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FLOATING ROOF SEAL SELECTION GUIDELINES

Conference Paper Presented at NISTM, Orlando 2012



With numerous seal options available and limited guidance from existing standards, selecting and configuring the right floating roof seal can
be a difficult task, one that when done incorrectly, can lead to problems ranging from regulatory compliance issues to premature maintenance
outages to more significant failures. In addition, as new employees enter the work force and experienced employees retire, it is important to
have an internal list of guidelines apart from the standards that will ensure asset longevity and optimal operational efficiencies for your tanks.
In this paper, we summarize the standards and guidelines available, explore supplementary design and selection criteria, give examples of
problems that can occur when these criteria are not addressed and provide a checklist for tank owners and operators to use moving forward.
In the tank industry, most tank owners are familiar with current resources such as API 650, Appendix H & C; EPA Air Rules; EPA AP-42; API
MPMS, Chapter 19; API RP 545; NFPA 11; as well as a few international resources such as EEMUA 159, BS EN 14015:2004 and the European
Parliament and Council Directive 94/63/EC 1994. Though these existing guidelines provide some specifics such as types of seals required by
regulation, shoe dimensions relative to liquid and in some areas, materials requirements, a lot is left open to interpretation.
There are numerous crucial purposes for floating roof seals including: emissions mitigation, centering the floating roof to allow safe operation,
dampening floating roof movement and protection against rim fires. Whether building new tanks or taking a tank out of service for regular
inspection and maintenance, effective planning with accurate data resources is key to ensuring the floating roof seal accomplishes these
critical objectives.
Following are some key considerations for selecting and designing floating roof seals (above and beyond the existing standards) that will help
ensure asset longevity, engineered safety and optimal working efficiencies.
The first consideration is chemical compatibility. Of utmost importance is to work with your seal provider to ensure that the stored product
will be compatible with the seal materials. Elastomers and fabrics as well as metals must be considered. Seal materials can warp and
deteriorate when improper materials are used, creating gaps, holes and in the end an ineffective or dangerous seal. In addition to the current
stored product, it is important to consider future potential change in services in order to ensure the seal will be compatible both now and in
the future.
UV and weather resistance is another key consideration to seal selection and design. Materials exposed to weather should be resistant to
the effects of sun, wind, and depending on where the tank is located, extreme cold and/or heat. Reputable seal providers should be able to
provide information on materials offered and how each performs when subject to various environmental factors. In addition, the seal should
maintain product purity by mitigating the ingress of water. Secondary seals should keep water and snow out of the rim space and foam dams
should be equipped with weep holes and properly maintained to prevent clogging which can lead to topside corrosion, pontoon damage and
ultimately, the potential to sink the floating roof.
A seals resistance to abrasion is another consideration. Factors such as cycle frequency, service life goals and shell condition should be
taken into account. Seal construction including plate width and pressure application can determine seal effectiveness. For example, secondary
seal plates should be narrow in order to distribute pressure and prevent accelerated wear points on the wiper tip. Similarly, mechanical shoe
seals should have pressure mechanisms that avoid applying point-loads that can wear holes in the shoes over time. In well-designed seals,
pressure points are distributed across the shoe in multiple points. This distribution of pressure helps to maintain a tight seal and allows the
shoe to conform to shell anomalies. Reputable seal providers can supply cycle test data.
Seals are not one size fits all and good seals are designed to ensure adequate working range for rim space variations. Every tank has
a unique shape, making it imperative to conduct rim-space and verticality surveys prior to fitting a seal to a floating roof. API 650 calls for
seals to be able to adjust +/- 4 from the nominal rim space. However, for external floating roofs where tank ovality is more prevalent and
dynamic forces such as wind and turbulence can move the floating roof, that range may not be adequate. Tank shells can be scored by poorly
fit seals with improper pressure distribution; this can damage coatings and increase the probability of expensive shell repairs during the life of
the tank.
Similarly, designing the seal to operate effectively across varying rim spaces is extremely important. When rim space varies greatly,
support arms in hinged shoe seals should be long enough relative to the rim space to minimize shoe drop. Additionally, the secondary seal
plate length, gauge and tip type should be determined only after careful consideration of the operating conditions including cycle frequency,
temperature and shell condition. This can all be determined with accurate survey data and a good understanding of the tanks intended use.
Closely related to ensuring flexibility for rim-space variations is the ability for a seal to have circumferential flexibility. Seal designs and
construction should allow expansion and contraction without compromising seal integrity. Using modular vapor barriers such as gaskets can
create gaps. Seals should use a continuous vapor barrier to ensure a proper seal.
A good seal should be flexible and apply continuous pressure in order to handle shell surface anomalies. Specific shell conditions such
as ovality or local shell deviations should be disclosed to seal providers prior to seal selection. For shoe seals, conforming to shell deviations
means using a flexible shoe with a pressure system that applies pressure consistently in multiple points across the shoe, distributed both
horizontally and vertically. For wiper-type seals, the tip should be flexible, durable and continuous pressure should be applied to prevent
gapping. Shell surface variations can present quite a challenge to maintaining a tight seal and seal wiper tips should be thoughtfully selected
to ensure gap-sealing integrity and longevity.
The floating roof seal should apply enough pressure to keep the floating roof centered. When the floating roof isnt properly centered, it
can drift from wind, turbulence or drag force on columns and gauge poles. In extreme cases, the result can be catastrophic. In order to keep
floating roofs centered, the pressure mechanisms in floating roof seals should be substantial and made from materials that do not yield or
degrade over time.
The seal should maintain a tight seal to prevent volatile mixtures of vapors and oxygen. Gapping seals and/or torn vapor-barrier fabric can
result in excessive vapors above the floating roof. This is especially dangerous during electrical storms. When a lightning strike occurs, the
momentary difference in electrical potential between the tank shell and the floating roof will likely create sparks in the seal vapor space. Even
in tanks which follow API RP 545, there is no way to guarantee that sparks will not occur in the vapor space. A tight seal becomes an added
layer of security, keeping the vapor space saturated and safely above the Upper Explosive Limit (UEL). On the other hand, a gapping seal or
torn fabric will allow oxygen into the vapor space, creating a volatile environment. Maintaining a tight seal is done through a combination of
several factors discussed above proper working range, quality non-yielding materials, flexibility to conform to the shell, durable and
chemically compatible fabrics, and an excellent pressure distribution system that keeps the roof centered and the seal tight.
A secondary seal height should maximize tank capacity. A lower-profile secondary seal allows the floating roof to travel higher, increasing
working capacity. It is important to have good verticality and rim-space data to ensure a low-profile seal has the proper working range. If the
upper rings of the tank shell are able to handle additional capacity, gains due to proper seal selection can mean the difference in thousands of
additional barrels per turnover.
Seals should be easy to clean and gas free. Traditional foam log, bag and tube seals have the potential to trap hydrocarbons, which creates
an unsafe environment for maintenance workers and also poses environmental disposal problems. In order to avoid those issues, make sure
you talk with your seal provider to discuss options that are safe and environmentally friendly.
Additional considerations include seal fabrics and wax scrapers. There are multiple options for seal fabrics. Seal fabrics should be chosen to
ensure chemical compatibility as well as durability under specific environmental and operating conditions. In addition, fabrics should be fire
retardant.
Wax scrapers may be a consideration if the product creates waxy buildup on the tank shell. If this buildup is allowed to occur, the secondary
seal can partially scrape some the wax off as the floating roof travels upward, resulting in hydrocarbons on the top of the roof; this product is
not only a fire hazard and large source of emissions, but can lead to plugged foam dam weep holes and topside corrosion of the floating roof.
The solution is effective wax scrapers located below the liquid level. These scrapers should be made of hardened stainless steel (to prevent
yielding) and be designed with additional pressure application located just above the wax scraper.
Good seal selection and design starts with good data and careful planning. Accurate tank data including rim space and verticality surveys will
ensure the seal system is designed to effectively negotiate the rim space. Other important considerations include the stored product (now and
in the future), cycle frequency, shell anomalies, operating conditions and any additional local regulatory requirements. Proactive collaboration
with a reputable seal provider will help ensure you are getting the right solution for your specific application.
Seal Design and Selection Considerations:
Chemical compatibility
Fatigue resistance
Ability to prevent water ingress
Ability to conform to shell roundness anomalies
Ability to conform to shell surface anomalies
Low profile to optimize working capacity
Ability to prevent a volatile mixture of vapor and oxygen
Ability to dampen lateral roof movements
Ability to handle waxy shell residue
Secondary must provide access to primary for inspection
Abrasion resistance
Flame retardancy
Resistant to heat
Adequate working range
Adequate circumferential flexibility
Ability to handle drag forces and torque from roof travel
Ability to handle potential gas upsets
Ability to maintain pressure over time for seal integrity
UV resistance
Ability to handle freeze-thaw cycles
Ability to handle snow loads
Ability to maintain seal integrity with wide-ranging rim spaces
Ability to keep the floating roof centered to allow for smooth, safe travel
Ability to clean and gas-free
Does not pose a risk of trapping vapors
Safe and easy to install; even in-service when possible
Secondary must be mounted independent of primary