Oil Mist Eliminators...Worth the Investment

Submitted by Cory Calderon
on Mon, 01/18/2016
Inside power generation plants, there is a need to eliminate the dangerous oil mist produced by lubrication systems.  In any set of circumstances where there is significant metal on metal contact, there should be some form of lubrication system installed that will increase the lifespan of the machinery.  When those lubrication systems are in place, there is a resulting oil vapor produced that becomes the root of a number of different problems that will likely occur if not properly handled. The oil vapor will often accumulate in workspace areas around the equipment, creating a hazardous work environment and putting employees’ well-being and possibly their lives in danger. The oil mist can also create a less-than-ideal environment for expensive equipment.  Additionally, power generation plants that do not properly eliminate oil mist that is produced as a result of their lubrication systems can be subject to sizable fugitive emissions fines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  There are regulations in place that require oil mist to be managed and controlled from processes that create oil vapor.  Fortunately, there are solutions available that can successfully eliminate oil mist and significantly reduce the risk plants are posing to their employees’ health, the environment and their economic bottom line.

Government Regulations

The EPA defines fugitive emissions as unintended emissions from facilities or activities that “could not reasonably pass through a stack, chimney, vent or other functionally equivalent opening.”  This means that the resulting oil mist from lubrication systems qualifies as such and should be actively eliminated to the best of the power generation plant’s ability.  In most cases, the fugitive emissions are regulated by the state permitting agency.  It is critical to know the state’s policies for fugitive emissions to have a better idea of potential fines, as the regulations can become fairly complex.

Workplace Safety

In addition to the environmental concerns that oil mist can cause, the safety of the employees and the quality of the work environment must be accounted for.  First and foremost, oil mist is known to cause respiratory problems for employees who spend time in the power generation plant.  These problems can come in the form of sneezing, coughing and shortness of breath. The hazardous oil mist has also been known to cause very serious skin conditions.  These kinds of skin and respiratory complications will not only directly affect the health of workers, but can also result in employees missing additional work and possible lawsuits.

Workplace Environment

When oil mist is not properly vented, it will often accumulate in various workspaces.  This can open up a number of new challenges for the power generation plant.  Generally, oil mist can contaminate circuitry that is being utilized in electronic sensors, which are used to control the metal machinery.  When these sensors malfunction due to oil mist, plants are likely to experience unscheduled shutdowns.  These shutdowns, depending on how long they last, can end up costing large amounts in maintenance and lost revenue.

Solutions

Oil Mist Accumulation, Problem Solved
There is equipment available that removes visible oil vapor from the air stream of vents in lubricating oil systems of high-speed rotating machinery.  They are known simply as oil mist eliminators and they are essential for optimal performance in power generation plants.  Oil mist eliminators will prevent oil mist from contaminating air and soil, which helps companies significantly reduce the risk for the above mentioned government regulations.  Additionally, oil mist eliminators can save money by returning oil to the sump which would normally be lost during the venting process.  This can significantly reduce make-up costs.

When choosing an oil mist eliminator solution, there are several options available.  The first is a blower-assisted mist eliminator.  This particular type of oil mist eliminator is designed for systems that cannot withstand back pressure and is made to maintain atmospheric condition in the oil system.  Another type of oil mist eliminator is paired with a heat exchanger.  This model is ideal where oil can reach extremely high temperatures.  The design cools the air stream, making the oil mist easier to coalesce.   Finally, there is a coalesce-only mist eliminator.  This should be the design of choice when back pressure on an oil system is not a concern.  This eliminator can be sized very large in order to meet pressure-drop requirements and can be used where an existing blower is present. 
Due to the common misconception that these oil mist eliminators are an enormous cost burden, many plant operators opt not to install them.  The truth is that many can be found for right around $5,000 and in the long run, are generally worth the investment.  Considering how much is lost both in terms of maintenance and productivity, installing an oil mist eliminator to keep the plant running safely and efficiently will ultimately save money.

For more information, please contact Patrick Hyland at (844) 705-0495, or email Patrick at phyland@valin.com.

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