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Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 8389 www.elsevier.


Protecting atmospheric storage tanks against vacuum collapse

Michael L. Grifn
Corporate HSE Department, The Procter and Gamble Company, Sharon Woods Technical Center, Heekin Building, 11310 Cornell Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45242, USA Received 1 November 1999; received in revised form 13 November 1999; accepted 13 November 1999

Abstract Vacuum collapse causes many accidents involving equipment with low pressure ratings such as atmospheric storage tanks and bins. This paper presents methods to establish the appropriate relief capacities and specify pressure relief devices to protect atmospheric storage tanks and other similar equipment against this hazard. Calculations are based on simple heat balance and uid ow calculations. 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Vacuum; Collapse; Tanks; Condensation; Protection

1. Introduction One of the more common accidents involving atmospheric storage tanks, road tankers (tank trucks), and other low pressure equipment is vacuum collapse under external pressure (Figs. 1 and 2). These accidents result either from failure to recognize the hazard, or from failure to provide sufcient relief capacity to maintain the internal pressure above the maximum allowable vacuum capability of the equipment. Many accidents of this type are described in the literature (Sanders 1990, 1993). The principle means of protecting equipment against vacuum collapse is relatively simple provide sufcient gas or vapor (usually air or an inert gas) to replace the volume of any liquid withdrawn plus any vapor condensed to keep the minimum pressure in the equipment within acceptable limits.

covered in API RP 2000 (American Petroleum Institute, 1998). The third, condensed vapor, is often overlooked. The vapor, usually steam, is condensed inside the equipment by either ambient cooling or by a cool liquid spray into the head space of the equipment. A much less likely hazard, cooling of hot gases in the equipment following a re is not covered here; but the methods used for normal gas cooling due to heat losses can be extended for this case when it is a credible risk. This equipment will probably also need to be protected against an external re exposure. This will often require a relatively large vent that may well determine the required vent size. The rst step in providing protection for vacuum hazards is to determine the required ow rate of makeup gas or vapor.

3. Gas cooling due to ambient heat losses 2. Vacuum collapse hazards There are three common sources of vacuum other than those purposely used for process reasons such as blowers, eductors, fans, vacuum pumps, etc. These vacuum sources are liquids pumped or drained from the equipment, ambient cooling of gas in the head space, and vapor condensed inside the equipment. The rst two are The venting requirement for ambient cooling of gas in the equipment is relatively small. API RP 2000 recommends a volumetric dry air venting capacity (at atmospheric pressure and 15.6C [60F]) equal to 18% of the volume of the equipment per hour up to a volume of 3180 cubic meters (840,000 US gallons). Above this capacity the volumetric allowance is reduced, declining to 9% of the total volume for a capacity of 28,500 cubic meters (7,500,000 US gallons), or higher. This allowance is based on a heat transfer rate of 63 W/m2 (20

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0950-4230/00/$ - see front matter 2000 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved. PII: S 0 9 5 0 - 4 2 3 0 ( 9 9 ) 0 0 0 7 4 - 1


M.L. Grifn / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 8389

Nomenclature A AO C Cp dO Hv T gC Hv HL k M MAV Heat transfer surface area, m2 (ft2) Open vent relief (vent) area, m2 (in2) Orice discharge coefcient, dimensionless. Use a value of 0.8 for a length-to-diameter ratio 2 (short, straight vent) and 0.6 when the 2L/D ratio 4 (180 long radius return bend). Heat capacity of the liquid spray, J/kg-C (BTU/lb-F) Diameter of open vent, meters (inches) Latent heat of vaporization of the vapor condensed, J/kg (BTU/lb) Temperature difference between ambient and the vapor inside the equipment, or temperature increase of a cool liquid spray, C (F) Gravitational constant, 980.32 cm/sec2 (32.174 feet/sec2) Initial enthalpy of the vapor condensed, J/kg (BTU/lb) Final enthalpy of the condensed vapor, J/kg (BTU/lb) Ratio of the heat capacities Cp/Cv Molecular weight (29 for air) Equipment maximum allowable vacuum rating referred to atmospheric pressure, kPa (psi). For example, a MAV of 2.55 kPa (0.37 psi) corresponds to a absolute pressure limit of 98.75 kPa (14.33 psi). Upstream (atmospheric) pressure on vent, Pa (psia) Downstream pressure (at the MAV) in equipment during vacuum venting, Pa (psia) Pressure difference across the vent, Pa (psi) Ambient heat loss, or heat transferred to cool liquid spray, J/sec(BTU/hr) Universal gas constant, 8314.3 J/kg-mole-K (1545 ft-lbm/lb f-R) Ambient air temperature, C (F) Initial temperature of makeup gas, K (R) Steam temperature, C (F) Overall heat transfer coefcient, J/m2-sec-C (BTU/ft2-hr-F) Volumetric ow of makeup gas at 15.6C (60F), m3/hr (ft3/hr) Volumetric liquid pump-out or drain-out rate, m3/sec(ft3/hr) Mass ow of makeup gas, kg/sec(lb/hr) Mass of condensed vapor, kg/sec(lb/hr) Mass ow of cool liquid spray, kg/sec(lb/hr) Density of air, kg/m3 (lb/ft3). The density of dry air at 21C (70F) and one atmosphere pressure is about 1.2 kg/m3 (0.075 lb/ft3).


BTU/ft2-hr). This value does not include the condensation of steam or other vapor in the equipment. RP 2000 recommends an engineering review when the vapor space temperature in an uninsulated tank exceeds 48.9C (120F). Example: A 100 m3 (26,400 US gallon) capacity storage tank contains a low vapor pressure petroleum fraction. How much makeup air is required to offset the effects of ambient cooling of the gas in the head space of the tank? VAIR0.18100 m3/hr18 m3/hr To convert from this volumetric basis to a kg/sec(lb/hr) weight basis, multiply by the density of air at 1.2 kg/m3 in SI units, or 0.075 lb/ft3 in English (foot poundsecond) units.

WAIR18 m3/hr1.2 kg/m3hr/3600 sec0.006 kg/sec.

4. Liquids pumped or drained from the equipment Calculating the makeup rate is simple for the liquids pumped or drained from the equipment: 1. Determine the maximum liquid volumetric ow rate in m3/sec(ft3/hr) 2. Provide sufcient relief capacity to replace this volume with gas or vapor. WAIRr VL1.2 VL (SI units)

M.L. Grifn / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 8389


Fig. 1. Atmospheric storage tank after a vacuum collapse.

vice. The pressure vacuum vent valves that normally protected the tanks against vacuum collapse were isolated from the tank to avoid a material incompatibility problem with the wash solution. To decrease the time required to ll the tanks, the normal transfer pump supplying the tanks was temporarily replaced with another pump with about ten times larger capacity. The wash solution was pumped into the three interconnected tanks (Fig. 3). When the solution overowed from the last tank, the supply pump for the wash solution was turned off. Soon after the pump was turned off, the last tank in the series began to collapse (Fig. 4). Subsequent investigation revealed that this accident was caused by wash water siphoned from that tank. The tank was not capable of withstanding the vacuum produced and collapsed. The ow rate through the overow prevented air from entering the tank through the overow to break the vacuum. The higher liquid ow rate and the location of the overows at the top of the tank rather than on the shell below the shell-to-roof connection contributed to the failure. The overow location was chosen to make sure that the entire interior surface of each tanks was washed. Example: The maximum transfer rate from a tank is 15 liters/sec (240 US gpm). Calculate how much makeup air is required to replace the liquid removed from the tank. WAIRr VAIR1.2 kg/m30.015 m3/sec0.018 kg/sec. 5. Condensation by ambient cooling The amount of vapor condensed by ambient heat losses, Q (kg/sec or lb/hr), can be calculated from the elementary thermodynamic equation:

WAIRr VL0.075 VL (English units) Consider liquid siphons as potential liquid discharge hazards. Several years ago, a manufacturing facility needed to chemically wash three new stainless steel, atmospheric storage tanks before placing them into ser-

Fig. 2.

Road tanker after vacuum collapse.


M.L. Grifn / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 8389

Fig. 3.

Flow diagram for storage tanks involved in siphoning incident.

Fig. 4. Top of atmospheric storage tank collapsed by a vacuum produced by a siphon.

WCONDQ/HVUAT/HV The major difculty in calculating these ambient heat losses is to determine an appropriate value of the overall heat transfer coefcient, U (J/m2-sec-C or BTU/ft2-hrF) to use. There are a number of articles on this subject going back forty years (Stuhlbarg, 1959; Kumanna & Kothari, 1982). It is important to recognize that short-term events such as a sudden rainstorm can signicantly increase the

instantaneous rate of heat loss, especially for uninsulated equipment. These events are not signicant in the calculation of average heating requirements, but can be critically important in sizing over-pressure protection. A higher heat transfer coefcient is necessary to protect equipment against these transient conditions. Stuhlbarg (1959) recognized the effect that condensing vapors have on heat transfer rate and used a higher U value for cases where steam would condense inside the equipment. Similarly, rain water owing across the uninsulated roof of a tank changes the mode of heat transfer and substantially increases the heat loss. The Company practice on which this article is based initially used a coefcient of 28 J/m2-sec-C (5 BTU/ft2hour-F) for uninsulated equipment. This heat transfer coefcient proved to be too low in practice and the coefcient was increased to a more conservative value of 56 J/m2-sec-C (10 BTU/ft2-hour-F). This higher value has provided adequate relief area over many years of experience. This coefcient does not include any credit for insulation. Credit for insulation can be taken. This substantially reduces the ambient cooling load and the venting capacity required for this hazard. The heat transfer area generally used is the area of the top and of the shell above the minimum liquid level in the equipment. Include the bottom area if the equipment does not contain liquid. Example: The head space of a 4 m diameter8 m high at-bottom storage tank (exposed surface area=113 m2) with an MAV=3.5 kPa (0.51 psi) contains steam from a steam blowout at atmospheric pressure. Calculate how much makeup air is required to replace the steam condensed by ambient heat losses, if no credit is taken for tank insulation. U0.056 kJ/m2 secC TAMB21C TSTM99C (saturated steam at 3.5 kPa)

M.L. Grifn / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 8389


HV2399.5 kJ/kg WCONDUAT/HV0.056 kJ/m secC113 m

2 2

(9921)C/(2399.5 kJ/kg) WCOND0.21 kg steam/sec Correcting for the weight of air and neglecting any volume increase due to temperature rise, the equivalent amount of air required to make up for the steam condensed by the ambient losses and the water spray is: WAIR0.21 kg steam/sec(m3/0.5783 kg steam) (1.2 kg air/m3)0.436 kg air/sec. The density used is the density of steam at the saturation temperature, 99C. Condensation by ambient cooling can introduce another hazard if the vapor space in the tank contains water vapor or steam that keeps any ammable vapor below its lower ammable limit (LFL). Partial condensation of steam or water vapor can allow the ammable vapors to reach the LFL, especially when condensing steam is replaced with air from an open vent. An explosion occurred in a surge tank between the digester and pulp rening in a South Georgia Kraft pulp mill early one morning. The ambient temperature at the time of the explosion was approximately 0C (32F), unusually cold for the area. The explosion separated the top from the 32-foot diameter surge tank and it fell to the ground 140 feet below (Fig. 5). The investigation team attributed the explosion to the concentration of

ammable vapors when part of the accompanying water vapor in the surge tank condensed on the side of the uninsulated tank. The ammable vapors, more volatile than the water vapor, are by-products of the Kraft pulping process. The investigation team identied the most likely ignition source for the explosion as pulp falling 15 to 20 feet through the head space to the pulp level in the tank.

6. Condensation by cool liquid spray Similarly, the amount of vapor (gm/sec or lbs/hr) that will be condensed by a cool liquid spray can be calculated using a basic heat balance: WCONDQ/(HVHL)WH20CpT/(HVHL) where HV is the initial enthalpy of the vapor and HL is the nal enthalpy of the condensed vapor at a saturation pressure equal to the MAV of the equipment. Example: A 20C water spray enters the same steamlled storage tank with a MAV=3.5 kPa (0.508 psi) at 5 liters/sec(80 US gpm). Calculate how much makeup air is required to replace the steam condensed by the spray. The saturation temperature of water at 3.5 kPa vacuum (97.8 kPa absolute) is 99C. Then, WCOND5 kg/sec4.1868 kJ/kgC(99 20)C/(2673.9583.86)kJ/kg WCOND0.64 kg steam/sec condensed.

Fig. 5.

Tank top on ground below the digester surge tank following an explosion of by-product ammable gases.


M.L. Grifn / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 8389

Correcting for the weight of air as before: WAIR0.64 kg steam/sec(m3/0.5783 kg steam) (1.2 kg air/m3)1.33 kg air/sec.

Do not use these equations to size vents for other gases or vapors or for other inlet conditions. Starting from:
0.5 WAIR1891 d 2 oC(P r)

and substituting the values for r(0.075 lb/ft3 for air at one atmosphere and 21C) into the equation, the corresponding equation in English units is: 7. Relief device sizing Add the individual makeup requirements that can occur simultaneously to get the total requirement. This is usually the total of the hazards present unless there is a specic reason why one hazard will not be present simultaneously with the others. The next step is to size an appropriate relief device. The usual relief used is a pressure-vacuum vent valve (PVVV) or an open vent. Even if an inert gas blanket maintains positive pressure on the equipment, good practice is to provide a backup relief source to prevent collapse should the inert gas supply fail. When use of an open vent is not appropriate, use the manufacturers capacity data to select an appropriate PVVV. Standard PVVV capacities are usually given in Nm3/hr at either 0C or 15C in metric units (SCFM at 60F in English units) based on 100% over-pressure; that is, with the nal pressure in equipment double the pressure at which the PVVV begins to open. This means that the pressure at which the PVVV begins to open must be 50% of the maximum allowable vacuum rating of the equipment to use the maximum capacity of the PVVV. This span can be reduced by the use of a pilot-operated PVVV. Use an orice calculation to size open vents. It is possible to use the simpler equation for a non-compressible uid (Crane Company, 1982) if the inlet-to-outlet absolute pressure ratio, P2a/P1a, is 0.975, or greater (MAV2.55 kPa, or 0.37 psia) without introducing a signicant error. WAIR0.0003512 d C(P r)
2 o 0.5

do[(WAIR/310.7C(P)0.5)]0.5 0.04394[(WAIR/(P)0.5)]0.5 If the pressure ratio, P2a/P1a, is less than 0.975 (MAV2.55 kPa, or 0.37 psi), use the orice equation for compressible uids (Crowl & Louvar, 1990, p. 99). This is to prevent errors caused by changes in gas density with pressure WAIRCAoP1a[(2gcM(k/(k1))(P2a/P1a)(2/k) (P2a/P1a)((k+1)/k)/RgTo)]0.5 Using the specic SI units dened earlier, this equation is: WAIR5.88104CAoP1a[(2gcM(k/(k1))(P2a/P1a)2/k (P2a/P1a)(k+1)/k/RgTo)]0.5 The introduction of a new term, l, simplies the equation. This term includes the functions of k, (Cp/Cv), and the pressure ratio (P2a/P1a), plus several constants: l[(2gcM(k/(k1))(P2a/P1a)2/k(P2a/P1a)(k+1)/k/Rg)]0.5 Substituting the values of gc (9.80665 m/sec2), Rg (8314.3 J/kgmole-K), and of k (1.40), and M (29) and for air into the equation gives the result: l0.4893[((P2a/P1a)1.4286(P2a/P1a)1.7143)]0.5 where: 0.4893[(2gcM(k/k1)/Rg)]0.5 This equation for l is valid for critical P2a/P1a ratios down to 0.5275 for air. At lower values of P2a/P1a, set l equal to 0.1266. Fig. 6 is a graph of l versus P2a/P1a. Then the equation for WAir expressed in terms of l and solved for A is: Ao3.122WAIR(To)0.5/CP1al The corresponding equations in English units, using the value of l from Fig. 6 is: Ao6.579105WAIR(To)0.5/CP1al

(SI units)

Solving for do: do[(WAIR/(0.0003512 C(P r)0.5))]0.5 Substituting the value for r(1.20 kg/m3 for air at one atmosphere and 21C) into the equation, the nal result is: do[(WAIR/(0.0002720 C(P)0.5))]0.5 60.63[(WAIR/C(P)0.5)]0.5 NOTE: This and the following equations for sizing vent diameter are specic for air at atmospheric pressure.

M.L. Grifn / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 13 (2000) 8389


Fig. 6. Graph showing l versus ratio of P2a/P1a.

Example: The total makeup air ow required for liquid withdrawal, gas cooling and condensation by ambient air cooling and water spray calculated above is 1.875 kg/sec. Size an open vent with 180 return bend (C=0.6) to protect the tank (MAV=3.5 kPa) against vacuum collapse. P2a/P1a(101.33.5)/101.30.965 Since, P2a/P1a0.975, use the calculation method for compressible ow. Ao3.122WAIR(T)0.5/CP1al l0.0480 Ao3.1221.875(293.15)0.5/(0.61013290.0480) Ao0.0343m2 or 343cm2 and the minimum vent diameter is 0.209 m or 20.9 cm In these examples, the vent area required for condensation by ambient cooling alone (56.7 cm2) is almost 20 times larger than the area required for gas ambient cooling and liquid transfer (3.1 cm 2). Overlooking a condensation hazard can easily result in an undersized vent, and the potential for vacuum collapse. 8. Permanent vs. temporary pressure drops The pressure drops dened in the preceding equations are for ange taps at one pipe diameter upstream and

0.5 diameter downstream of the orice. The diameter of the vent is usually much smaller than the equivalent diameter of the vented equipment. At b=0.1, the permanent pressure loss is approximately 97% of the measured drop and at b=0.2, the permanent pressure loss is about 93.5% (McCabe & Smith, 1956, pp. 107108). The calculated pressure drops are good, conservative approximations of the permanent pressure drops.

American Petroleum Institute (1998). RP 2000, Venting Atmospheric and Low-Pressure Storage Tanks, Non-refrigerated and Refrigerated (5th ed.), American Petroleum Institute, April, (pp. 57). Crane Company (1982). Flow of Fluids through Valves, Fittings and Pipe (Metric ed.) SI Units. Technical Paper No. 410M, Crane Co., (pp. 35). Crowl, D. A., & Louvar, J. F. (1990). Chemical Process Safety: Fundamentals with Applications. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Kumanna, J. D., & Kothari, S. P. (1982). Chemical Engineering, 10 (5), 127132. McCabe, W. L., & Smith, J. C. (1956). Unit Operations of Chemical Engineering. McGraw-Hill Book Company. Sanders, R. E. (1990). Plant/Operations Progress, 9 (1), 61. Sanders, R. E. (1993). Management of Change in Chemical Plants: Learning from Case Histories. Oxford (UK) and Boston (MA): Butterworth-Heinemann. Stuhlbarg, D. (1959). Petroleum Rener, 38 (4), 143.