How to Begin Chemical Plant Decommissioning

September
,
2019

Decommissioning activity has expanded in response to economic pressures and rapid change across the global chemicals landscape. Execute these high-hazard projects safely, cost-effectively, and with maximum respect for the environment and the surrounding communities.

Very few manufacturing sectors have been immune to the challenging economic conditions of the past ten years, and the chemical process industries (CPI) are no exception. In the face of falling demand and newfound competitive pressures, some sites have become commercially unviable. Europe was hit particularly hard, with relatively high operating costs and aging assets. In many cases, the remoteness from emerging markets culminated in tough trading conditions. For instance, many vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturers, in particular, scaled back (i.e., rationalized) their production due to overcapacity of bulk commodity chemicals. Many facilities closed, and some organizations withdrew from the market.

Fiscal difficulties were not the only catalyst for change. Some markets have contracted, but others are in a state of relative infancy. Markets tend to relocate geographically as countries develop. In addition, lower operating costs have contributed significantly, along with recession in traditional markets. Many assets are being transferred to new territories — in India, for example, as there is a potential for growth in emerging economies.

In Western Europe and the U.S., many plants — particularly those constructed in the 1960s and 1970s — have reached the end of their design and economic operational life. They are, by today’s standards, inefficient and may carry unacceptable safety and reputational risks if they remain in operation.

Some companies continually seek to innovate, evaluating how to do more with less, and adopting pioneering techniques that enable game-changing new chemicals for research and manufacturing. With this innovation comes the inevitable clearing out of outdated and often distressed assets to pave the way for state-of-the-art new technology.

Even these few simple examples illustrate that the market is certainly going through a step-change, often on an international scale. But whatever the impetus for change, decommissioning levels are now at a high point.

This article describes chemical plant decommissioning. It introduces some of the different methods involved and touches on the safety and economic risks that are inherent throughout...

Author Bios: 

Richard Vann

Richard Vann is the managing director of RVA Group — a specialist project management and environmental, health, and safety (EHS) organization that has completed more than 770 complex decommissioning, decontamination, dismantling, and demolition projects worldwide (Richard.Vann@rvagroup.org). With over 35 years of experience, he is past president of the Institute of Demolition Engineers and of the Institute of Explosives Engineers. He is a notable speaker in this field and was the keynote speaker at the World Demolition Summit 2017.Read more

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