Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards in Multipurpose Equipment

Runaway reactions leading to catastrophic events continue to occur in multipurpose equipment. Examples of causes that can lead to such catastrophic events include but are not limited to: (a) failure to identify and quantify runaway reactions hazards, (b) undersized pressure relief systems for unintended chemical reactions, (c) improper equipment selection and design, (d) cooling systems that are susceptible to single point failure, (e) process knowledge management, (f) management of organizational change and succession planning, and (g) deficient process safety information. 

Many bench scale chemists developing new processes do not fully understand scaleup. Scaling up from a flask where heat exchange or loss is excellent and sufficient at laboratory scale can lead to near adiabatic conditions in large scale equipment and runaway reactions. A small exotherm at laboratory scale can yield a significant runaway reaction at pilot or plant scale. Because of the focus on process development of intended chemistries, unintended chemistries are often not quantified properly or overlooked. Research and development organizations need to collaborate with production facilities to understand what are the “unintended reactions” that could occur at pilot or plant scale. 

It is not uncommon to have multiple raw materials, for a variety of products, all to be hard piped to the same vessel. Understanding the likelihood and potential for each of those raw materials to interact unintentionally in multipurpose equipment is key for process safety risk identification and management efforts. A simple skipped water charge, may be the worst case scenario resulting in an unintended runaway chemical reaction. 

In addition, organizations are also challenged to properly manage their knowledge for high hazard chemistries. With organizational change happening much more frequently nowadays, it is even more essential that once a hazard is identified, the knowhow is properly managed and available independent of current staffing. Knowledge Management is a huge gap in numerous organizations, especially small and medium size enterprises. 

Although many organizations can be vulnerable to such catastrophic events, they have not taken sufficient and proper steps to identify and truly understand chemical reactivity hazards.

This paper provides guidance that can help you to better understand your organization’s potential vulnerabilities that are related to chemical reactivity hazards.

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