Efficient refinery start-up and shutdown durations are vital in establishing prolonged productivity in refineries operating hydrotreating reactors. The benefits of efficient start up and shutdown cycles are extensive, and include considerable operational and cost reduction. Reduced start-up and shutdown cycles, however, require increased heating and cooling rates, which cause higher temperature gradients throughout the reactor vessel, consequently leading to higher thermal stresses, which may affect damage mechanisms and limit reactor’s life. The equipment’s OEM has defined guidelines for the reactor heating and cooling during start-up and shutdown cycles and any attempt to reduce the start-up and shutdown duration is usually limited by these guidelines. It is therefore necessary to carry out an engineering assessment to determine the effect of changing the start-up and shutdown procedures beyond the OEM guidelines on reactor’s life.
Multiple thermo-mechanical Finite Element analyses for a series of different start-up/ shutdown procedures, including the current procedure, were carried out to determine the through-wall thermal gradient and stresses, and identify the most critical locations. In order to estimate convective heat transfer coefficients, Computational Fluid Dynamic (CFD) analysis was utilized to describe the complex fluid flow behavior of the feedstock in the presence of catalysts and internal geometry features. Low Cycle Fatigue (LCF) was adopted as a main damage mechanism to quantify the damage as a result of the changed operating conditions. It was determined that the LCF life calculated in the reactor vessel’s critical damage locations was found to be sufficiently long with respect to the frequency of start/shutdown cycles, even with operating conditions exceeding the OEM limit. Therefore, alternative guidelines were suggested to achieve the time reduction in startup/shutdown operation by increasing ramp rates without compromising structural integrity of the vessel.