What is a flare event?
Flaring, or gas flaring, happens when excess hydrocarbons are burned. Oil and gas refineries and petrochemical and chemical processing plants often have a flare stack to burn waste gasses, particularly methane, rather than releasing them straight into the atmosphere.
Flaring can and should be a planned exercise during startup, shutdown, or planned maintenance. Plants usually have to inform local authorities about planned flaring. But sometimes, pressure builds up to dangerous levels or there’s no safe way to recycle excess gas, and then an unplanned flaring, or a flare event, takes place.
A flare event takes place during emergencies, like a power outage, breakdown, or serious plant issues, in order to safely burn the gas that could otherwise pose a safety and health risk to workers, nearby residents, and/or the environment.
Why does a flare event matter to process manufacturing plants?
Although flare events take place to ensure safety in a plant, they are highly undesirable. A flare event itself is a sign that something has gone wrong in the plant, because otherwise flaring would be kept strictly under control.
Any type of flaring, whether planned or unplanned, releases harmful chemicals, carbon emissions, and pollutants into the environment. It’s estimated that flaring is responsible for approximately 1% of global CO2 emissions and most of the nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere, which can cause respiratory conditions, acid rain, and smog.
Process manufacturing companies are trying hard to improve their carbon footprint and environmental reputation, but flare events undermine those effects. Unplanned flare events can provoke fines from environmental regulation authorities.
Flare events are also highly visible, and the flame can appear very alarming to the general public. As a result, flare events can spark local protests, demands to close manufacturing facilities, and widespread negative publicity, costing the company time and energy to smooth over the crisis.
How can process plants reduce flare events?
Improve plant monitoring
Predictive analytics that use machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to monitor the entire plant and spot the earliest signs of anomalies within any piece of equipment. In this way, process engineers receive early notifications about potential issues and can resolve them while they are still small, before they snowball into an unexpected breakdown or serious processing inefficiency which provokes a flare event.
Predict flaring before it occurs
Advanced AI and ML data analytics can also be adopted to identify patterns within the plant which indicate that a flare event could soon occur. By predicting flare events before they take place, you can take steps to prevent them from occurring at all.
Increase combustion efficiency
The more efficient your internal combustion processes, the less gas you’ll have to burn as waste. New technology allows plants to measure combustion efficiency in real-time and take steps to improve it if they see efficiency is dipping.
Recover the gas for useful purposes
Finally, it’s possible to capture waste gasses that would otherwise be flared – or which could build up into an unplanned flare event – and use them to generate electricity. It’s a solution that is admittedly more complicated and expensive than other approaches, because the plant needs to set up the necessary systems, but it can pay off for plants that frequently have significant amounts of excess gas.
How do process plants benefit from preventing a flare event?
A low rate of flare events is a good sign that your plant is operating efficiently and that little is going to waste. Without the distractions of flare events, plant employees are able to spend less time placating public opinion and dealing with crisis control, and more time focusing on tasks that drive revenue.