Advances in technology are providing peace of mind for industrial site managers as they seek to protect their assets from catastrophic fire damage.

This is especially true with regard to the threat from lightning strikes. Oil and petrochemical storage tanks are particularly vulnerable to storms and potentially expensive fires at a time when climate change is contributing to more extreme weather events.

The tanks typically hold large quantities of combustible substances and have an open-topped cylindrical steel shell with a roof that floats on the surface of the stored liquid. They are exposed to the direct and indirect effects of lightning, which can ignite flammable vapours and result in fires that present a danger to lives and property.

Prevention is the best cure
Lightning strikes are far more common than many realise, so it is crucial to explore all options to safeguard sites.

Common lightning-protection systems in the past essentially involved putting a metal rod into the ground to direct harmful electrical currents away from a structure and into the ground. Industrial sites also often used metal strips called ‘shunts’ that ground the roof to the tank wall. However, the bond from these shunts is not always ideal and they may lack the desired contact between the roof and wall.

Newer technologies offer significantly greater protection, with Charge Transfer Technology actually deterring the lightning from hitting a site in the first place and avoiding risks altogether. American company Lightning Eliminators & Consultants (LEC) is a renowned player in the lightning-strike avoidance space. Its systems rely on grounding and earthing, plus surge suppression, to create an ‘isolation zone’ that inhibits direct strikes to a site and minimises the effects of any strikes nearby.

Grounding is critical for personal safety, sustainability and uninterrupted operations, while the surge-protection feature acts to stop the impact of lightning on sensitive electronics and IT equipment.

Grounding systems vital

About a third of all storage tank fires are believed to be started by a lightning strike, so providing a reliable grounding and earthing system for your tanks is a must.

Award-winning Retractable Grounding Assembly (RGA) technology reduces the risk of lightning damage and fire by creating a low-impedance bond between the roof and shell of a tank. It is cost-effective and virtually maintenance free. 

With more than 3000 successfully operating installations around the world, RGA uses a sophisticated spring-loaded reel that is fixed to the tank wall, along with a retractable cable that is attached to the floating roof and which responds as the roof moves up and down. It is designed to electrically bond the floating roof and shell on floating-roof storage tanks.

The key benefits of this model include:

  • no onsite tensioning is required
  • the use of aluminium cable originally developed for marine applications increases corrosion resistance compared with bare and tinned copper cables
  • it takes only about two hours to install the RGA system on new or existing tanks.

As with any system, proper installation of the RGA technology is important. If it is done incorrectly, the benefits from the retractable conductors diminish. For that reason, it is advisable to engage a highly trained engineering team to handle the installation.

With the right technology and the best team to deploy it, industrial sites can effectively repel lightning strikes and ensure the safety of workers and the longevity of the business.

Climate change is increasing the risk of devastating fires from lightning strikes on industrial storage tanks, but new technology has come to the rescue. So contact Australia’s leading provider of lightning eliminator and Retractable Grounding Assembly (RGA) solutions.

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Could your business benefit from some expert fire protection advice?