Engineering News

Giant Drums Safe from Flooding - WRB
Monday, June 16, 2008

Floodwaters are lapping around some missile-like hardware that now is parked and waiting for a planned refinery expansion project.

But even if the Mississippi River continues to rise, the coke drum units should not be in any danger, a refinery spokeswoman said.

The four gigantic drums now sit on the river side of the levee south of Hartford, Ill., just west of where Piasa Lane ends. Water has risen up to either side of an access road on which the units now sit.

The drums are part of the planned $2 billion expansion of the WRB Wood River Refinery, a ConocoPhillips project that was dealt a blow last week when a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency panel rejected permits previously granted by the Illinois EPA. Refinery officials are continuing with planning in hopes of eventually getting the needed permits.

The 133-foot drums, which are 33 feet in diameter, were ordered some months ago and arrived by barge sometime before Monday morning. They are likely to stay there for some time, even as the water continues to rise.

"I was told (by personnel) that they didn't think it would be a problem," refinery spokeswoman Melissa Erker said. "We think they are high enough off the ground."

The 600-ton drums are larger in size than the two scrubbers that were moved by huge transports from the levee to the refinery on May 1.

Right now, the drums are lying on their sides along the levee. If constructed, they will be placed vertically, Erker said.

The drums are the biggest part of the planned expansion, but they are not the last of the parts that will be shipped in, depending on what happens with the permit.

"We will be hauling many pieces," Erker said. "Everything from pipe racks to other vessels used in the refining process."

All of the equipment purchased for the expansion will be shipped via the Mississippi River on barges and hauled to the refinery on the route used in May by the scrubbers, which are pollution reduction equipment. The equipment will vary in height and length.

The drum is an integral part of a coker unit, the part of the unit that the crude product flows through to be processed.

Erker provided this explanation of the coking process:

In the drum, the coker gas oil vaporizes and separates from the mixture. It is directed to a fractionation column, where it is separated into the desirable boiling point fractions. The liquid coke solidifies in the drum as it cools and the velocity slows down.

After the drum is full of solidified coke, the hot mixture from the furnace is switched to a second drum. While the second drum is filling, the full drum is steamed to further reduce hydrocarbon content of the pet coke, and then water is used to cool it. The top and bottom heads of the full coke drum are removed, and the solid pet coke is then cut from the coke drum with a high-pressure water nozzle, where it falls into a pit for reclamation.

Larger cokers have several pairs of tandem drums.

Wood River will have two pairs of coke drums for a total of four.

Source: The Telgraph-Alton, IL/Knight Ridder Tribune Business News

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