Lightning Protection for Chemical Plants

Chemical plants and storage facilities are vital to supporting the industrial and transportation needs of modern society.  The raw fuels and chemicals processed and stored at these facilities fuel the cars we drive, help to power our cities and homes, and enable us to manufacture many of the products that we depend on for daily life. 

Chemical plants and storage facilities are uniquely vulnerable to lightning due to the facility designs and the often explosive and caustic nature of the raw materials being processed, handled, and transported.  Lightning strikes at chemical plants and storage facilities can have catastrophic effects- particularly fires and explosions- that pose significant risks to personnel and may result in extended outages, loss of productivity, and equipment/infrastructure failures. 

The lightning subject matter experts at Scientific Lightning Solutions are intimately familiar with the lightning-related challenges faced by chemical plants and storage facilities.  Our team performs the following services for chemical plants and storage facilities:

  • Evaluation and quantification of lightning-related risk to personnel during all facets of plant operations and development of procedural plans to maximize both productivity and personnel safety during thunderstorms
  • Tailored lightning protection designs for hazardous environments, explosives, and fuel storage
  • Inspection and maintenance of lightning protection systems for optimal performance and standards compliance (i.e., API 2003)
  • Forensic investigations for lightning-related damage
  • Site-specific lightning monitoring

Maximizing Productivity and Safety

Productivity and safety during thunderstorms are frequently not aligned, particularly at chemical plants where personnel are not only at risk from lightning, but from the effects of lightning on commodities that are being processed or stored.  Further, the conventional lightning safety guidelines are not all applicable for any one particular installation.  SLS performs detailed lightning risk assessments to evaluate and quantify the risk to personnel during every phase of facility operation.  The results allow plant operators to only halt those operations that need to be shut down while maintaining productivity for those operations that can safely continue during thunderstorms.  

Maintenance and Inspection of Lightning Protection Systems

Verification of proper bonding and grounding is critical at chemical plants and storage facilities where a small spark in the wrong location can have disastrous implications.  During a site inspection, SLS verifies that all metallic infrastructure is properly bonded to the lightning protection system.  Due to the caustic nature of chemicals handled and stored at some chemical plants, the lightning protection system components can be degraded at an accelerated rate, compromising the system.  SLS carefully identifies any environmental corrosion issues and corrosion due to dissimilar metals interfaces. 

Tailored Lightning Protection Design

Chemical plants and storage facilities often have lightning protection design requirements that may not be adequately addressed by the national standards. A common example is explosive volumes that are created due to off-gassing from vent stacks, etc.  While a well-designed lightning protection system will prevent damage from direct strikes to the vent stacks themselves, the electrical response of the lightning protection system to the local thunderstorm conditions can ignite a flammable volume.  SLS provides innovative lightning protection solutions to address the unique requirements of chemical plants and storage facilities.

Lightning Damage at Chemical Plants- What Happened?

Even chemical plants and storage facilities with well-designed lightning protection systems can have incidents where fires and/or explosions occur and equipment is damaged as a result of direct or nearby lightning strikes.  Where is the vulnerability and how can future incidents be prevented?  SLS steps in to perform a lightning forensic investigation to determine where vulnerabilities exist and how they can be mitigated in a functional and cost-effective manner. 

Monitoring- Was Lightning the Cause?

Sometimes it is not clear from personal accounts and other anecdotal evidence whether lightning is responsible for fires, explosions, or other incidents at chemical plants and storage facilities.  Site-specific lightning instrumentation systems provide ground-truth, actionable data to conclusively determine how and where lightning is infiltrating the facility.  SLS uses the data to help the customer drive specific changes in the lightning protection system and plant operational procedures during thunderstorms, all with the goal of maximizing both productivity and safety.

Caution: Non-Traditional Lightning Protection “Gadgets”

Chemical plants and storage facilities are frequently targeted by companies who manufacture and market non-traditional lightning protection “gadgets” including early streamer emission (ESE), dissipation array system (DAS), charge transfer system (CTS), lightning surge arrestors, etc. These devices are often marketed to either eliminate or “suppress” lightning. Often, they are also marketed to reduce the probability of lightning occurrence. The lightning scientific community (worldwide) does not recommend the use of such devices and they are not approved for use by the primary lightning protection and safety standards (NFPA, IEC, etc.) due to lack of verifiable physical evidence to support the manufacturer’s claimed performance.  In fact, repeated empirical evidence has shown that the installation of these devices in lieu of traditional lightning protection can increase the vulnerability and risk of lightning-related damage to a facility. 

Contact SLS to learn more about our tailored services for chemical plants and storage facilities.  Our customer base includes both large and small entities in the petroleum, natural gas, polymer, aerospace, and consumer product chemical industries. 

We Are Lightning Experts

The SLS Team has many decades of lightning monitoring, lightning protection, and lightning testing experience. We apply state-of-the-art lightning research to engineering solutions.

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