Preventing Leakage and Pollution Best Practices

Submitted by Devon Hyatt
When developing a practical approach to leakage and pollution prevention, plant managers have a variety of options available in terms of instrumentation and equipment. Depending on the particular process, materials, and type of operation, the method of ensuring the containment of potential contaminants will vary widely.

Acoustic Sensors

One of the primary tools used for this application is an acoustic sensor that, when placed on any type of hard surface, evaluates the harmonic properties of the material running through a pipe. While primarily used for solid materials within tanks and containment vessels, acoustic sensors can be utilized on the exterior of liquid pipes to monitor the proper flow of material.

Acoustic sensors can be placed anywhere that a facility manager might benefit from an acoustic measurement. Proper sensor placement will limit the likelihood that other system processes will dampen the harmonics and decrease the accuracy of the sensor. Acoustic sensors are more effective in applications which generate larger amounts of sound, such as solid materials being stirred in a tank or large amounts of fluid being transported through a system of pipes.

The output of an acoustic sensor is normally a voltage signal which is sent to a controller that can be programmed to notify the user if any significant changes take place. This functionality adds the benefit of instantaneous measurement that will send an alarm the moment a potential leak or other problem occurs.

Material Variation

The approach that a facility manager takes toward leakage and pollution prevention must be specifically tailored to the type of material being processed in the facility. In the case of solids or liquid/solid mixes, acoustic sensors are an excellent solution to measure the flow through any pipe or holding tank. For pure liquids or gasses, the approach of leak detection is more effective than noise monitoring in preventing pollution.

Leak detection can be achieved through the use of various sensors placed in tanks, pipes or other containers in either portable or permanent applications. Volumetric measurements from a sensor placed inside a tank can be used to create a continuous monitoring system that will notify the user as soon as a leak begins to start. This allows time to perform any necessary repairs before the leak becomes a serious problem and causes any potential pollution. The benefit of basing a monitoring system on volumetric measurements is the high level of precision provided by the sensors. This type of system is ideal for hydrocarbon fuels or chemicals that need to be monitored closely.

Containment Monitoring

Another effective solution for preventing leakage or environmental contamination is containment monitoring. Going beyond utilizing a sensor with existing processing equipment, containment monitoring systems consist of special double-walled tanks or pipes with small gaps in between that will alert a user if the first wall is breached. For liquids, the monitoring system utilizes a liquid level sensor placed at the lowest part of the containment space to detect any unwanted liquid that enters the containment area.

Containment monitoring is a common approach to prevent leakage or pollution due to its wide product availability and versatility. Various types of sensors can be placed in between the double-walled pipes or tanks, such as pressure and vacuum gauges to monitor gas levels. The wide array of sensors available provides solutions for sensitive applications for which other types of corrosion monitoring systems may not be suitable.

A common concern in potentially hazardous applications is the corrosion of exterior components. If the operating environment causes volatile chemicals to come in contact with metals or other material that may wear down over time, the exterior of the equipment may be just as vulnerable as the interior. Containment Monitoring systems provide an effective solution to exterior as well as interior corrosion due to the double-walled construction of the components and the ability to sense a potential leak coming from either direction. Facility managers looking for precision and flexibility with leakage and pollution control often choose containment monitoring systems.

Leak Detection Systems

Leak detection systems can be extremely effective in notifying the user of potential contamination. These systems base their measurements on the level of fluid in a given container. Depending on the type of operation, sensors are available that can measure differences as precise as 0.1 mm in variation. Sensors are also available to measure vapor density within a given space, alerting the user to any change in density that may signify a leak. Vapor density sensors are the most commonly used form of leak detection for gasoline in the oil & gas industry.

Also important is leak or spill control. Excess flow valves can be used to monitor upstream and downstream pressure along a pipeline. If there is a variation in pressure between two given points, the valves will automatically shut off to prevent any potential leakage or pollution.

When working with hazardous materials, it is often difficult to arrive at a workable solution for the important task of preventing environmental contamination that may result from a process. However, by utilizing one or more of the above types of equipment, any facility manager should become capable of effectively monitoring the integrity of an operation in order to prevent leakage and pollution.

Article featured in Pollution Equipment News Magazine.
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