Dry Ice Blasting & Cleaning Blog

Case Study: Refinery Replaces Hand-Cleaning with Dry Ice Blasting

Oil refinery

Learn why one refinery turnaround crew happily relinquished their wire brushes in favor of a much faster and effective cleaning solution

Few cleaning jobs are as difficult as keeping the inside of a petroleum reactor free of the dust and debris that build up as catalyst moves through. The deposits coat the center screens, scallops, and interior walls of the reactors, which rise hundreds of feet above the ground.

The interior narrows as it reaches the top and there are plenty of nooks and crannies where debris collects. Cleaning methods that use water or abrasive media pose a risk of damage to the equipment and require tedious cleanup to remove water and debris left behind, which is like having to do two cleanup projects instead of one.

But eventually, the catalyst debris builds up and the reactor stops performing the way it should. When center screens and scallops get clogged, they begin to lose efficiency.

Hand Cleaning for Refinery Reactors: They Get Clean Eventually

That’s why, as difficult a job as it is, turnaround specialists at a large Gulf Coast refinery didn’t take the risk of letting buildup accumulate. “We usually go in with a wire brush and scrape it off manually,” said one. It works, he said. “It just takes a long time. You’ve got a person in there only cleaning one little narrow strip at a time.”

It takes roughly 48 hours and an immeasurable amount of elbow grease to finish the job, minus the areas that can’t be reached by hand.

Recently, however, the crew decided it was time to give dry ice blasting a try instead. Polar Clean had cleaned some other areas of the refinery with good results the year before.

Dry ice blasting uses a water-free and chemical-free blast that can be adjusted to accommodate surfaces as delicate as an electrical panel. The CO2 pellets used in the blast sublimate on contact, leaving no debris behind. And with the ability to clean 6-8 square feet a minute, it can be dramatically more cost-effective than the manual alternative.

Once convinced, the turnaround team put their wire brushes down and gratefully turned the job over to the Polar Clean team. A little over two 12-hour shifts later, the interior of the reactor was clean and clog-free.

How Polar Clean Did It

Cleaning the interior of refinery reactors with dry ice is faster and more effective than hand cleaning. There are no shortcuts however, for the part of the job that involves accessing the narrow confines of a reactor tower.

The trick? Decades of experience, specialized tools, hundreds of hours of training, and safety certifications that include working at heights, in confined spaces and using supplied air and rescue harnesses. The rest is as easy as, well… it’s hard work but the results are well worth it.

The Results: Cleaner, Faster & An Un-Mourned Collection of Wire Brushes

Dry ice blasting quickly rendered the wire brush method obsolete, especially in the areas that couldn’t be reached before. An out-of-service elevator meant the Polar Clean team also got a spectacular workout in the course of repeatedly navigating the multiple flights of stairs to the top of the reactor.

“I looked at my step counter after one day and I think I had climbed the Empire State Building twice,” said Polar Clean sales engineer Hunter Houser.

The views were pretty spectacular as well. “It was gorgeous until the rain came and we all had to hide,” said Houser.

Dry Ice Blasting for the Win

The real views, however, were to be found inside the reactor shaft. The dust, film and catalyst debris were gone, and the scallop slots were clog-free. Spots that had been unreachable by hand cleaning were free of film and dust.

“I’d recommend it,” the specialist said. “When you’re doing the dry ice blasting, you can get into tighter spots,” he said. “You can get into the corners. It’s cleaner.”

The wire brushes had met their match – a fact the turnaround team was more than happy to concede. “They don’t miss it at all,” said the specialist.

The Polar Clean team will be back. “They did a good job,” the specialist said. “They come in with everything they need. They made sure they got it to our liking. We plan on using them again.”

Expertise for Industrial Cleaning Challenges

To learn more about dry ice blasting and other Polar Clean solutions for your industrial cleaning challenges, contact one of our team members today for a dry ice blasting assessment or a quote. Our work is carefully planned and customized to ensure the highest quality results for a wide array of industries and settings including petrochemical and power plants, food and beverage manufacturing facilities and equipment, restoration projects, and more.

About Polar Clean

Since 2011, facility managers, turnaround managers and restoration professionals have relied on Polar Clean for safe, efficient and mess-free cleaning needed for challenging commercial and industrial environments. Without the collateral damage and containment challenges of hydroblasting and other abrasive cleaning methods, dry ice blasting is ideal for preventive maintenance, shutdowns, emergencies, and restoration – for oil refineries, petrochemical plants, power plants, food processing facilities, manufacturing plants, and more. Polar Clean offers hydroblasting and other abrasive blasting services when they are a better fit. To determine the right cleaning method for your facility, contact Polar Clean for a dry ice blasting assessment.

Contact us to learn more about dry ice blasting for refineries