Measures to prevent lightning strikes on petrochemical sites have never been more sophisticated – and smart solutions to safeguard petrochemical sites can prevent the crippling effects of shutdowns and downtime.
The days of relying on conventional solutions such as lightning rods to protect and safeguard petrochemical sites from fires are all but over.
Such complex operations should deploy advanced options to limit downtime from lightning strikes – the most common form of ignition – and protect infrastructure and fuel supplies in an era when climate change is contributing to more and more electrical storms.
A single strike of lightning releases up to 500 million volts and a temperature of about 27,000ºC, three times hotter than the surface of the sun. So it is essential to have sophisticated lightning-strike avoidance systems that can safeguard storage tanks from the potentially catastrophic – and expensive – consequences of lightning.
The positive news is that modern lightning-avoidance systems have superseded traditional safeguards such as lightning rods and early streamer emission (ESE) technology. The latter approaches, in essence, collect a lightning strike and invite it into the facility being protected. The hope is that such measures can deflect the strikes from the most sensitive areas of a facility and minimise any damage.
By contrast, the most recently developed technology actually deters the strike from hitting a storage tank at all and potentially avoid the risk completely. It combines earthing (ensuring lightning energy is expended into a grounding system) and surge suppression (protecting business-critical electronics and IT equipment) to create an ‘isolation zone’ that inhibits direct strikes to the protected site and limits the impact of any nearby strikes.
A typical solution includes a dissipation array system, a low-impedance grounding system that uses chemically charged electrodes, transient voltage surge suppression to protect against short-lived bursts of energy and modular strike-prevention devices. No doubt to most lay people that all sounds confusing, which is why specialist fire-protection experts are required.
Such systems have been installed in some of the world’s most lightning-prone environments, clocking up tens of thousands of system hours in service, and are credited with a success rate of more than 99%in lightning-strike prevention.
In addition to safeguarding petrochemical sites, these systems have also protected data and telecommunications centres, transit and logistics facilities and the utilities and power generation sectors, among others.
Ignore risks at your peril
Lightning strikes are more common than most petrochemical managers realise and can jeopardise the safety of workers and drastically interrupt operations.
However, experienced fire-protection specialists can advise on appropriate lightning-prevention solutions and guide them through the design, procurement and commissioning process. Any supplier should have a proven history of delivering safe solutions while limiting long-term maintenance costs.
Remember, too, that the cost of prevention is much lower than the cost of the cure in the aftermath of lightning damage.
Delta Fire specialises in the fire protection of high-risk, high-hazard environments such as petrochemical and industrial sites.