the vessel at the normal entry temperature of such vapors, without exceeding the maximum relieving pressure. Allowance must be made for heat added to the system from a heat source like reboiler, etc.

For a vessel with small vapor entering quantity and a large liquid quantity, one of the following conditions can exist and the valves are to be sized accordingly. First, when the liquid filling time of the vessel is as short that inadvertent complete filling is an evident possibility, the safety valve should accommodate both the normal entering vapor and liquid quantities. Second, when the liquid filling time is so long that no great possibility of complete filling exists, the safety valve should relieve normal entering vapor quantity plus an increase in this vapor quantity due to the vapor displacement caused by the large quantity of entering liquid. For the discharge of combined liquid and vapor, precise calculations are not generally possible. When the material to be discharged is nearly all vapors, it is conservative to figure the estimated liquid content as vapor added to the actual estimated vapor quantity. Where the discharge is nearly all liquid, the orifice size can be approximated by calculating that required for the vapor quantity above and adding to the estimated vapor relief requirement assessed for the liquid alone. The vapor generated as a result of external fire is calculated assuming that there will be no material entering the vessel and the valve size is determined only by vapor quantity due to external fire. W= 21,000 X FA X 0.82/ L, where W=Flow in lbs/hr, L=Latent heat of vaporization, A=Surface area in sq.ft, F=Environment factor.

Values of F: (1) Bare Metal=1.0; (2) Insulated Vessels: a. 4 inches thick insulation=0.075; b. 2 inches thick insulation=0.15; c. 1 inch thick insulation=0.30. (3) Water application facilities on bare vessels in process area=1.0; (4) Depressurizing and emptying facilities=1.0; (5) Underground Storage=0.0; (6) Earth covered storage aboveground=0.03.

The surface area exposed to fire (A in the above Formula) is normally restricted to exposed area up to a height of 25 feet aboveground. PUMPS AND COMPRESSORS: When the maximum discharge pressures can exceed the casing design pressures, relief valves should accommodate the maximum, discharge quantities without exceeding the casing design pressure. HEAT EXCHANGERS: The relief valve size is calculated fewer than one of the following conditions and under external fire and the larger value of the two is selected: (1) Vaporization in an exchanger: If the vapor pressure of the cold medium at a temperature equal to the normal inlet temperature of the medium on the hot side is more than 1.3 times the design pressure on the cold side, a relief valve is needed to protect against vaporization: W=Q (t - t) / L (t - t), where W=Vapor generated when block valve is closed, lbs/hr; Q=Normal heat Duty of heat exchanger, Btu/hr; L=Latent Heat of Vaporization, Btu/lb; t=the normal inlet temperature of the medium, F; t=the cold side boiling temperature at pressure prevailing, when block valve is closed, F; and t=the cold side temperature at normal conditions i.e. average of inlet and outlet, F. (2) Liquid Expansion: W=BH /60C A=W /196 1.5 PD S, where A=Effective nozzle area of relief valve, sq.inches; W=Liquid to be relieved, lbs/min.; H=Normal Heat Exchanger Duty, Btu/hr; C=Specific Heat of cold Medium; S=Specific Gravity of cold Medium; PD=Design Pressure of cold side, psig; and B=Coefficient of Expansion of cold medium. Some values of B are: Oil 3 to 35 API=0.0004; Oil 35 to 51 API=0.0005; Oil 51 to 64 API=0.0006; Oil 64 to 79 API=0.0007; Oil 79 to 89 API=0.0008; Oil 89 and upAPI=0.00085 and Water =0.0001.


Metal Disc Manufacturers recommended that for general applications, the maximum normal operating pressure of the vessel or system should be held to 67 % of the disc rating. Operating pressures for non-metallic discs are restricted to 75 % of the rated burst pressure. Manufacturers print tables listing capacity of their product under various conditions. Or, given the venting capacity required, they will recommend a size and type for the job. The Design Engineers first problem which the manufacturer is generally not in a position to work out is determining the specific venting requirement. Calculation of venting requirement would follow the procedure outlined under Safety Relief Valves. When ordering Rupture Discs, the following specifications should be given to the manufacturer: (1) Net inside Diameter of opening leading to the flange or holding arrangement for the disc, inches: or the cubic feet of vapor at stated conditions of bursting pressure; (2) Preferred material of construction or state service; (3) Type of hold-down arrangement, flanged, screwed or special; (4) Material of construction of hold-down arrangement; (5) Temperatures for (a) continuous operation and (b) at burst pressure and (6) Required burst pressure in vessel and the back pressure on the disc, if any.


The recommendation of the Factory Insurance Association for Breather Vent Sizes is given below: Tank Capacity in Gallons 1000 to 2000 2000 to 10000 10000 to 50000 50000 to 150000 15000 to 400000 Breather Vent in inches 1 2 3 4 4 & 3 used together Volume vented in cu.ft./hr at 60F, One inch water pressure 1920 2800 6200 12500 18100

Emergency venting of some sort is also required to relieve over-pressure that may develop from exposure to fire. Factory Insurance Association has recommended emergency vent sizes. For tanks normally at atmospheric pressure, emergency venting can be provided by:

(1) A standard emergency vent of the size recommended by FIA; (2) A cover of adequate size, weighted in manner that would allow it to open at a pressure of 2 ounces/sq.inch. A convenient solution would be to use a hinged manhole cover as an emergency vent. This would be supplementary to a breather vent; and (3) A specially designed seam. On large tanks, the head seam can be designed to be weaker than other joints on the tanks so that it will rupture on pressure build up. Emergency venting requirements will be reduced if some method is provided to reduce the heat input to the tank contents. Means frequently employed are the use of an automatic water spray system or insulating the tank. The insulation must be material that is not likely to be damaged by flames or hose streams.

To obtain the advantage of both the rupture disc and the safety valve, the two devices are frequently used in series. The rupture disc will prevent the process material from coming into contact with the moving parts of the safety valve. Such an installation is resorted to in case of clogging and highly corrosive services. Whenever the Rupture Disc is installed in series with the safety valve, the interspaces between the devices should be vented to the atmosphere to prevent build up process material in the interspaces. This is done with the help of an Excess Flow Valve. The Excess Flow Valve is similar in construction to a ball type check valve. When the rupture disc ruptures due to pressure build up, the ball in Excess Flow Valve is pushed against its outlet port, thus preventing the escape of large amount of hazardous process material to the atmospheres. When a small leak from the rupture disc is noticed by the vapors coming out of the Excess Flow Valve, the disc should be replaced at the earliest opportunity. The rupture disc and safety valve can be installed in parallel; in some installation either two safety valves or a safety valve and rupture disc are provided in parallel on a common inlet spool piece with a threeway valve in between. In continuous processes such installations permit maintenance work to be carried out on the pressure relieving device without shut-down. The inlet piping size should be same as that of the valve or disc inlet. The pressure drop in the inlet spool piece should not be more than 3 % of the set pressure. The discharge from the safety devices are to be routed through a common blow-down header. The simultaneous discharge of different valves into a common header might create too great a back pressure on the low pressure valve. When using standard safety-relief valves, the maximum back pressure at the valve discharge should be limited to 10 % of the set pressure. The hazardous vapors are vented to the atmospheres from the blow-down header through a water seal drum and a vent stack. The height of the vent stack will be decided upon by the permitted toxicity levels of the gases discharged. In some installations, the gases discharged are routed to a flare system. Safe purge rates of either steam or hydrocarbon gases are maintained in the vent or flare stack to maintain the oxygen levels in the stack at a certain specified minimum level.

In conclusion, the following set of rules is presented as GOOD OPERATING PRACTICE FOR PRESSURE RELIEF SYSTEM DESIGN: (1) Pressure relieving devices shall be installed as close to the vessel as possible; (2) To avoid valve chatter, inlet piping shall be designed for a maximum drop of 3 % of the rated pressure (3) No stop valve shall intervene between the vessel and its pressure relieving device; (4) The opening through all pipe and fittings between a vessel and its relieving device shall have at least the area of the inlet of pressure relieving device; (5) Pressure relieving devices shall be installed so that the proper functioning will not be hindered by the nature of the vessels contents; (6) Safety and Relief Valves shall be installed in a vertical, up-right position; (7) Discharge piping shall be designed so that back pressure will not exceed 10 % of the set pressure of the relieving device; (8) Discharge Lines must be braced in accordance with the standard piping practice, to compensate for pressure shock and to eliminate unnecessary strain on the pressure relieving device; (9) Discharge Lines shall be at least the size of the safety valve outlet or burst area of the rupture disc; (10) Discharge Lines shall lead to a safe point of release; (11) On rupture disc installations, the axis of discharge piping shall be perpendicular to the plane of the rupture disc throughout the entire length; and (12)Discharge Lines from pressure relieving devices shall be designed to facilitate drainage, or shall be fitted to with a means of draining, to prevent the liquid from loading on the discharge line.