By Craig O’Neill, Teledyne FLIR, and Ryan A. Cochran, Chemours Company
While the oil-and-gas industry has benefited greatly from the use of optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras — improving worker safety and plant efficiency while reducing emissions — the technology has yet to gain a similar foothold in the petrochemical industry, despite offering similar advantages. Comfort with existing gas-detection methods and a lack of familiarity with the full capabilities of OGI cameras often act as barriers to the latter’s implementation.
However, with commercial hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gas emissions now under increased scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other global regulators, there is more impetus for HFC producers and industrial HFC users to deploy additional technologies to ensure mechanical integrity and compliance. Many well-prepared companies already have environmental, social, and governance (ESG) programs driving sustainability, including initiatives tied to emissions reduction. Still, continued use of ambient air monitoring utilizing Fourier transform infrared (FTIR), supplemented by handheld leak detectors, is only a partial solution to the need for more comprehensive industrial monitoring — especially as regulators begin to employ state-of-the-art instrumentation themselves.
This incumbent system of leak detection has several constraints that need to be understood by industrial practitioners. On-demand point leak detection generally takes place either during routine maintenance or when an FTIR alarm is triggered by a possible gas leak. A production operator with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must then be positioned close to the leak source to confirm its existence using a handheld refrigerant leak detector (also called a toxic vapor analyzer, organic vapor analyzer, or “sniffer”).