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Fri 11 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Avoiding disasters

Middle East industrial gas detection sales are expected to exceed US$20 million each year, so Petrochemicals Middle East investigates how vendors aim to win your plant manager's approval.

Avoiding disasters
FLIR’s GF320 infrared camera for gas leak detection is capable of finding methane emissions or VOC leakages.
Avoiding disasters
Alaa Ayoub, Middle East regional manager at RAE Systems.
Avoiding disasters
Svein Sivertsen, general manager, Simtronics.
Avoiding disasters
John Warburton, marketing manager at City Technology.

Middle East industrial gas detection sales are expected to exceed US$20 million each year, so Petrochemicals Middle East investigates how vendors aim to win your plant manager's approval.

Gas is ever-present in the petrochemicals industry, but a gas leak can prove disastrous to staff and plants alike. Lurking around faulty valves or cracked pipes is the combustible feedstock the industry cannot operate without, so early and reliable detection is a top priority for every plant HSE manager.

Petrochemical plants usually have ethane as the key feedstock, although in some cases it is a mixed feedstock of butane, propane or methane, or liquid naptha.

"Many industrial gases and chemical compounds are invisible to the naked eye.

Yet companies transport, measure and transform these ingredients every day. They use a range of instruments to monitor these assets from the loading dock, throughout the refinery and chemical processing plant and back to the storage tanks, pipes and railcars," says Johan Tegstam, product manager at Sweden's FLIR Systems.

Having gas running through the plant means that the whole facility is designated a hazardous area, and any leakage of gas could in theory cause an explosion. Gas detection has therefore been a vital and growing part of a plant manager's arsenal against disaster.

"There are many hazardous gases to be found in petrochemical plants, including hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide, chlorine, sulphur dioxide, ammonia, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen cyanide and hydrogen chloride," says John Warburton, a strategic marketing manager at City Technology.

"There are many flammable gases and vapours, but another major life-threatening hazard is reduced oxygen concentrations, particularly in confined spaces which includes tanks and vessels," he adds.

Gas detectors therefore aim to detect flammable gases, toxic gases as well as a lack of oxygen.

Fixed or mobile?

Gas detector instruments are either portable, designed to be worn or carried by individuals to give personal life safety protection, typically against a range of  industrial gases, or are fixed installation, which give protection against known specific hazards to personnel and cover a specific area of the plant or industrial facility.

"As they are life safety critical detectors, both types of instrument have to be independently certified to meet international safety and performance standards, must be  easy to use, robust, reliable and, for portable instruments in particular they must be ergonomically designed and lightweight so that they are easy and unobtrusive to wear," explains Warburton.

Many companies are introducing infrared cameras. "Using infrared imaging to spot leaks, damaged pipes, breached seals or valves and other emissions makes both business sense and common sense. The results are powerful, immediate and yield bottom-line results," says Tegstam.

"Infrared imaging now allows workers to ‘see' volatile organic compounds that are invisible to the human eye," Warburton adds.

The detection technology is designed specifically to deal with the severe threat presented by the presence of these gases. "For the last 30 years or so, in portable equipment, electrochemical sensors have been used for the detection of oxygen and toxic gases, with pellistor (catalytic bead sensors) used for the detection of flammable gases. Infra-red sensors are increasingly popular as an alternative to pellistors for detecting hydrocarbons, but they do suffer some limitations. In particular, they measure the concentration of a hydrocarbon rather than measure the flammability," says Warburton.

Finding the thresholds

Thresholds, also called occupational exposure limit (OEL) values, are set by the relevant Health and Safety Executive that either has jurisdiction in the particular country or area or is often defined in international standards. "Generally the thresholds are set by approved legislation bodies for different gases in different locations such as OSHA," explains Alaa Ayoub, regional manager at RAE Systems. "These thresholds are determined according to the nature of the hazards.""For toxic gases, a time-weighted average (TWA) will set the limit, typically over an eight-hour period, for prolonged exposure to a low concentration of the gas in question," says Warburton.

"In tandem with the TWA, a short time exposure limit (STEL) is usually defined, setting the maximum period for which people can be exposed to a higher concentration, which is usually measured over 15-minute intervals," he adds.

 For potentially explosive atmospheres, limits are normally expressed as a percentage of the Lower Explosive Level (LEL), the level above which a gas mixture is capable of combustion. The instruments will be programmed to alarm at a level well below the maximum permissible so as to give time for personnel evacuation or for plant shutdown to be initiated.

But generally, the response time depends on different factors. "Response times can vary greatly by sensor technology, application and by manufacturer," explains Jonathan Saint, marketing manager at Net Safety.

Operational requirements

A key requirement for gas detection instrumentation is the ability to operate within acceptable tolerances over extremely wide variations in temperature and humidity, which can fluctuate wildly during the course of one day. Consider, for example, the day and night variations to be found in a plant located near the coast in the Middle East during summer for an idea of the operational parameters the equipment has to overcome.

"Accuracy, stability, speed of response and repeatability are basic but critical functional requirements," argues Warburton. "Ease of calibration and use, failure-to-safe mode and ergonomic design are other significant considerations for personal gas detection procurement managers," he continues.

Naturally, the performance of any instrument can only be as good as the performance of its core sensors; hence the segmentation of the market into specialist sensor designers and manufacturers such as City Technology, and associated instrument providers. But the main challenge definitely remains the timing.

"The biggest challenge we face is to have the unit operating at the time of the leak as many accidents happened recently due to the carelessness of field workers," claims Ayoub.

Assessing the local market

Globally, the oil and gas and petrochemical industry is responsible for around 40-50% of demand for fixed and portable gas detectors. "In the Middle East, given the significant concentration of production and downstream facilities here, the industry is by far the largest user of such equipment," Ayoub says.

Changes in demand for gas detectors from the industry are directly related to activity levels; the more oil that is being pumped and processed, the larger the number of people needed to implement the processes and the higher the requirement for safety equipment.

"Demand for gas detection equipment in the region is approximately $20 million per year," explains Saint. "Demand from the petrochemical sector alone weighs in at about $5 million per year," he adds.

The market for gas sensors and detectors is growing substantially all over the globe, according to market analysts Frost & Sullivan.  In the combustible gas market, there is a shift under way as catalytic gas detectors are gaining ground due to their extensive detection capability.  Recent analysis from Frost & Sullivan into world gas sensors, detectors and analysers found that the three markets earned revenues of $48.5 million, $680 million and $278.5 million respectively back in 2005, with estimates to reach $80.6 million, $947.3 million and $376.1 million by 2012. Recent investments in oil and gas refineries are driving the combustible gas detection market.

As the Middle East is in the swing of a downstream revolution, gas detector providers will be targeting a good slice of the action. To succeed they must strive to provide the latest technologies, as local end-users are looking for the most reliable instruments to ensure the safety of their plants.

Simtronics GD 1

The new GD1 product released by Simtronics is said to set new standards for H2S gas detection. The GD1 works by using a tunable laser diode which can detect particle levels of H2S or methane at very low parts per million levels. "Our newest detector is laser based.

It has a very narrow parameter and can scan the exact footprint of the H2S up to 1000 times per second. The single laser can detect both H2S and methane, or can be configured to detect other gases," says Svein Sivertsen, GM, Simtronics. Its USP is high sensitivity and reliability of the device, and the ability to change configuration to detect other gases.

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