Steam methane reforming is the most common method of hydrogen production relevant for plants in the petroleum upgrading, downstream refining, methanol, and ammonia industries. Owner-operators of steam methane reformer furnaces continue to make repair and replacement decisions that involve the cast outlet manifold fittings. One key part of these plans is assessment of the weldability and remaining life of the cast components. The 20Cr-32Ni-1Nb alloy casting materials typically used in the outlet manifolds are usually operated in the low end of their creep temperature range but are subject to metallurgical aging mechanisms which reduce their ductility, weldability, homogeneity, and fracture toughness. This paper covers the practices employed by several owner-users to optimize the lifecycle costs of the outlet manifold castings. These practices include but are not limited to controlled materials specifications, in-situ weldability tests, non-destructive testing in-situ and destructive testing post service, and repair practices such as annealing heat treatments.
This paper also includes a limited survey of several owner-users and their fleets of reformer heaters. The details in the survey include the population of affected cast manifold components, alloy grades for the castings and welds, operating temperature ranges, number of startup and shutdown cycles, ranges of time in service, generic design details, and repair case studies.
Also discussed are recent improvements in the state of the art for high temperature materials property data-gathering, as well as the structural modeling via Finite Element Methods. These new technologies are opportunities for future work to develop better strategies in the areas of condition assessment, repair planning, and remaining life prediction, taking into account the relevant parameters of installed manifold components, including: specific aging behavior of the casting chemistry, component mechanical design details, as well as the welding and heat treatment parameters during initial fabrication and subsequent maintenance activities.