Digital Transformation Impacting Chlor-Alkali Plants

by , | Mar 12, 2021 | Chemical

Pete Sharpe

Principle Consultant, Refining & Petrochemical

Seems that “digital transformation” is the buzzword in industry today. Almost everyone is digitally transforming something – for good reason, it turns out! By adding sensors and automating data collection and analysis, modernizing business practices to use new technologies and providing easy access to insightful data to all levels of the organization, companies are finding ways to unlock value never seen before in the manufacturing sector. Even industries that have traditionally operated in a tight margin environment, like Chlor-Alkali plants, have started recognizing the value of additional digital sensors and more sophisticated monitoring of electrolyzers and other critical equipment.

There are several Emerson digital technologies that have proven valuable to Chlor-Alkali (C-A) plants over the years. The first comment most people make about the C-A plant is it’s a very corrosive environment. Every material in that plant, from brine to chlorine gas to caustic to hydrochloric acid, has corrosive properties. So special materials and corrosion inhibitors must be used to extend the life of instruments, valves, vessels, pipes and equipment.

I caught up with Emerson’s Sergio Velasquez, a technical specialist with expertise in control and instrumentation, for some example best practices when considering instrumentation for C-A plants:

  • Use smart instruments with advanced diagnostics – These instruments are “self-aware”, and report back their health and status to the control system. In this environment, unreliable field wiring and ground faults are a constant challenge due to the corrosive atmosphere in the plant. Smart instruments can detect such faults.
  • Choose wireless over wired where possible for non-critical sensors – Customers are finding that wireless solutions are more reliable and cost-effective long term. Battery replacement is cheap relative to running new cables.

Chlor-Alkali processSergio had been doing some internal investigation with our business units and found that over the past several years, the most popular digital solutions in the C-A industry have been:

  • pH measurements – Accurate and reliable pH measurements throughout the brine preparation steps and the electrolyzers allows precise control to the target pH and prevents excursions from disrupting production.
  • Wireless tank monitoring – When the tank farm is separate from the plant site, running and maintaining cables can be costly. Wireless differential pressure (DP) level transmitters provide accurate, reliable measurements for many types of tanks commonly used in C-A plants. Wireless tank gauges can have custody-transfer level accuracy and provide automatic tank overfill protection at the same time.
  • Pipeline temperature and pressure monitoring – Particularly in cold climates where caustic soda may crystalize in the pipes, monitoring the temperatures along the pipeline to adjust heat tracing is valuable.
  • Reduced operator rounds – replacing local gauges with wireless gauges, and installing vibration sensors where handhelds or local instruments are used to monitor equipment on rounds, removes operators from hazardous areas and reduces risk of an incident.
  • Firewater pressure monitoring – When firewater is needed, a partially frozen supply line or inadvertently blocked valve can have serious consequences.
  • Safety shower monitoring – Every second counts when an operator is in need. Wireless proximity sensors provide a low-cost, effective way to notify the operators when any eye wash station or safety shower has been activated.
  • Digital twins for operator training – Whether training new operators or practicing responses to abnormal situations with experienced ones, industry has found operator training simulators to improve safety, reduce the training time and lower the risk and severity of an incident under stressful conditions.

To learn more about digital technologies and solutions that drive C-A improved business performance or to contact an Emerson representative, send an email to: Chemicals@emerson.com.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.