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Relief Valve Leak Detection

New online monitoring solution reduces risks and costs

ressure Relief Valves (PRVs) are used extensively in oil

refineries, chemical plants, pipelines, power plants,

and other industrial applications as part of pressurerelieving systems to protect piping, boilers, vessels, and
other pressurized assets from dangerous over-pressure
conditions. To help users ensure that these systems are
supplied in accordance with recognized good engineering
practices, a number of industry-specific standards exist.
For example, American Petroleum Institute standards API
521 (ISO 23251), API 526, and RP 520 all deal specifically
with PRVs and pressure-relieving systems as used in the
petroleum industries.

The Problem
PRVs are particularly susceptible to leaks and the
consequences of such leaks can be quite serious:
Dangerous operating conditions, increasing the
risk to plant and personnel
Damage to the environment
Regulatory fines/penalties
Negative public image/reputation
Reduced process efficiency and profitability
Loss of raw, intermediate, or finished materials
While most companies expend considerable resources
to detect and mitigate leaks, usually in the form of
routine inspection or observation regimens, current
approaches have not proven entirely effective and
PRV leaks remain a significant challenge for industry.
Additionally, PRVs are frequently subjected to unnecessary maintenance. This occurs when a leak cannot be
confirmed, but to err on the side of caution, preventive
repairs, replacements, or overhauls are carried out just
in case. This can drive the relative maintenance costs
for PRVs very high.

The Solution
Cost-effective and reliable online technology is now
available to monitor critical PRVs for the presence of
leaks. An online approach means that leaks are caught
within minutes, incident severity (and associated
consequences) is minimized, and costly routine inspection
regimens are eliminated.
GEs PRV Leak Detection System (see overview diagram
on facing page) uses the Bently Nevada Trendmaster*
Pro architecture to gather periodic, online temperature
and acoustic measurements and automatically analyze
them in System 1* software. By using both temperature
and acoustic measurements in complementary fashion,
more reliable detection is available than when using
either technology alone. These measurements are
then processed through a special RulePak in System 1
softwares decision support engine. This RulePak contains
sophisticated, embedded knowledge of PRV leak behavior,
automatically detecting the presence of a leak.
Continued on page 62.

6 0 O R B I T Vol.29 No.1 2009


Vent to atmosphere
Pressure relief valve

acoustic sensor
Ultrasonic Amp
in 3300XL JB


FlexiTIM for


ProTIM-C for

DSM supports up to 8
lines with up to 63
valves per line
Existing DSM dedicated
to other plant area

Pressurized asset
Trendmaster Pro

Vo l . 2 9 N o. 1 2 0 0 9 ORB I T 6 1


PRVs are designed to open at approximately
1020% above normal design pressures for
the protected asset, venting excess pressure
to the atmosphere, a flare stack, lowerpressure containment system, or other means.
Once pressure returns to normal ranges, the
PRV is designed to reseat itself using a selfclosing mechanism, typically incorporating
an internal preloaded spring or weight.

Leaks can also result from other conditions,

not just a failure to reseat properly. For
example, PRV internals can slowly corrode
over time, eventually developing a leak. This
failure mechanism is a particular concern
when highly corrosive process fluids are
present. In such situations, a so-called rupture
disk is often used to isolate the PRV from the
process fluid, helping to preserve PRV integrity.

Unfortunately, PRVs can fail to reseat properly,

resulting in leaks. While failure to reseat can be
caused by many conditions, one of the most
common is the presence of particulates (such
as rust or scale) suspended in the process gas
that becomes lodged between the valve
nozzle and the sealing disk.

[Editors Note: When a rupture disk is used in conjunction

with a PRV, online technology can be used to detect
leaks in both the PRV and its associated rupture disk. For
more information on the role of rupture disks, and how
an innovative customer is monitoring their disks, see
the article Using Decision Support to Reduce OpEx at
Valero Paulsboro on page 64 in this issue of ORBIT.]

Features and Benefits

Improved compliance less severe incidents translate

Non-intrusive installation all sensors are

mounted externally.
Highly Adaptable addresses nearly any PRV
design provided the leak generates detectable
acoustic energy and a sufficient temperature gradient (T) across the valve; software can be fine-tuned
via Custom Properties configuration screen to

to less severe fines/penalties from regulatory agencies.

Lower maintenance costs maintenance personnel
are deployed to fix leaks, rather than find leaks;
costly just in case maintenance is eliminated
because personnel will know with a high degree
of confidence what isand what isntleaking.
Less waste leaks can result in two types of waste:

reflect unique thresholds for T and acoustic levels

energy losses through thermodynamic inefficiencies

required by different valve types and process fluids.

introduced into the process, and raw material losses

Timely notification online technology checks for

leaks several times per hour and alarm annunciation
can be integrated into the process control system,
assuring that operators are made aware of leaks
within minutes of onsetnot days or weeks.
Alarm integrity dual independent measurements

when feedstock, catalyst, or even finished product

escapes. Timely leak and reliable detection
prevents both.
Increased peace of mind valves are continuously
monitored, reducing the likelihood of leaks and
attendant consequences

and knowledge-based algorithms help assure that

Learn more by contacting your nearest GE sales

alarms are the result of genuine leaks.

professional specializing in Bently Nevada Asset

Reduced emission severity rapid detection and

annunciation of leaking valves allows corrective
actions to be taken immediately, minimizing the
severity of the incident.
6 2 O R B I T Vol.29 No.1 2009

Condition Monitoring solutions or by visiting

www.ge-energy.com/bentlyapplications. You can
also request hard copies of relevant literature via the
Reader Service Card in this issue of ORBIT.
* denotes a trademark of Bently Nevada, LLC, a wholly owned
subsidiary of General Electric Company.