June 2000
Pollution Engineering Online


Robot Inspects Navy's Jet Fuel Tanks

By Diane Strzelecki, Contributing Editor

The U.S. Navy's Fleet Industrial Supply Center (FISC) in Jacksonville, Fla., avoided an operational shutdown through use of a technology that allowed the in-service inspection of the center's three jet fuel tanks. Costs for emptying, degassing and cleaning the tanks also were avoided, as were the associated worker exposure hazards. 

Florida regulations specify that aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) are to be inspected according to the American Petroleum Institute's 653 Standard for ongoing inspection intervals, and the center's three 120-foot-diameter, 97,000-barrel jet fuel ASTs were no exception. However, emptying the tanks for a conventional inspection would have impacted U.S. Navy operations for at least two months. 

Kevin Wilson, an environmental compliance manager with Endress + Hauser Systems and Gauging of Norcross, Ga., knew non-compliance was not an option for his U.S. Navy client. Searching on the Internet, he found Solex Robotics Systems, Houston, Texas, developers of the Maverick robotic tank inspection technology. Because the Maverick system is certified for working in Class I, Division 1, Group D environments, or areas with potentially explosive vaporous hydrocarbons, Wilson decided to hire Solex to provide an in-service tank inspection.

The genesis of the Maverick was the "crawler," a tank inspection technology developed by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Originally designed to provide remote inspection of storage tanks containing radioactive waste, the technology was modified to meet critical applications in the petrochemical industry. 

The Maverick system was submerged in each of the FISC tanks. "Walking" along the floor of each tank, the system used sensors and video to perform an inspection. Readings were taken for ultrasonic thickness. Inspection of all three tanks was completed in less than two weeks, without significantly impacting client operations. 

Solex President and CEO Don Hartsell says the cost, environmental impact and energy expended to drain a tank can be high. "Maverick offers an environmentally friendly solution to tank inspections that can save tank operators from $50,000 to as much as $500,000 per tank," says Hartsell. "It is the only commercially accepted technology that is certified to safely inspect in-service aboveground storage tanks containing volatile or potentially explosive fuels." 

Based on calculations developed for DOE, the three inspections prevented the release of more than 3100 tons of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compound emissions. The process saved more than 43 billion Btu that would have been lost or expended to complete a conventional manual inspection. 

Wilson says the project demonstrated the technology's capabilities in an aboveground tank environment. "It did what it was supposed to do without [adversely] impacting the client's operations," he said.



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Pollution Engineering June 01, 2000