An explosion occurred within the hydrogen processing system of a chemical plant that produces sodium chlorate for bleaching pulp and paper. The chemical process utilizes electrolytic cells and is pH-dependent. Hydrogen is produced as a byproduct and is utilized as a fuel.

At the time of the incident, the plant was at an abnormal operating level of 25% capacity. A non-routine maintenance operation to repair high-pH liquid piping was in progress. To assist, operations personnel rerouted the high-pH liquid stream to the plant sump. However, in doing this, the liquid eventually made its way back into the electrolytic process by design. Ultimately this created the root cause of the explosive condition in that the pH of the electrolytic process increased faster than the computer- view more

Overview

The catalyst in a dehydrogenation reactor, which was usually operated under a hydrogen atmosphere, was changed while the reactor was isolated from the peripheral equipment by closing a 20-inch remotely controlled valve. The hydrogen pressure in the peripheral equipment was set at 20 KPaG, and the reactor was opened to the atmosphere. Anticipating some hydrogen leakage, suction from the piping was accomplished with a vacuum device and, nitrogen sealing was performed. When the piping connections were restored after changing the catalyst, flames spouted from the flange clearance and two workers were burned. One cause of the fire was poor management of the catalyst replacement process.

Incident Synopsis

A catalyst exchange was carried out in a dehydrogenation view more