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Paper No.

10039 2010

PERFORMANCE REVIEW OF COMPOSITES


IN GAS PLANT APPLICATIONS

A. M. Saleem etal
Saudi Aramco
‘Uthmaniyah Gas Plant Department
Box 755, Udhailiyah, Dhahran-31311, Saudi Arabia
E-mail: saleemam1@yahoo.com

ABSTRACT

Nonmetallic composites increasingly find applications in almost all process industries. The tremendous
technological advancements in the polymer industry remarkably improved corrosion resistance
characteristics. Other encouraging aspects such as light weight, longer life cycle than conventional
materials, lower operating and maintenance costs can be of great significance to justify the higher capital
cost in specifying composites for new projects. In line with the nonmetallic composites enrichment
program, one of the largest gas processing plants in Saudi Arabia deployed nonmetallic materials in
structural, corrosion resistance, rehabilitation, life extension of concrete structures, safety and reliability
enhancement applications.

This paper is an update on the performance review of these applications at ‘Uthmaniyah Gas Plant in
critical streams, such as the cooling water system and hydrocarbon pipelines, ongoing efforts to promote
and maximize similar applications in other operating units.

Keywords: non-metallic composites, cooling system, exchanger, cooling tower, corrosivity,


hydrocarbon, cross country pipelines, transition point corrosion, microbiologically influenced corrosion,
delignification, preservative treatment, corrosion protection and life cycle.

©2010 by NACE International. Requests for permission to publish this manuscript in any form, in part or in whole, must be in writing to NACE
International, Publications Division, 1440 South Creek Drive, Houston, 1 Texas 77084. The material presented and the views expressed in this paper are
solely those of the author(s) and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association.

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INTRODUCTION

Uthmaniyah Gas Plant (UGP) is part of Gas Operations and is one of the largest gas processing plants in
the world. UGP was commissioned in 1981 as part of Master Gas System (MGS) to process the
associated gas from oil wells and expanded gradually to process non-associated gas (Khuff) received
from gas wells. Currently UGP has the capacity to process up to 1.85 billion SCFD (53.5 x 106 m3/d) of
associated gas in three low-pressure (LP) gas treating units and 750 MMSCFD (21.7 x 106 m3/d) of
Khuff gas in high pressure diglycol amine (HPDGA) unit.

Gas processing plants operated by the company produce sales gas, natural gas liquids (NGL) and sulfur.
Due to increasing demand for sales gas and NGL, all the gas plants often operate at full capacity.
Process streams, such as the cooling water system, buried hydrocarbon piping and pipelines are integral
parts of plant operations. Interruption of such critical streams due to deterioration of this equipment as a
result of corrosion, could lead to plant limitation or significant loss of revenue, depending on the feed
rate and other variables.

Almost all process industries such as oil, gas and petrochemical plants have cooling water systems,
buried cross country pipelines and concrete containments as integral parts of plant operation. Moreover,
each operating plant has numerous pipelines for transporting feedstock and end-products. Each pipeline
has transition points (above/below ground) and their external protection in asphalted/concreted areas has
remained a challenging task. Industries experienced significant external corrosion due to shielding and
abrasion at these transition points.

This paper outlines the practical experiences in material degradation aspect on the referenced systems,
from the prospective of a gas processing plant. It also outlines how non-metallic composite materials
played a vital role in corrosion protection and life extension of core components.

CORROSION MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES

The core elements of a typical cooling water system include the cooling water heat exchangers, cooling
tower, concrete basin and associated piping. In general, carbon steel (CS) material was used as the
primary choice of material in cooling water system exchangers, especially the shell, tube sheet, channel
and channel cover, while a copper based alloy, aluminum bronze material was used for the bundles. In
the case of the cooling tower, the usual choice of materials was wood, concrete and on occasionally
galvanized steel. The concrete basin constructed for these cooling towers were built with classical
construction methods using uncoated rebars. These concrete basins experienced deterioration to varying
extent, especially at the air/water interface due to concentration cells and splash-zone effects. The case
history discussed in this paper refers to CS heat exchangers, aluminum bronze tube bundles and a
wooden cooling tower and its concrete basins.

The materials used in cooling water systems are susceptible to deterioration by the environment and
operating conditions. The mode of attack and its severity varies with respect to several factors such as
system design, temperature, flow, water chemistry, concentration of corrodants, alloy composition wet-
dry cycle, operating pH range, effectiveness of bactericide, cycles of concentration, and blowdown
practices.

Both the open and closed cooling water systems are prone to corrosion depending on the water
chemistry, quality and quantity of make-up water added to the system. Open recirculating (evaporative)
and once-through systems are exposed to large quantities of suspended solids, waterborne contaminants

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and solutes. As a result, these factors lead to significant fouling and corrosion challenges. Closed
systems (nonevaporative) do not have such problems due to no loss of water and they are not exposed to
waterborne contaminants.

In the cooling water heat exchanger (CWHE), the tube sheet, baffle, and the bundle can be susceptible to
different types of damage mechanisms such as localized corrosion, stress corrosion cracking, dealloying
and MIC. As the corrosion concerns are complex, the option of corrosion management varies with
respect to the type of cooling water system and other factors. Corrosion, scale, sludge, algae and fungal
growth are the common inherent problems in cooling water systems. Monitoring data revealed that
closed cooling water systems are least corrosive and the above mentioned corrosion challenges are
related to open cooling water system.

CWHE Tube Sheet Restoration


In spite of the ongoing corrosion mitigation efforts, the carbon steel sections experienced deterioration
to varying extent. The tube sheet experienced localized corrosion as illustrated in Figure 1 a and Figure
1 b.

FIGURE 1 a): CS Tube sheet: Localized Attack FIGURE 1 b): Deteriorated Tube Bundle

The traditional approach was to replace the tube sheet, which required extended down time due to the
need for removing the tubes, which is almost similar to retubing. However, a non-metallic composite
system was used in-situ as an innovative and cost effective option to restore the integrity as illustrated in
Figure 2 a and Figure 2 b.

FIGURE 2a): CS Tube Sheet after Restoration FIGURE 2b): Tube Bundle after Restoration

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The nonmetallic composite system applied in the tube sheet rehabilitation consisted of filler,
intermediate heavy build vinyl ester resin based glass flaked material, reinforced with a veil coat. It is
crucial to remove the contaminants such as chloride on the tube sheet and perform surface preparation
by abrasive blasting prior to application. This nonmetallic composite system was reevaluated after eight
years of consecutive operation, which confirmed satisfactory performance with optimum corrosion
protection.

Cooling Tower Restoration


The majority of the cooling towers in the company operated plants are made of wooden material with
preservative treatment. Due to ageing, delignification and biological attack, the wood experienced
serious deterioration.

Although it was feasible to restore the cooling tower by sectional replacement and additional wood
treatment, this option was not cost effective and efficient. Furthermore, the probability of in-kind
replacement with treated wood was also an option; however, the effectiveness of the preservative
treatment was significantly affected by other variables such as storage and shipping after treatment. As a
result of these factors, sections of the procured treated wood were susceptible to microbiological attack
as identified by the lab test.

Due to these reasons, the deteriorated wooden tower was upgraded with nonmetallic composites as
illustrated in Figure 3 a and Figure 3 b. The performance of the nonmetallic composite tower
demonstrated exceptional cooling capacity in the peak summer, exceeding the cooling demand.

FIGURE 3a): Deteriorated Wooden Cooling Tower FIGURE 3b): Upgraded Nonmetallic Composite Tower

Composites Fan Blades


Cooling towers operated with the induced draft system also have fan blades made of aluminum. In most
cases, these metallic blades have failed due to fatigue. Such failures not only could lead to operational
interruption but also unsafe conditions due to the probability of getting damaged by the broken fan
blades. In addition to the replacement of these aluminum fan blades with nonmetallic composite
material, this requirement was recommended in the new construction facilities to enhance the safety and
reliability of this equipment for trouble free operation.

Concrete Basin Restoration with Composites


As part of the ongoing efforts towards the nonmetallic composite enrichment program, every possible
opportunity was captured to deploy composites for corrosion protection. In line with this approach, the
existing three concrete basins that experienced deterioration at the air/water interface were restored by
conventional repair. Additionally, composite laminates were installed to provide further reinforcement

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and prevent recurrence as illustrated in Figure 4 a and Figure 4 b. Furthermore, sacrificial anodes were
installed in the submerged sections of the concrete basin to protect the rebars.

FIGURE 4a): Deteriorated Concrete Basin FIGURE 4b): After Restoration with Composite Laminates

Buried Pipelines Transition Points Enhanced Protection


Carbon steel material is mostly used with an external coating system and cathodic protection for external
protection. For internal protection, a chemical inhibition program is used at the upstream. Each pipeline
has an above ground-to-below ground transition point and the external protection at the transition point
in asphalted/concreted areas have remained a challenging task. Industries have experienced significant
external corrosion due to shielding and abrasion at these transition points. Nonmetallic composites were
installed to enhance the transition point’s external protection. The application includes fiberglass
laminates soaked with a two component epoxy system, which after the curing formed a nonmetallic
sleeve, as illustrated in Figure 5.

FIGURE 5: Nonmetallic Sleeves for Transition Point Protection

This composite material was applied at the transition points of incoming hydrocarbon condensate and
evaluated almost after ten years of operation, which revealed satisfactory performance and as well, has
the ability to protect the line even in the absence of cathodic protection. This application can also be
considered as a pressure bearing sleeve by employing appropriate design and by installing multiple
laminates to meet the pressure rating.

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CONCLUSIONS

Almost all process industries have cooling water heat exchangers, cooling tower and numerous buried
pipelines with transition points as integral parts of plant operation. At UGP, nonmetallic composite
materials have been successfully used as an innovative and cost effective option for restoration other
than traditional option of tube sheet replacement. In general, nonmetallic composites increasingly find
applications in almost all process industries. The tremendous technological advancements in the
polymer industry remarkably improved corrosion resistance characteristics. Other encouraging aspects
such as light weight, longer life cycle than conventional materials, lower operating and maintenance
costs can be of great significance to justify the higher capital cost in specifying composites for new
projects. Further, composite laminates were also successfully used to restore the deteriorated concrete
basin as a cost effective option.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The author wishes to acknowledge his company management for granting the permission to publish this
paper. The work involved in this application was an extensive collaborative effort between the
Uthmaniyah Gas Plant Department, Consulting Services Department and the Research & Development
Center. The authors would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the valuable contributions from
the Nonmetallic & Protective Coatings Unit, Petroleum Microbiology Unit and other team members of
Operations, Maintenance and Engineering from UGP.