Get access

Risk analysis for operation of aluminum heat exchangers contaminated by mercury



Brazed aluminum plate-fin heat exchangers are extensively used in gas separation processes including LNG, LPG, NGL, nitrogen rejection and olefins manufacture. In situations where mercury is a trace component of feed gas or liquid feeds to crackers, condensation of liquid or precipitation of solid mercury can occur in heat exchanger passes, even with functional mercury removal systems in place. Mercury in liquid phase causes, under certain well-defined conditions, liquid metal embrittlement of susceptible metallurgy or amalgam corrosion of core fins, both of which can lead to sudden loss of pressure containment. Mercury-contaminated aluminum heat exchangers require close scrutiny and quantitative risk assessment to allow safe operation, remediation or to justify replacement. The risk analysis procedure involves computational prediction of mercury deposition, inspection of critical areas, detailed assessment of metallurgy and fabrication, strain analysis of temperature changes during trips and shutdowns and oxide fatigue analysis. Assigning probability of equipment failure requires a complete understanding of the mechanisms of liquid metal embrittlement and amalgam corrosion that operate on aluminum plate-fin heat exchangers. Statistical correlations to known failures are essential to assignment of probability-based risk factors. Probabilities of leak and rupture failure modes can be estimated using amounts and locations of mercury deposits determined from focused inspection or calculated thermodynamically. © 2009 American Institute of Chemical Engineers Process Saf Prog, 2009