When you think of aluminum, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not chemical storage tanks. The beauty of aluminum is that it is so versatile that there are countless applications most people are unaware of. While we encounter aluminum daily thanks to beverage cans, kitchen appliances and electric devices, this amazing metal impacts our lives in plenty of invisible ways as well.
The petrochemical industry is for the most part unfamiliar to us except when it comes time to pump gasoline into our cars. Aluminum plays a tremendously important role in this industry, from extracting fossil fuels from the ground, transporting them to refinery plants and shipping them to their final destination. Just as significantly, the storage of chemicals often occurs in tanks made from aluminum.
Today we’ll look at how aluminum has affected the petrochemical industry and why it’s critical for the proper storage of hazardous materials. If you are looking for an aluminum storage solution, we’ll also discuss which alloys are the most effective.
What are the advantages of aluminum?
The same attributes that make aluminum popular in many industries is what has made it an indispensable part of the petrochemical industry. Of course, no characteristic may be more important than its natural corrosion resistance.
One of the major factors that must be taken into consideration when dealing with toxic chemicals is how to safely store and transport them. Normal metals, such as standard carbon steel, can’t be used because they will corrode too easily. That’s where aluminum comes in.
Pure aluminum offers good corrosion resistance because it naturally forms an oxide film that strongly bonds to its surface. This is known as a passivation layer, which forms when it encounters oxygen. In fact, if the layer is damaged, it reforms immediately in most environments. When alloyed, aluminum becomes even more corrosion resistant.
Despite this, some of the most popular aluminum (and stainless steel) alloys do not hold up when exposed to harsh conditions, such as marine environments. Thankfully, special alloys have been developed that are able to withstand extreme environments, including those found in the petrochemical industry.
In addition to corrosion resistance, aluminum’s high strength-to-weight ratio is another important factor. Durability is a critical demand of petrochemical applications, where leaks or accidents can have damaging environmental consequences. Due to its strength and durability, aluminum has become an excellent choice for storage tanks. Moreover, since it is lighter than other metals, shipping costs can be reduced. Other benefits of aluminum include its recyclability and excellent hygienic qualities.
Aluminum uses in the chemical industry
We’ve already mentioned one of the most important uses of aluminum in the petrochemical industry is for storage tanks. Such tanks need to be made from highly corrosion resistant alloys that can withstand the caustic effects of many different chemicals. The types of use scenarios for such tanks vary. Some are high-pressure vessels, which have their own strict industry specifications. Other examples include containers to store acetic acid, high-molecular fatty acids, alcohols, fertilizers, ammonium nitrate solutions and other chemicals.
Offshore drilling platforms also rely heavily on aluminum. In this case, the normally reliable corrosion resistance of 6061 and 6063 alloys is frequently adequate, and when high strength is necessary, then alloys such as 2014 and 7075 are good options. Corrosion resistance will be diminished with the latter two grades.
Drill piping is another important use for aluminum. The first experiments with aluminum drill pipe date back to the 1950’s. Its use became extensive for directional wells using turbodrills or electrodrills. Aluminum allowed a meaningful reduction on the forces applied to hoisting equipment, lowering the trip time, reducing hydraulic losses and cutting transportation costs.
With operators having to enter ever more extreme environments, such as far offshore, reducing the weight of all materials is becoming more important. That’s why in the last decade, more and more operators are turning to aluminum wherever possible in order to lower their overall costs, without suffering any performance issues.
What are the most popular alloys for chemical storage tanks?
Across many industries, storage tanks are necessary for holding a variety of organic liquids, non-organic liquids and vapors. When designing and building tanks, engineers must ensure they are durable, safe, and able to withstand corrosion. Typically, most storage tanks you see will meet the American Petroleum Institute API-650 specification in order to maintain their reliability.
You’ll find tanks that range in size from 2 to 60 meters in diameter (or even larger!). When necessary, they can also be built inside containment basins so that if a rupture does occur, there’s another layer of safety. The types of tanks include fixed-roof tanks, floating roof tanks, horizontal tanks, pressure tanks, variable vapor space tanks and liquefied natural gas tanks.
The most popular alloys for chemical industry equipment include the 1ххх, Зххх, and 5ххх series. When strength is especially important, 2ххх and 7ххх are used to provide higher strength, but once again, the corrosion resistance is compromised. You might find almost any alloy somewhere in a petrochemical facility, because such a wide range of applications are necessary.
In particular, the storage containers for chemicals are typically manufactured from highly corrosion resistant alloys. These would include the 1100 and 3003 alloys. For vessels that must withstand high pressures, then two good options for alloys are 5052 or 6063. Certain containers specially made for caustic chemicals such as acetic acid, high-molecular fatty acids, alcohols and others use alloys such as 3003, 6061, 6063 and 5052. Fertilizers that contain ozone will require alloys such as 3004, 5052 or 5454. Ammonium nitrate solutions will be stored in tanks that use alloys including 1100, 3003, 3004, 5050, 5454, 6061 and 6062.
Your Trusted Services Supplier
At Clinton Aluminum, we do more than just provide materials. Our goal is to help our clients through every step of their procurement process. When picking an alloy for a potentially dangerous application such as chemical storage tanks, it’s critical that you get it right the first time. That’s why working with a material supplier who thoroughly understands the industry and can help answer your questions reliably is essential.
Contact us today to speak with one of our experienced sales professionals.