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Case Study in Ammonia Plant

Prepared by
Chem. Eng. M.Mosaid Alyafi
Manager of Ammonia-Urea Plant

A rare and abnormal event happened

for the first time in Ammonia plant
since the start-up of the plant.
It was the leakage of the process air
through the cover of secondary
reformer accompanied with a very high
sound at a distance of many
kilometers, caused in obligatory shut-
down of the plant for many days.
This paper explains the event,
reasons, followed procedures for
carrying out the necessary
maintenance to resume the production
with the minimum time and cost.

Ammonia plant is of KELLOGG-design (England) of capacity

1000 MTDP. The production started at the end of 1981. We
have yearly maintenance for one month. We made an
inspection on the secondary burner every four years. The
last inspection was on 2005. We did not find any abnormal

The secondary reformer is of traditional design. The burning

area is between the burner through which the process air
passes, and the Catalyst surface, where it mixes with
process gas coming from the primary reformer through the
transferring line at the top of the reformer's side. The
temperature increases at the mixing area at the bottom of the
burner up to 1500 oC, therefore the wall or reformer is
covered with a thick layer of thermal bricks, and the Catalyst
is protected with a layer of Alumina balls. Then the gases
pass from the reformer through the tunnel to the exchanger
101C with 950 oC.
Secondary Reformer Process

Secondary reforming allows the addition of air,

which supplies the nitrogen required for the
ammonia synthesis reaction. The combustion
of hydrogen with oxygen generates the heat
required achieve a very low connection of
methane at the secondary reformer exit.
The Event

On 26/ 6 /2009 at 21:50 while the operator

was inspecting the site at the end of his shift,
he noticed a glowed spot on the flange of
reformer cover. He contacted the shift
engineer. When the shift engineer arrived at
site, the glowed spot expanded and swelled.
The gases penetrated the cover metal, the gas
leaked to the atmosphere causing a very loud
sound at a distance of many kilometers. The
thermal insulation at the top of the reformer
was thrown out.

So that it was obligatory to stop the Ammonia

Plant immediately keeping the operation
stream only in service.
Procedures made to investigate the problem

We continued cooling the reformer and injecting

the Nitrogen for purging the gases out, and
preparing the reformer for maintenance.
Dismantling the flange of reformer 103D (upper
cover). It took one full day, due to the big
difficulty to take the burner out. It was
obligatory to cut up the burner into parts, as
well as the inner lining of the reformer in order
to take them out. It was noticed – after
removing the burner flange – a very big
damage at the top of the reformer such as:
melting the inner lining and the bricks, falling a
melted big lump on the burner. Those melted
lumps on the burner also were cut into pieces,
and they were removed by the cooperation
between the maintenance and production
workers, as well as the inner lining of the
Directly reason of event

Big cracks in the welded area of the burner tube, between cover flange and the process gas
inlet from the primary to secondary.

The process air going out of the big crack in the welding area at the top of the burner,
where became in contact with the process gas resulted in the following reaction:

The temperature exceeded 1500 oC resulting in melting the metallic lining of the upper
reformer and the bricks behind it, destroying the bricks of burner flange, arriving the air to the
flange metal with a very high temperature causing metal melting and expanding it, swelling
like balloons.
So, the gas leaked out in a considerable amount, accompanied with a very loud sound.
Science no flaming happened, then the gas leaked is a process air of 30 bars. This means 2
bars more the pressure of process gas.
Actions taken for maintenance

• maintenance was carried out within 5 days

• Fabricating a new burner from a tube of
seamless type.
• Removing the old bricks and casting new
• Installing a new metal lining.
• Removing the destroyed parts from the
reformer cover and installing new ones with
all accessories.
The reformer was put into service for more
than 4 months, then it was inspected during
the overhaul, it was in a good situation and
no and abnormal observations were found.
Assembly New Burner

•It is preferable to use tube for burner of seamless style.

•To carry out periodical (every 3 years at least) inspection on the burner and
•Carrying out technical inspection on all the welds.
•Monitoring the temperature of the upper reformer, temperature of the cover.
So, to detect any problem at the begging of its occurrence, avoiding any similar