LED Applications for Oil and Gas Refining and Processing

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Courtesy of Larson Electronics LLC

Oil and gas processing facilities are unsafe due to the existence of hazardous compounds during operations. When addressing such issues, companies in the sector may deploy explosion proof lighting systems to prevent the ignition of sparks created from the electrical equipment. The adoption of LED technology in oil and gas refineries has helped reinforce key safety measures associated with premature light failure, costly maintenance and unpredictable work environments. This trend will likely continue to increase, as more businesses in the industry look to LEDs as a viable replacement for outdated lighting systems.

Ignitable Compounds in Oil and Gas Processing

The presence of dangerous compounds in oil and gas facilities presents numerous safety challenges for workers. In particular, the processing of hydrocarbons, such as fossil fuels, ethane, methane and propane, is a very sensitive process that must be carried out in stable environments. Unfortunately, oil and gas processing plants are far from stable, from the chemicals being refined in the facility to the dark, tight tanks used to store flammable products. Hydrocarbons are extremely volatile, since they can mix with air and react with other combustible compounds in the area. One should note that hydrocarbons are the world’s main source for electric energy and heat. This insatiable demand adds to pressure carried by processing plants to maintain high levels of production.

In liquid form, extracted hydrocarbons are widely known as petroleum. With a Class I-A rating set by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the liquid variant is highly flammable. When stored in confined spaces, concentrated amounts may lead to the formation of carbon monoxide. Furthermore, hydrocarbons should be stored away from fluorine compounds, due to the possibility of forming hydrofluoric acid, a toxic agent that is highly corrosive, and is used to dissolve oxide-based materials. Scientists believe that the aromatic properties of hydrocarbons makes it highly carcinogenic. Because of this, individuals must also control exposure rates through the application of safety equipment when working with the flammable compounds.

Explosion Proof Standards (C1D1 and C1D2)

A leading concern when handling volatile compounds, such as hydrocarbons, is the possibility of ignition from nearby electronic devices and machines. Lights around the facility without adequate safety features may be a source of ignition via the creation of sparks during operation. To decrease the risk of combustion, businesses may install fixtures with Class 1 Division 1 (C1D1) and Class 1 Division 2 (C1D2) approval ratings inside the facility. Set by the National Electric Code (NEC), Article 501 in the guide clarifies that the classifications refer to hazardous locations where ignitable concentrations of combustible gases and flammable liquid-produced vapors may exist on a regular basis or during abnormal work conditions (C1D2). This guideline also covers the possibility of combustion from leakage during repair or maintenance work (C1D1).

In addition to explosion proof ratings, fixtures designed for oil refineries may benefit from water-tight and corrosion-resistant features. This is because such facilities are regularly exposed to abrasive cleaning solutions during hose-down sessions. Constant exposure to water and corrosive agents may cause the lights to fail prematurely, which can be a serious safety hazard, especially for workers inside storage tanks and other confined spaces. Water-tight properties are regulated through Ingress or International Protection (IP) ratings, with IP67 being the general standard in the sector. Units with IP67 ratings offer complete protection from dust and water immersions as low as one meter for 30 minutes.

LED Energy Savings

A study that addresses the challenges of oil and gas lighting systems revealed the advantages of replacing outdated fixtures with LEDs. The northeastern oil and gas company in focus originally relied on high-pressure sodium and incandescent lamps for lighting around the facility. The unforgiving nature of the worksite caused the luminaries to fail prematurely, which increased the company’s maintenance and replacement efforts to keep the units operational. During the project, the refinery installed 22-watt, explosion proof LEDs with Class 1 Division 2 ratings in place of 200-watt incandescent lamps.

The results of the project showed that the implementation of LED technology in the oil refinery plant helped the company reduce its annual energy consumption by $34,668. Moreover, repair-related works have decreased by a whopping $766,647 per year. With an average lifespan of 50,000+ hours, the LED lamps provide up to 10 years of maintenance-free lighting.

Industrial LED Trends

PennEnergy, a publication that focuses on the industrial energy sector, elaborated on the imminent spread of LED technology in the oil and gas refining industry. The organization pointed out that LED adoption started to take off in 2008, when the technology reached a usable, stable standard for widespread industrial application. Interestingly, less than one percent of the hazardous locations market has fully converted to LEDs. In the oil and gas sector, drilling sites, where high intensity discharge lamps are used on derricks, have been most active in the conversion to LED systems.

The most in-demand LED fixtures in the sector includes the following: high mast, wall packs, high bays, low bays, eye wash station lights and flood lights. PennEnergy indicated that the main reason companies in the space transition to LEDs is due to high maintenance costs. Traditional luminaries, such as metal halide and incandescent lamps, easily succumb to unpredictable environments. Repair work in hazardous locations is a painstakingly slow process, and often involves permitting, scaffolding and supervision, which can be both time consuming and costly for oil refineries.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, transitioning to LED technology in the next two decades could help save the country over $250 billion in energy costs. During the same period, over 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emissions can be avoided.

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