Renewable Energy & Other Changes in Service Scenarios: Evaluating Plant Assets for Re-Use

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Renewable Energy & Other Changes in Service Scenarios: Evaluating Plant Assets for Re-Use

Author: Joel L. Andreani, Senior Vice President of Consulting Engineering, Principal Engineer II

With environmental awareness on an increase, government policy and consumer preference have followed suit.  Around the world, this has resulted in the increased focus on renewable energy sources, including lower-carbon fuels.  Credits are being made available for renewable fuel producers.  The petrochemical industry has responded with many companies evolving and adapting facilities to meet the future demand for renewable diesel and other green energy sources.

Over the years, E2G | The Equity Engineering Group, Inc. has consulted on numerous major capital projects including both greenfield construction and projects that re-used or re-purposed existing facility equipment (fixed and rotating), piping, structures and foundations, and other infrastructure.  Our subject matter experts (SMEs) have developed practices, reviewed metallurgy for changes in service, reviewed equipment histories, rerated equipment, designed necessary modifications, and evaluated existing foundations and structures for the new loads imposed by facility repurposing.   We are currently putting much of this knowledge into a new offering in our Equity Engineering Practices (EEPs), the Re-Use Practices (RUPs).  In Nate Sutton’s article in this month’s Industry Insights, we examine some of the metallurgical issues and additional corrosion challenges that come with the repurposing of existing facilities for use in renewable diesel production.  In this article, we will examine other aspects of evaluating existing equipment, piping, and structures being considered for re-use or re-purposing.  Throughout this article, we will use the terms “re-use” and “re-purpose” interchangeably to mean employing existing equipment, piping, structures, and other infrastructure in a new service.

Repurposing – the Key Questions:

In any repurposing assessment, there are several key questions that must be answered:

  • What is the view on the accuracy and completeness of the information available for evaluating re-use?
  • What is the compatibility of the materials with respect to the new service?
  • Are the ratings of equipment and piping satisfactory for the new service?  What about the new loads on structures and foundations?
  • Are there new hazards or risks that come with the new service? How do you mitigate these?
  • What is the remaining, useful service life of the equipment, piping, and structures?
  • What are the economics of re-use versus new in terms of a total lifecycle cost?
  • How do you manage interfaces with other existing units?

The re-use process fits well in E2G’s lifecycle management (LCM) process (Figure 1).  In many ways, re-use is akin to starting over at the beginning of the LCM process with a new set of conditions to evaluate but with additional experience with the performance of the equipment (or piping).  In some re-use cases, fitness-for-service (FFS) assessments, repairs (or modifications), rerates, or replacement of assets may be needed, as indicated in Figure 1.  

As can been seen in the list of questions above, the evaluation of existing equipment is a multi-disciplinary function.  This takes a team of SMEs with knowledge of fixed and rotating equipment, piping, structures and foundations, electrical and instrumentation systems, and basic mechanical integrity (inspection, testing, QA/QC, etc.).  In last month’s Insights, we wrote about suitability-for-service (SFS) assessments and the development of protocols for evaluating SFS.  In many ways, repurposing evaluations share many of the same features as a large SFS project.  Because of the interaction of many disciplines, it takes sound procedures or protocols and the right team of people to successfully perform a re-use evaluation.

Figure 1: Lifecycle Management (Re-Use)
Assets Included in a Repurposing Evaluation and the General Process:

To some extent, the answer to this question is “everything.”  However, examining this question a little closer, the re-use evaluation process for some assets can be done quickly and is very straightforward, while for others the evaluation (and information needed) can be more extensive.  The value of involving SMEs that have done these evaluations before is the ability of the SME to vet existing facility equipment, prioritize evaluations, and apply the right level of review.  An overview of the types of items included in a re-use evaluation includes:

  • Materials (in all equipment, piping, and structures)
  • Piping and piping components (and pipelines)
  • Pressure vessels
  • Heat exchangers including air-cooled heat exchangers
  • Fire heaters
  • Compressors, pumps, turbines, and other mechanical equipment
  • Foundations and steel and concrete structures, and other civil infrastructures
  • Motors
  • Instruments and controls

The general re-use evaluation follows the process shown in Figure 2.  For some types of equipment and infrastructure, the process will be a little different.  Protocol document(s) or RUPs identify the equipment/infrastructure-specific differences from this general process.  Overall, the process is facilitated by one person – a Process Specialist, Project Manager, or Project Engineer – who works with the various SMEs, Inspection, Maintenance and Operations personnel, and other contractors, as needed, to perform the re-use assessment.

Figure 2: General Re-Use Evaluation Process
Information Needed for a Repurposing Evaluation:

As in any assessment, whether an SFS, FFS, or other evaluation, one of the keys to the success of the assessment is the quality (and quantity) of available information.  The basic design information required for a re-use evaluation includes:

  • Design basis in terms of codes of construction/year and addenda, and any additional local/jurisdictional considerations
  • The site’s previous Basis of Engineering and Design Data (BEDD) document, or other documents listing basic site loads and conditions
  • Commissioning and installation records
  • For fixed equipment: ASME U-1s, UDS, MDR, and API datasheets
  • For rotating equipment: datasheets, vendor information, models/serial numbers, technical maintenance, and installation manuals, availability of spare parts
  • For piping and piping components: piping classes/specifications, component datasheets, vendor information, models/serial numbers
  • In terms of materials: material specifications (specification, grade, class/condition/temper), material test reports (any impacts done, etc.), PWHT done, cladding, overlay (original, added)

Maintenance and inspection history is also required, including:

  • The age of all key components (original; replacements or repairs made)
  • Inspection, testing and maintenance records, preventative maintenance program records, etc.
  • Any FFS reports
  • Any risk-based inspection (RBI) records/reports
  • For fixed equipment: API 510 Repair, Alteration, and Rerate Forms, NBIC NB/23 Forms, etc.
  • For piping and piping components: PRV test records, valve reconditioning records, availability of spare parts
  • The history of any routine maintenance such as bundle replacements, seal or bearing replacements, etc.
  • Incident or accident reports (including near misses), where applicable
  • Regulatory audits and findings, where applicable

Other invaluable information for the repurposing evaluation includes:

  • Decommissioning records: depressurization conditions, temperature rates (especially gradients in thicker equipment)
  • Ambient conditions during/after decommissioning (freezing concerns)
  • Equipment mothballing procedures used, the past draining, purging, and cleaning done, etc.
  • Details of heavy lift rigging previously done and/or how equipment was supported during any heavy lifts
  • Post-shutdown inspection records (immediate and routine interval inspections like CUI, etc.)
  • Climatic conditions during any period of storage (ambient temperatures, humidity control with some equipment, etc.)
  • Details of any equipment storage packaging done
  • Shipping details that have been used in the past (and likely will be used going forward)

If all the information is not available, a protocol document, or the E2G RUPs, can be used to determine the course of action, such as additional inspection and/or assumptions to be made.

Purchasing Used Equipment and Moving Equipment:

Used, salvaged equipment may also be considered in a re-purposed plant.  Virtually the same protocols that go into evaluating one’s own equipment apply to the evaluation of equipment being sold by others.  However, likely there will be some additional due diligence.  Care should be taken in discerning the history of equipment being considered for purchase.  The quality (and quantity) of available design, maintenance, inspection, and operations documentation may be a good indication of the quality of the equipment itself.  When salved equipment is part of the repurposing plan, shipping arrangements and the availability of spare parts for the equipment become critical.  For rotating equipment re-use, both purchased and owned, one of the main considerations is the availability of spare parts.  All routine protective care taken in packaging and shipping new equipment should be used in shipping used equipment.  When moving and lifting used or purchased equipment, the condition of lifting and bracing areas should be evaluated.  Corroded or otherwise damaged lugs and attachment points may need repaired or modified.  Transport loads may be a key loading condition when evaluating the ability to buy, move, and re-use equipment.

Prioritization in a Re-Use Evaluation:

E2G’s experience has shown that there are several items in the re-use evaluation that should be given early and more detailed attention:

  • Large vessels, reactors, towers
  • Centrifugal compressors
  • High-alloy valves and similar components
  • Large pumps and motors

This equipment should be considered first in the re-use assessment.  There may also be other long lead items (design and/or procurement-wise) depending on the process change, the facility’s region, current supply chain and economic conditions, etc.  Current supply chain issues certainly have raised awareness of the key that supply chain logistics play in many construction projects.  Whatever the case may be, each SME involved in the re-use evaluation should perform an initial prioritization of equipment, piping, and structures being considered for re-use and develop a strategic schedule for re-use evaluations from that prioritization.

Along with the prioritization, another early task in most assessments will be an economic evaluation of re-use.  When the expected cost of refurbishing or modifying existing equipment is more than 25% of the cost of new equipment, a detailed economic evaluation should be done considering the costs to perform modifications, operating costs, and maintenance costs.  The latter two may be significantly higher for the used equipment than that of new equipment and, coupled with the potential of lower re-used equipment availability (reliability) and the used equipment’s shorter remaining life, may influence some re-use decisions.  This economic study will help the project again focus or prioritize efforts on the right subset of equipment for detailed re-use evaluation. 

As many re-use scenarios involve process changes aimed at capturing an emerging market, such as renewables, or meeting a new or increased customer product need, the time to market can be a critical aspect of the project’s viability.  Anything that can be done to improve the project schedule, such as initial prioritization and screening through economic evaluation, are well worth the associated up-front time.

E2G Consulting Services and Practices Support of Your Re-Use Evaluation:

Having provided SME consultation on many capital projects, including all types of evaluations related to repurposing, our Consulting Engineering Team is experienced in and capable of supporting re-use evaluations of all types of equipment, piping, structures, and other infrastructure.   We are finalizing a new section in our EEPs collection, the RUPs, which is focused on capturing our SMEs’ knowledge and experience in the evaluation of re-use. E2G stands ready to assist clients looking to optimize re-use of equipment and make smart repurposing choices that will affect the safety and reliability of the re-purposed plants for years to come.

For more information on our re-use evaluation and capital project consulting support services, please contact Joel Andreani by submitting the form below:

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