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Top Refinery Emission Factors and Source Mitigation Strategies for Alberta Plants

by Thomas Webster, on Fri, Jun 03, 2022 @ 08:06 AM


Refineries are one of the largest sources of energy and are important to accommodate the ever-growing energy demand of the modern world. However, refinery emissions are often high and include air and water pollutants. For instance, the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that an individual refinery produces is estimated to be between 0.8 and 4.2 million tons annually. This wide range of CO2 emissions points to the differences in emissions based on a refinery’s operation. Refineries in Alberta can identify emission factors and reduce emissions through several source mitigation strategies, including updating existing infrastructure and utilizing new technologies.

This article will discuss common refinery emission factors, methods to reduce those emissions, and how working with a trusted local provider of refinery components can provide the engineering expertise and technology to limit emissions.

Common Refinery Emission Factors

During refinery operations, equipment issues may contribute to increased emissions. Some of the common factors that contribute to emissions are:

  • Storage containers: The substances held in storage containers can include gasoline, propane, and gasses such as methane. The roof of these containers is especially important to limit the escape of vapours—particularly hydrocarbon vapours—and the roof needs to create a strong seal. Temperature and pressure changes due to normal processing or the external environment pose additional risks because of the change in the movement of molecules and the chances that the seal becomes breached.
  • Wastewater streams: Wastewater streams in refinery operations can contain traces of hydrocarbons, amine compounds, and sulfur compounds. When wastewater is transferred to a treatment facility, there is a risk of fugitive emission vapours. This could be due to vent issues when moving wastewater and the risks posed by open wastewater treatment centers.
  • Cooling towers: Cooling towers remove the excess heat from processing units by using cooled water. Sometimes leaks and cross-contamination occur, resulting in hydrocarbons getting into the water and eventually escaping as air emissions.
  • Equipment leaks: Equipment leaks can occur due to improper pipe connections, imperfections in seals (either around a pipe or compressor), and faulty valves. Additionally, leaks could occur due to normal wear and tear, poor-quality components, or design issues (e.g. tubing that is quickly corroded from the reaction with the chemicals in contact with it). Based on the size of the refinery and the number of connected systems in the refinery, there are potentially thousands of sources for fugitive emissions from tubing, seals, valves, and pipes.
  • Blowdown system: Blowdown systems allow for the removal of chemicals and to permit a shutdown of process units for maintenance. The blowdown system consists of valves and piping, which can result in emissions if damaged.
  • Steam boilers: Steam boilers provide indirect heat for processing units. The combustion process as well as the impurities sometimes found in the combustion process results in air emissions.
  • Process furnaces and heaters: Process furnaces and heaters are often used to heat fluids or solids to transfer heat. Sometimes substances heated by the process furnaces and heaters get contaminated due to equipment leaks from problems with tubing, seals, and valves.
  • Compressor engines: Compressors generate high internal pressure to increase the yield of wanted products. These compressors are often powered by internal combustion engines or by gas turbines which creates emissions.
  • Loading: The transfer of refinery products onto barges or trucks is another potential source of emissions. The refilling of containers for transport must be air-tight throughout the system to prevent such leaks.

Though the potential for refinery emissions is high, there are several strategies Alberta plants can use to mitigate emissions for safer and more efficient operations. 

Emission Mitigation Strategies for Alberta Plants

Mitigating emissions—and the resulting pollution and global warming—is becoming an increasingly important consideration for citizens, legislators, and refineries in Alberta. Alberta and other provinces are part of the National Air Quality Management System which sets the standards for industrial emissions. The emission standards established for these provinces have become more stringent, with approximately only half the emissions currently allowed compared to 10 years ago. As such, refinery operators and engineers have been seeking ways to mitigate refinery emissions. Some of the main emission mitigation strategies are discussed below:

Update Refinery Components

Updating refineries may significantly reduce emissions by limiting leaks, seal issues, and inefficiencies in refinery operations. The steps needed for updating refineries can be complicated. Updates often need to be built seamlessly into existing infrastructure while components of the refinery are still in operation. For some of the equipment, utilizing an additional seal will help to limit emission vapours. Tubing and valves connecting to new equipment should be checked to make sure that there are no potential leaks. Further, the type of valves should allow for the separation of chemicals without leaks. Finally, the material and design of tubing should work with the chemicals being utilized, and the temperatures and pressures in that component of the system.

Maintain Refinery Systems

One of the best methods to limit emissions is to have a robust leak detection and repair program. Quickly identifying and repairing leaks will not only limit emissions but prevent the leaks from growing (which will result in even more emissions). Being able to quickly get replacement components and materials—tubing, valves, and seals—will allow for repairs to be made with minimal fugitive emissions.

Implement New Technology

New technology is currently being implemented at Alberta refineries to reduce emissions. One of the most promising of these technologies is carbon capture, whereby carbon is captured from emission sources and stored rather than released into the atmosphere. Implementing new methods and the corresponding technology requires an understanding of their influence on the existing infrastructure. When installing new components into the infrastructure, quality seals, valves, and tubing should be selected to withstand temperature and pressure needs and prevent leaks. An experienced Field Advisor can help you select the components best suited for your operational needs.

Adapt Refinery Capabilities

Refineries have begun to adapt their capabilities to limit overall emissions. An example of this includes utilizing liquefied plastic waste (rather than crude oil). This would complete a carbon circle and thus limit the overall number of hydrocarbon emissions. 

These strategies for mitigating refinery emissions are beneficial for the environment and for protecting our resources. To best understand how to implement these strategies, partner with a local provider of refinery components and advisory services that also has Alberta’s standards and regulations in mind. 

Limit Refinery Emission Factors with Edmonton Valve & Fitting

Partnering with a local provider of refinery components can help with the implementation and installation of emission-reducing components. For 50 years, Edmonton Valve & Fitting has provided professional support and an extensive local inventory of Swagelok products to Alberta plants. By understanding the existing infrastructure, the chemicals utilized in the refinery process, and the methods being utilized, Field Advisors from Edmonton Valve & Fitting can help with the selection of components and make suggestions about how best to minimize emissions. As a local provider, Edmonton Valve & Fitting will also have a team nearby to help consult during the implementation of components and the maintenance of those components to provide long-lasting emission reductions. Finally, as laws and regulations on emission change in Alberta, the Edmonton Valve & Fitting team can provide input to help you adapt to new policies.

To find out more about how Edmonton Valve & Fitting can help you limit refinery emission factors and mitigate emissions, contact us through our website or by calling 780-437-0640.
Topics:Field Advisory ServicesRefineries

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