Detecting Gases in the Chemical Industry

Chemicals are all around us. Everything from the glue holding your desk together to the soap you use, is a product of the chemical industry. Things can get complicated when you try to establish everything that falls under the chemicals umbrella.

Chemicals can be broken down into three categories, from a high-level perspective[i]:

  1. Basic Chemicals – These include polymers, petrochemicals (derived from oils), and basic inorganics. Petrochemicals come from hydrocarbons in gas and crude oil which are converted into more useful hydrocarbons using processes such as reforming, cracking, and isomerization. The primary use for petrochemicals is the production of a wide range of polymers, which are commonly used in plastics and resins. Basic inorganics include sodium hydroxide, chlorine, nitric and sulfuric acids, and chemicals for fertilizers.
  2. Specialty Chemicals – These include chemicals for paints, dyes, and crop protection.
  3. Consumer Chemicals – These are sold directly to the public and include soaps and detergents.

A lot of these products come from massive facilities. For example, the BASF chemical complex in Ludwigshafen, Germany is made up of an area of approximately 3.9 square miles or 10-square kilometers. “The backbone of the Ludwigshafen production Verbund (network) is a dense network of around 200 production plants that are connected to each other by over 2,850 kilometers of pipelines.”[ii]

Dow Chemical, headquartered in Midland, Michigan, produces over 2,000 different products. The Sadara Chemical Company in Saudi Arabia was certified as the world’s largest chemical complex in 2015. There are 26 manufacturing units within the compound, and the entire industrial park spans 12-square kilometers or around 4.6 square miles. In a number of cases, the size of the company is typically presented by the number of employees, revenue, and volume of chemicals produced.

Gases in the Chemical Industry

As well as the smaller producers, within this giant conglomerate of chemical production, there are organic and inorganic hazardous materials that have flashpoints which are very low, a wide flammable/explosive range, and low LELs (lower explosive limits). LEL is the lowest concentration of a vapor or gas in air that will burn when an ignition source is present. For numerous flammable gases, it is less than 5% by volume. There is a large risk of explosion even when relatively small concentrations of the gas leak into the atmosphere.

It is also worth contemplating that a high amount of flammable gas hazards happen when the concentration of gases or vapors is greater than 10,000 ppm (1%) volume in air or higher. Toxic gases usually need to be detected in sub-100 ppm (0.01%) volume levels to protect personnel. The production methods are complicated, using extremely high temperatures, pipelines, and transfer lines, high-pressure valves, distillation processes, concentrators, equipment connection points, steam crackers, storage tanks, turbines, and more.

In total, the production, storage, and distribution of products and byproducts of the chemical industry double as some of the most dangerous to those who work with them directly, and also some of the most beneficial to the everyday lives of consumers. The offering of gas detection management in the petrochemical industry, therefore, plays a critical part.

Some Tips on How to Elevate Your Gas Detection Program within a Chemical Facility are below:

  • Use data to reduce and eliminate gas exposure – Gas detection management software allows you to manage equipment, hazards, and people, from anywhere using a simple dashboard. It also gives information on how gas detectors are being utilized, so you can take corrective actions.
  • Keep workers connected – If someone experiences a panic, man-down, or high gas situation, it could take minutes or even hours before anyone else will know. Utilizing wireless gas monitors, peers in the area, as well as a remote safety manager or first responder crew, can be alerted immediately.
  • Utilize continuous gas monitoring – Personal gas monitors are a given, but continuous monitoring for LELs can alert you to a problem 24/7. Area monitors are great for setting up a perimeter around a hazards area or monitoring a leak or spill. Some area gas monitors have a 7-day runtime that can be indefinitely extended using an external power supply.

 

Safety is not an intellectual exercise to keep us in work. It is a matter of life and death. It is the sum of our contributions to safety management that determines whether the people we work with live or die.

Sir Brian Appleton

In an industry as complex and large as the chemical industry is, just giving a piece of safety equipment to a worker and sending them into a hazardous area is kind of like putting on a seat belt and ignoring traffic rules and regulations. When it involves your gas detection program, a comprehensive management solution should be sought to keep your workers safe.

References

[i] http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/the-chemical-industry/the-chemical-industry.html

[ii] https://chemicalparks.eu/parks/basf-se-ludwigshafen

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by Industrial Scientific.

For more information on this source, please visit Industrial Scientific.

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