Stainless steel is an amazing metal that has transformed nearly every industry since it’s development more than a century ago. From the medical to aerospace industries, the revolutionary metal has boosted technological advancements and made previously impossible achievements a regular, everyday occurrence. One popular category of production that often doesn’t get as much attention as others when it comes to stainless steel is the chemical, processing, and oil & gas industries.
The truth is that because of the hazardous materials that are commonplace in these industries, ordinary metals, including carbon steel, are unable to withstand the constant exposure that they would face. Without a cheap, sustainable alternative that has the durability to resist highly toxic chemicals and corrosive liquids the costs of manufacturing would be exorbitantly high. Fortunately, stainless steel alloys provide the perfect solution.
At Clinton Aluminum, our technical professionals have decades of experience working closely with clients in the chemical, processing, and oil & gas industries. We know the challenges they face, both at a technical level and from outside competitive pressures. Our goal is to help our customers procure the right alloy for their application in order to help them succeed.
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What makes stainless steel the best choice for corrosive environments?
Stainless steel has a number of advantages over carbon steel (and most other metals for that matter) that make it an ideal choice when working with highly corrosive substances. First among these is the metal’s tremendous corrosion resistance, which is where the metal gets its name. While not truly stainless, even the most basic stainless steel alloys have a remarkable ability to withstand the elements and maintain their shine.
This is due to the metal’s chemical makeup. Unlike carbon steel, which will rust very easily with even minimal exposure to oxygen and water, stainless steel possesses a microscopically thin surface film made up of chromium oxide. The key to this process is the chromium, the integral ingredient to stainless steel, which allows the metal to undergo passivation. This is a reaction between oxygen and the metal’s surface that forms the protective film to prevent corrosion. Even more amazing, the passivation layer is self-repairing, lending it an increased durability.
In addition to its ability to withstand standard corrosion, stainless steel also offers protection against other types of corrosion, such as stress corrosion cracking and galvanic corrosion. Certain alloys even offer the ability to endure in marine environments, an important consideration in the oil & gas industry, which is frequently involved in deep sea drilling.
Stainless steel possesses a number of other positive attributes that allow it to exist in an abrasive environment. First of all, stainless steel exhibits the same, or even greater, strength to weight ratio as traditional carbon steel. In fact, stainless steel typically has a higher tensile strength than mild steels. This strength extends to high temperatures, especially with alloys that contain silicon. At the other end of the temperature scale, stainless steel also offers decent cryogenic resistance.
Another benefit of stainless steel is its ability to be cold worked. When processed in this way, various alloys can receive an even greater boost to their strength. Combine this with the high ductility of austenitic alloys, and you have a very versatile, highly durable metal that is among the strongest available on the market at a reasonable price point.
Strength and durability are critical attributes when dealing with toxic materials, especially in fragile natural environments. An unexpected material failure might prove both costly and devastating.
What types of applications in the oil & gas industry rely on stainless steel?
The basic process of oil & gas production and refining involves extracting the resource from underground or under the ocean through high pressure tubing, then feeding it through piping into a separator vessel. The oil will then be transported through a pipeline to the refinery, while natural gas will be refined at the extraction site. At every step of this process strong, durable metals are required.
More and more often the industry is turning to high performance stainless steels, such as duplex alloys, which are able to compete with titanium and other rare metals on both performance and price. Stainless steel can be found in piping systems, separators, scrubbers, pumps, manifolds, heat exchangers, flowlines, and storage tanks.
What about the chemical and processing industries?
The same attributes that make stainless steel so coveted in the oil & gas industry also apply in other highly corrosive environments. Chemical companies must also deal with storing and transporting caustic materials where safety and durability are paramount.
Every chemical plant will likely have dangerous acids and oxidizers that can prove extremely damaging to ordinary metals. That’s not to mention the cleaning materials, such as a bleach wash, that will be used on a daily basis. That’s why stainless steel is so often used in chemical storage tanks, pumps, piping, and especially in the filter and seamless pipe combination.
What about cleaning stainless steel in a corrosive environment?
Proper cleaning techniques are essential in industries that involve dangerous chemicals and other hazardous substances. Not only will thorough cleaning help maintain the safety of employees and the environment, but it will also help lengthen the lifetime of the metal structures and equipment used in the plant.
Good practices include establishing a regular cleaning schedule, which can often help prevent corrosion before it starts. You should always avoid steam cleaning stainless steel surfaces, as this will deposit particulates on the metal, which can lead to contamination. Part of long-term care is also to resurface the metal when needed. At the same time, avoid abrasions on the surface, which can lead to increased roughness.
When it comes to the long term care of stainless steel equipment and structures, Clinton Aluminum can help. We have the ability to tap into the resources of our supplier network and bring their expertise to bear on any application issues the market presents. Picking the right material at the start can help prevent headaches down the road and of course save money.
Contact one of our friendly and knowledgeable technical professionals today to learn more.