BP turns to CIVS to combat corrosion

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 – 2:34 pm

By Erika Rose

BP’s Whiting Refinery recently partnered with Purdue University Calumet’s Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation (CIVS) for assistance in developing a new design for a water wash system for the refinery’s No. 12 Pipestill Crude Tower.

Mark Hunter, site project manager for No. 12 Pipestill revamp, explained that “refineries use water-wash systems to keep salts from forming corrosive acids on the pipe walls. While technology exists for determining how much water to use, it remains a challenge to determine where to place water injection jets and how many jets to use.”

Historically, he said, engineers would drill a hole in the actual pipe and make an educated guess about where to position the jet for the best result. If that didn’t yield the desired result, they would drill another hole, reposition the jet and so on.

By working with Purdue Calumet faculty and students at the CIVS, BP’s research and design engineers had access to computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling, which produce more comprehensive data than previously attainable.

The partnership affords mechanical engineering students a valuable opportunity to apply the theories and concepts they are learning in real world scenarios.  Mechanical engineering student Tom Roesel of Crete, Ill. has worked on the project as part of his experiential learning requirement.  He took the system drawings, properties of the materials, and geometry that BP provided for the design and constructed a 3-D computer picture of the water-wash system. The computer ran a number of simulations using various “what if” factors to find the most accurate design parameters.

The CFD simulation can calculate and recalculate individual water droplets moving down the line several times every inch, accounting for temperature changes all the way down the pipe. In the past, Hunter said, engineers were unable to calculate within such small increments.   “The model provided confidence to have conversations about physical science in a way you weren’t able to have before,” he said.  He added that the simulations provided precise data on the flow of the water so that engineers can determine the proper amount of water to use and the optimal placement and number of water-injection jets to use. Perhaps most importantly, the method allows engineers to keep the experimentation in the computer lab.

“This modeling allowed us to help determine in a computer lab the idea local for the water wash jets, naturally lowering the risk of inefficient targeting in the field,” Hunter said. “Corrosion prevention is essential for the safety and reliability of the refinery. Also, if we just down the unit to avoid a leak, or replace piping or equipment, the resulting downtime and repairs are extremely costly.”

The project is about to enter a three-year construction phase.