You expect problems and glitches in any project, but a Ranch Cryogenics crew faced a more powerful opponent during their recent work on a wastewater treatment facility in South Florida – Hurricane Dorian.
The company had a contract to replace a main condenser in a gaseous oxygen distillation column as Dorian bore down on the Bahamas, one of the most powerful storms ever to spin up on the planet with 185 mph winds.
It appeared to have Florida’s East Coast in its sights over the Labor Day Weekend, which meant complications for the Illinois-based Ranch Cryogenics Incorporated (RCI).
The project involved replacing a main condenser, which had an internal leak and was performing poorly. The main condenser was a 2,000-pound heat exchanger inside an aluminum distillation column, which in turn was inside a steel tank, or cold box
The equipment inside the distillation column was shut down and warmed up to ambient temperature; then the insulation was vacuumed out. The new condenser was installed, the access door on the distillation column was reinstalled, and the equipment was pressure-tested. The access door was put back on the cold box and filled with new Perlite insulation.
It was then purged with warm oxygen until it was completely dry and cooled to – 300 degrees Fahrenheit before getting put back into production.
“That all went well, but they didn’t finish putting it all back together again until the day before the hurricane actually was supposed to hit the area,” said Mike Duffy Jr., RCI President.
“It was hitting the Bahamas, but when it was finally going to start affecting Florida is when they got done.”
“The big thing was we needed to have liquid oxygen delivered in semitrailers to purge it and cool it down.”
The treatment plant’s liquid oxygen vendor was on Merritt Island near Cocoa Beach – with another plant in Orlando – and all of the company’s trucks were being used to deliver product to hospitals in preparation for the storm.
“They figured when the hurricane hit, they wouldn’t be able to travel with these trucks, because they can’t drive the trucks when there are 35 mph winds,” Duffy said.
“So, even after the hurricane was over, we couldn’t get enough oxygen delivered to this place to be able to start it up. We lost about a week.”
The RCI team had the new equipment up and running on 14th September (2019). The wastewater facility had to rely on liquid oxygen deliveries until then.
“There was also concern during the project that holes cut into the cold box would become a “lifting device” in high winds. We had to make sure we closed it up before the winds came,” Duffy said.
Brutal South Florida heat was a factor, as anticipated. But what RCI hadn’t counted on was that the South Florida population was so panicked – with 185 mph winds lurking just off the coast – supermarket shelves were stripped of bottled water.
“There was no water for them to drink while they were working,” Duffy said. They had to rely on Gatorade for a couple of days.
How close did Dorian come to the job site? The center of the hurricane was near Freeport, Bahamas – about 100 miles off the southeast Florida coast – when it stalled out on Labor Day. There were a couple of tense days for residents of the state before Dorian began a northward track.
Winds gusted into the 40-plus mph in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and were as high as 61 mph in Palm Beach County.
“They finished all the welding the day before the winds were supposed to start getting higher,” said Duffy. “It was pretty close.”