Juan Pablo García Zamora
Senior Key Account Manager for the Fireproofing Division
PPG Industries
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View from the Top

The Cutting Edge of Fire Safety

By Pedro Alcalá | Wed, 10/27/2021 - 10:16

Q: What have been the most important changes surrounding safety in the oil and gas industry?

A: The list of global safety and security requirements has continued to grow throughout the last decade. These requirements have been focused on concrete actions that have a tangible impact on decreasing fatalities. Safety requirements in regard to coatings have become robust. Mexico is an industry leader in Latin America in terms of these requirements. Fireproofing requirements from PEMEX, for example, require that all products be certified by at least two global testing protocols. These include the UL1709 Standards in Refineries and Chemical Plants, among them the ASTM E1529 Standard Test Methods for Determining Effects of Large Hydrocarbon Pool Fires on Structural Members and Assemblies. They also include certifications, such as the ISO 22899, which determines the resistance to jet fires of passive fire protection materials. PEMEX demands the fulfillment of these requirements and more for any coating and fireproofing products used in its facilities. This guarantees a window of time in which employees can evacuate those facilities safely in the event of a fire. During this window, these products will certify that the structure will not collapse. 

I have been in the oil and gas industry for 20 years and in the coatings market for 11 years. I have been certified as a Level One coatings inspector by SSPC in Mexico and as a fireproofing inspector by the National Fireproofing Contractors Association (NFCA) in the US. Throughout my career I have seen enormous changes but also faced great challenges. Dos Bocas is undoubtedly the most important challenge of my professional career so far due the project’s unprecedented dimension, even for us as a company this is the biggest project in the world. If I were a professional athlete, I would compare Dos Bocas to the challenge of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. However, I am ready; I survived COVID-19 and beat the virus after 12 days of intubation, so I always say: whatever does not beat you makes you stronger, and I returned from the ashes of that battle to bring to the company’s Protective & Marine Coatings (PMC) division its biggest project in Mexico in over 50 years. 

Q: How does PPG design and develop its fireproofing and coating products?

A: We develop technologies for the oil and gas sector based on structural analysis. This industry works on the basis of steel structures, so we need to work with the physical and chemical properties of all structural elements that are common to this material. We test different thicknesses of coating products to determine how much of our product is necessary to protect these structures. These and other calculations are related to something we call the massivity factor, which is a measure of the ratio of the heated perimeter to the area or mass of the cross-section. Those calculations along with measurements of time determine how long these protections last. Each testing protocol has its own laboratory with its own testing oven, so we send our products out to be tested at each one. These ovens test our products at over 1,000℃ (1832 °F) to simulate fires at hydrocarbon facilities, whether upstream or downstream. 

These products are designed to be tumescent, meaning they expand under these high-temperature conditions. A coating thickness of 10mm will grow several increments of that size to create a carbon shield for the structural material. This is to prevent the metal underneath from reaching the 500℃ to 550℃ (932°F to 1022°F) range, at which point this steel reaches a state of structural failure. These tests are done under a variety of conditions. The steel structures in question are subject to increasing load weights and to elevated temperatures to make sure no unexpected reactions will take place in hydrocarbon worksites. The average protection time that Mexican operators are hoping to achieve is two hours but it can go up to four. 

This process gives us the advantage of generating products that are applicable in all segments of the oil and gas value chain, from upstream to midstream to downstream. This is the case with our Pitt-Char® NX Protection product line. The latest generation of these products is incredibly versatile, which makes us extremely competitive because our competitors manage completely different product lines for different segments of the industry’s value chain, which logistically and in terms of cost puts them at a disadvantage in the market. Pitt-Char® NX also works as an anti-corrosion coating system, so no additional products are necessary to fulfill that function.

Q: What are some of the ways in which PPG’s coating and fireproofing solutions have supported the development of the Dos Bocas refinery project?

A: Our product has already made a significant contribution to making sure that the refinery is as safe as any other facility of its kind in the world. Our coating products can be applied in much thinner thicknesses to be effective, as much as 15 percent thinner, so less bulk of the product needs to be purchased without losing any quality. Our coatings are also much more flexible in terms of their plasticity after being applied. This means that you can coat a section with our product in a workshop or in an external facility and then transport that section to your site without the coating being damaged, cracked or fractured, which is what tends to happen with the products that our competitors offer. If your fireproof coating cracks during construction or installation, you will need to repair and reapply it for it to be effective, which means an additional expense of time and money. In the case of a project with an accelerated time frame, such as Dos Bocas, this is unacceptable. This aspect of our product has been particularly beneficial at Dos Bocas because the project has depended on prefabricated assemblage; after all, the Dos Bocas location is already extremely busy with the Dos Bocas port being not only active but in a state of growth, so most of the coating work is done in off-site fabrication yards and silos. 

Our coatings are also easier to apply, contributing to the project’s efficiency. Our competitors offer products that require multiple turns for application because one half of the coating’s thickness needs to be applied, then it must be allowed to dry off, which takes between eight and 12 hours, before the second half can be applied. The two halves of our coating’s thickness can be applied in the same eight-hour shift.

 

PPG Industries has more than 130 years of experience in the development and supply of paints, coatings and materials. The company serves several industries and operates in more than 70 countries. It specializes in the construction, consumer products, industrial and transportation markets and aftermarkets.

Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Senior Journalist & Industry Analyst