The typical lifecycle of a new unit is to go from design basis to simulations and data sheets and then from construction and commissioning to startup. In the case of the Sulfur Recovery Unit (SRU), an additional step may be taken after startup in the Performance Guarantee of the unit where the Operating Company ensures the Licensor has designed and built a unit which meets the BoD. Most of the time, though, Operators choose to forego the Performance Guarantee (budget, timing, incapable of meeting testing conditions, etc.). Beyond the money-back aspect, what Operators are foregoing is the crucial sample set illustrating how the unit truly performs: an operating baseline.
Real analytical results are better than a simulated material balance.
Long after the unit is operational and just about when problems start to arise, recently SRE was brought in by an SRU Operator to determine the problems with their SRU. As we’ve mentioned in our webinars, SRE starts any troubleshooting with analytical results of the unit’s current performance. However, this snapshot in time is meaningless without something to which to compare it. Once the current performance was determined and the BTEX breakthrough was obvious, we asked “has the unit always been like this?” And that’s when the Operator will bring out the material balance in the SRU’s As Built drawings – we’re now trying to compare apples with oranges – and better yet, the simulation never took into consideration any aromatics in the whole design.
Although troubleshooting exercises can be solved without reference data, having something to compare to always helps. Solving a problem fast means less downtime and more production. Even better is data on a regular basis. Trends can provide leading indicators to potential problems and to future catastrophes, saving big money down the road.
Having a baseline set of analytical results, benchmarks the performance of the SRU. It’s an invaluable reference which will be far more accurate than the material balance provided by the Licensor. Further, if you’re lucky, the test results will show areas for improvements or at the least, confirm that your unit is healthy.