Mitigating Corrosion and Emissions in Chemical Plants: An Interview with Jonathan Maddox, Nippon Chemical Texas

Keeping up with guidelines and preventative testing is vital to the success of any petrochemical company, and aiming to keep corrosion to a minimum goes hand in hand with the goal of reducing emissions at any facility.

Fugitive Emissions Journal had the pleasure of speaking with Jonathan Maddox, Specialty Aromatic Solvents Process Engineer from Nippon Chemical Texas Inc. (NCTIUS), about the effect of corrosive chemicals on various materials, the call for a carbon-neutral world, and the impact of changing regulations.

By KCI Editorial

Studying engineering often leads one to a path of continued growth and a wide variety of potential options for an occupation. This was the experience Maddox had as he began his career. He planned to become an engineer at an early age and after the persuasion from influential officers in his National Guard unit during his service, he de­cided to focus on chemical engineer­ing. “The complexity of this industry makes for a very interesting work life,” chuckled Maddox. Working for the op­erations department, he handles many of the daily requirements at the plant, including technical support, loading equipment, and processing chemicals to produce final products.

Specializing in aromatics, Maddox also tackles project management and is responsible for monitoring the pro­cesses and overseeing improvement initiatives. “I enjoy the intricacy of my role and what it brings,” said Maddox. “It is interesting to see how theory and scientific application collide with humanistic processes; the people and equipment make up the process.”

Corrosion Prevention in Stainless Steel

Due to the hazardous nature of work­ing with petrochemicals, stainless steel is widely used throughout the Nippon Chemical Texas facility. “We often use duplex as a material due to its dura­bility,” explained Maddox. “Alloy 304 is used in several applications, and 316 is used for control valves and lower temperature applications, such as re­frigeration. Using 316 in low tempera­tures helps mitigate the risk of potential cracking; its resilience is crucial when encountering intense environments.”

Jonathan Maddox.

“From a financial standpoint, the use of carbon steel over any other material generally makes the most sense, as it will often have the best cost-benefit ratio,” he continued. Stainless steel is also often used in the fabrication of valves, hoses, tanks, and more at the Texas facility, provided the conditions for each asset are appropriate.

When asked about corrosion, Mad­dox said, “it will always be a point of concern at a plant such as ours. It will always occur to an extent. What mat­ters is how we attempt to mitigate the degree of damage.”

Mechanical integrity programs are in place to try and certify the integrity of the equipment, to protect against cor­rosion as well as metal fatigue and oth­er potential issues. “We are constantly on the lookout for any and all forms of corrosion and how to prevent it.”

Arial photo of three productions lines and two tank farms.

Following the process safety man­agement (PSM) guidelines, the me­chanical integrity program completes non-destructive testing (NDT) to assess the strength of materials against specific chemicals. “It is a process; following the guidelines, figuring out the best practices as well as what types of testing should be completed.” The tests are often completed every three to five years, with each piece of equipment being properly inspected and documented, keeping records in case of potential issues. “As new is­sues arise, we come up with a solu­tion, such as changing the metallurgy,” said Maddox.

When corrosion causes an asset to fail, a sample of the corrosion will be cut out. “If it is clear that a specific chemi­cal is the cause, we may be able to han­dle the situation ourselves. If not, the sample is sent to a lab for evaluation and testing where specialists deter­mine the mechanism of corrosion,” said Maddox. “For example, we periodically receive material with free water. Over time and in the presence of free water, aromatic process fluids corrode the surface of steel through electrochemi­cal corrosion, and therefore proactively deciphering how to solve the issue is the safest and most economical solu­tion to maintaining the mechanical in­tegrity of a production line.”

The Urgency of Emission Reductions

Corrosion prevention and potential loss of containment fall hand in hand with emission reduction. In Maddox’s position, meeting the emission goals is of high importance. One way to poten­tially reduce emissions alongside cor­rosion prevention is to change manual adjustments to automated controls. “We are upgrading the controls to one of our larger process heaters, making the controls automatic instead of man­ual,” Maddox explained. This will allow a much tighter control of emissions. “Much like our strategy that controls distillation columns, we are looking at a measurement and then making an ad­justment to the flow rate to automate the controls, and therefore reducing the produced emissions.”

“There is a huge push to go carbon neutral,” said Maddox. “We want to reduce emissions and meet the global goals, as well as get ahead of the po­tential regulations that may be put in place so we do not put undue pressure on the operators or operations depart­ment.” The push for a carbon neutral environment has been a global phe­nomenon that continues to gain trac­tion as new regulations arise.

ENB3 production line after construction.
Heat exchanger with stainless steel duplex tubing.

The Effects on Storage Tanks

In order to ensure that the integrity of the facility is maintained, all of its equip­ment and assets are subject to updates, including storage tanks. As a petro­chemical facility, there are many stor­age tanks in place, that must meet the API codes and standards. “With each update, the standards tend to become more conservative and restrictive, and as a company, we need to stay on top of the changes,” said Maddox. Tanks designed under older, less constrict­ing codes have potentially inadequate safety systems that require assessing. “We need to ensure there is no risk of failure and that employees, as well as the surrounding environment, are not put in high-risk situations.”

For example, an older design of a pro­cess water storage tank ran into prob­lems when accidentally overfilled.

The overfill mechanism was not de­signed for the scenario at hand, and subsequently, damage occurred to the roof of the unit. “In this scenario, we had to understand exactly what had happened, as the safety devices failed unexpectedly,” explained Maddox. “In this circumstance, it is best to check the changing industry standards and adjust accordingly to reduce said risk and the subsequent risk of harmful emissions being produced into the environment.”

A heat exchanger with a stainless steel duplex baffle plate.
316 stainless steel parting box from a distillation column that is undergoing water testing.

Looking Forward

When looking to the future of the indus­try, Maddox believes a more humanistic and personal approach will be consid­ered. “Humanizing the technical aspects of the industry and putting yourself in the position of others goes a long way,” said Maddox. “I believe that behav­ior-based safety and neuroscience will play a role moving forward and that it will take into consideration the welfare of the individual and how that can affect the process. This approach more accu­rately presents how we create and con­figure equipment, and how we make decisions from a human perspective, instead of only looking at technical in­formation,” said Maddox.

Continuing the conversation surround­ing a more personal aspect to the indus­try, Maddox advised newcomers to the industry: “take the time to get to know your values and personal boundaries. There are a lot of different paths in this field, and it is important to understand where you want to go. Take opportuni­ties to learn, become a better presenter and communicator, and find your place.”

Production lines and tank farms at night.

The Use of Valves at Nippon Chemical

A variety of valves are used at the facility, both manually and automatically operated. “We use the typical valves for petrochemicals, such as gate, globe, check, and ball valves,” said Maddox. “Globe valves are used to help control the flow, and gate valves are used to block potential flow.”

“Valves are chosen based on standard pipeline specifications, and we typically select from an Approved Vendors list (AVL),” explained Maddox. “Vendors are continually trying to redesign and incorporate new research into their products while keeping the product resilient and maintenance friendly.”

Typically, manually operated valves are comprised of carbon steel, whereas automatic valves are usually made of stainless steel.

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