Fugitive emissions are a serious matter for chemical plants and petrochemical facilities. First, the EPA is focused on reducing unplanned releases of VOC’s into the atmosphere, and second, it’s a cost-saving opportunity. Studies blame valves for the bulk of these emissions, but flanged joints and their associated gaskets play a part too.
Defined as “… unanticipated or spurious emissions from any part of the process plant,” in 2014 the Fluid Sealing Association estimated fugitive emissions amounted to some 300,000 tons annually. Furthermore, it’s thought a high proportion are hydrocarbon gasses like methane believed to be environmentally harmful.
Plants handling such chemicals are expected to implement Leak Detection And Repair (LDAR) protocols, preferably on a monthly basis. “Sniffing” technology is the method most commonly employed, although IR camera technology is increasingly available.
Should a LDAR survey reveal a leak the next step is usually to shutdown the affected equipment for valve repair or gasket replacement. Unplanned shutdowns are disruptive and expensive, making it essential to avoid such events. While leak-free performance can never be guaranteed, buying different types of quality gasket materials and following good sealing disciplines will reduce the likelihood of problems.
Three Principles to Follow
- Select material appropriate to the media, pressure and temperature. Nitrile gasket material for instance is generally compatible with hydrocarbons like gasoline but should not be taken above 250°F. A neoprene gasket will perform better against ammonia, alcohols and mild acids while high temperature applications may need a fluorocarbon or PTFE gasket. In particularly arduous conditions a spiral wound gasket might be needed.
- Analyze the joint to determine material thickness and hardness needed. The general rule for gasket materials is “as thin and soft as possible.” The goal is always to ensure the gasket compresses sufficiently to seal the gap when the joint is bolted up. High bolt loads risk deforming the flange, potentially causing leaks.
- Follow good gasket replacement disciplines. Clean flanges thoroughly and verify mating surfaces are undamaged. Tighten bolts following the recommended sequence to avoid uneven compression and the risk of gasket extrusion.