Making Plants “Snake-Safe” with Pyrogel®

By Brian Cahill

January 29, 2019

In this edition of the Aspen Academy Blog we are going to focus on snakes. Yes, great big, venomous, dangerous snakes—the kind that can ruin your day.  You’re probably asking yourself, “What could snakes have to do with thermal insulation?”

Quite a lot, it seems. At the 2009 AIChE Spring Meeting and Global Congress on Process Safety, J.B. Prows delivered a paper1 that addressed the jet fire event at the Huntsman Petrochemical plant in Port Arthur, Texas. Corrosion under insulation (CUI) due to persistently wet insulation was identified at the primary cause of a catastrophic fire in the Light Olefins Unit. The cost of reconstruction exceeded $300m and took 14 months to complete.  The author likened the potential defects caused by CUI to rattlesnakes, which prompted the title Killing Rattlesnakes Before They Bite You.

The metaphor is not lost on the team at Aspen Aerogels. Our Pyrogel high temperature insulation is engineered to provide superior CUI defense, and is required to meet or exceed a host of test standards. So it was with a sense of great satisfaction that we added a new criteria to our qualification—Pyrogel is snake-safe.

During a recent visit to a Central American steam utility (picture a dozen stations and many miles of 12- to 24-inch pipes), we learned that the incumbent fibrous insulation was absorbing water from the environment, leading to rapid degradation of the insulation layer and an associated increase in heat loss to the environment. The unintended consequence of this heat loss? The creation of a warm and welcoming environment for local venomous snakes—rattlesnakes and terciopelo (this one gives us the shivers even typing it). Walking beside the pipe in snake territory was deemed too risky, so the piping inspectors did the obvious thing and walked on the jacketed pipe to avoid being bitten. And who could blame them? Unfortunately, foot traffic on the jacketing exacerbated the damage to the incumbent insulation, making the area even more attractive for the snakes.

Clearly something had to change, and that change was a simple one—replace the fibrous, water-absorbing insulation with Pyrogel.  Why? Pyrogel resists the three enemies of thermal insulation: heat, water, and mechanical abuse.  Heat loss from the pipes was immediately moderated, resulting in the snakes moving on in search of a warmer environment. Workers and inspectors can now walk alongside the pipes without fear of being bitten—a huge safety win. Pyrogel has won its fair share of praise over the years, but we’re so proud to add “Snake-Safe” to the trophy cabinet.

So, while we aren’t herpetologists…and we’re not quite brave enough to come to your facility to wrestle and remove snakes…we’re here for you with a product that can keep your people and plant safe in a variety of ways. To learn more about Pyrogel’s unique CUI defense mechanism, visit our CUI Defense Zone. Or contact us today to find out how Pyrogel can keep your plant safe and dry—and snake-free.

Have you found a unique use for Pyrogel? Tell us about it in the comments section.