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Causes and Prevention of Packing Fires

By Design Practices Committee Fractionation Research Inc. |

    Most columns shut down without fires. Yet most refineries and chemical plants at some time or another have experienced spontaneous or hot work ignitions in at least one column. When this occurs inside a column during or after shutdown, the results can be devastating and dangerous. This paper concentrates on the fires related to packing in columns.   Many refineries and chemical plants have installed packing in columns as original equipment or conversion from trays. Fires within packed beds have been reported in various services [1, 4]. Some have occurred in operating incinerator scrubbers. Many have occurred under carefully controlled conditions for safe shutdown maintenance [13]. If the ignition occurs while personnel are working in the column, the potential safety hazard can be life threatening. The increased use of thin, high-surface-area structured packing in the last decade has increased the fire hazard of packed columns. Fires have caused: • Destruction of packing sections [1, 6] • Distortion and ultimate replacement of column wall sections [2, 13] • Complete structural failure of a column [12]   This paper serves to summarize: • Causes of packing fires • Physical issues for packed…
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