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Small but mighty

By Chemical Engineering |

    Although sealing technologies rarely make the headline, when they do, its usually for a tragic reason, which demonstrates how important this small component really is. For example, on January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds into its flight, after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed. The seal failure caused a flame leak from the SRB, which impinged upon the adjacent external fuel tank. And, at the Grand Prix 2005, two Formula 1 race cars lost their engines because the fuel barrier was not sealed properly. In the chemical process industries (CPI), seals are among the least expensive components and spend little quality time with the engineer unless they leak or fail. If and when this happens, the results can be financially and environmentally crippling — causing the release of volatile organic contaminants (VOCs), a plant shutdown or, at worst, an explosion. “Fugitive emissions from leaking valves, pumps and flanges in the U.S. have been estimated to be in excess of 300,000 m.t./yr, accounting for about one third of the total organic emissions from chemical plants. This is mirrored in Europe, where VOC emissions from petroleum refineries top 10,000 m.t./yr.…
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