Low-Cost Refinery Decarbonization: Tube Tech Robotic Cleaning Boosts Efficiency


For refineries looking for low cost refinery decarbonization and to reduce operating costs, improving energy efficiency is vital. One area that is a priority for optimization is the convection section of fired heaters and furnaces. This series of tubing transfers heat from the combustion gases to the refinery process streams. However, over time fouling from dirty fuel, environment and refractory  can severely impair heat transfer, wasting energy and generating excess CO2 emissions.

Traditionally, two methods have been used to remove this fouling build-up: dry ice blasting and chemical cleaning. Both approaches have drawbacks in terms of cost, downtime, safety, and effectiveness. A new robotic solution from IGS Tube Tech is proving to be a game-changer for low-cost refinery decarbonization.

Dry Ice Limitations

Dry ice blasting uses compressed air to accelerate dry ice particles, the quality of which can vary tremendously and make it difficult and slow to use, to remove the hardened deposits. A person must physically insert the wand between each individual tube bank for cleaning. This is extremely labour-intensive, puts personnel at risk from working at heights or in confined spaces, and typically only cleans a portion of each tube bank. This method rarely achieves more than 30% cleanliness.

Chemical Cleaning Challenges

Chemical cleaning injects solutions into the convection section to soften and dissolve deposits. While effective on some oily deposits, the hazardous chemicals struggle to remove inert products like sand and refractory and the effluent can be difficult to capture or is released into the environment via the stack. Chemical cleaning often leads to refractory damage, by attacking the bond that holds the refractory together, as well as corrosion in the flue gas tract and stack. Efficiency of this method depends on the characteristics of deposits and varies between 20% and 50% effectiveness.

Tube Tech Robotic Advantage

By contrast, Tube Tech’s remote operated vehicle (ROV) system cleans more than 90% of the convection section debris and significantly reduces labour costs. The self-propelled robot uses high pressure water to clean the entire exterior surface of each convection section heat transfer tube thoroughly and safely.

The robotic process allows no-man-entry convection section cleaning. The automated system enables an extremely consistent process, with every tube receiving a full 360-degree clean.

Proven Energy Savings

In real-world deployments at refineries around the globe, Tube Tech’s ROV has delivered average energy savings of more than 4%. In one case study, a refinery achieved a 10% efficiency gain after cleaning just one convection section. The payback period was under six months. Significant CO2 emission reductions were also realized.

With superior cleaning effectiveness and substantial efficiency gains, the Tube Tech ROV system is rapidly becoming the preferred method for low-cost refinery decarbonization by optimizing convection section performance. The automated robotic approach delivers a safe, reliable, and profitable path to emissions reduction.

Find out more about the Tube Tech ROV