What do you think is the biggest enemy when it comes to the modern oil and gas industry? It is an emission. But to be honest, reducing carbon footprints can be quite tough. However, we have to start somewhere right? And that somewhere can be the oil flushing. If you don’t know the term, do not fret. We got you covered. Think of oil flushing as some sort of recycling process. Oil and other lubricants tend to leave sediments inside the machinery over time. These sediments are the biggest culprit that can ruin your machinery and equipment and we don’t want that. That is where the oil flushing services come into the picture.
As the name suggests, it helps to flush out the old and degraded oil and other sediments, ultimately helping the machinery to perform well for a long time.
Let us take a closer look at the oil-flushing and how it can literally change your maintenance landscape.
Due to worries about climate change, the oil and gas industry faces a lot of pressure to cut down on its carbon emissions. A report from the IEA in 2023 found that in 2022, activities like producing, moving, and processing oil and gas released a massive 5.1 billion tons of CO2. The report says we could reduce these emissions by 60% by 2030 by doing different things, like oil flushing.
Doing regular oil flushing is a smart move because it gets rid of old, dirty oil, sludge, and other stuff that shouldn’t be there. This helps make the oil work at its best, which makes the equipment work better and reduces carbon emissions. Plus, since oil prices are really high right now, it’s essential to get the most out of your oil. So, making oil flushing a standard practice just makes good sense, both for your business and the environment.
Now that we’ve seen how important it is to cut emissions in the oil and gas industry, let’s explore the science behind why oil flushing isn’t just an option but a must-do.
When oil starts to break down, it creates acids, varnishes, and sludge-like deposits. These contaminants and byproducts speed up the breakdown of new oil that’s added to the system.
Having a well-organized oil analysis program can help maintain stable conditions inside the machinery and prevent the need for a flush. But in most cases, flushes happen when maintenance isn’t done right or gets skipped altogether. Occasionally, flushing becomes necessary when machines get contaminated with things like glycol or soot from foreign sources.
The key point here is that when you let worn-out oil and contaminants stick around on equipment surfaces, it gradually makes the system work less effectively. This, in turn, harms the overall health and reliability of the equipment.
Now that we’ve got a grasp of the science behind oil flushing, let’s dive into how we can put this knowledge into action. What techniques can we use to make sure oil flushing is done effectively? Let’s find out.
There might be a need to use several techniques and combinations of methods, depending on things like how contaminated the oil is, how thick it is, how complicated the system is, and what results you want to achieve:
Several techniques and combinations might be necessary based on factors like contamination levels, oil viscosity, system complexity, and desired outcomes:
- Draw-down Oil Flush – This method involves draining the oil and refilling it multiple times to dilute contaminants. It works well for minor water contamination but may not be as effective for removing sludge.
- Mechanical Cleaning – In cases with extensive carbonaceous deposits caused by high temperatures, physically scrubbing deposits using brushes becomes necessary.
- Solvent or Chemical Cleaning – Flushing oil with specific solvents can quickly remove stubborn varnishes and deposits. However, solvents like kerosene pose fire hazards and require extensive safety precautions.
- Flushing Through Offline Filtration – This approach entails repeatedly circulating oil through external filtration systems to remove particulates. It’s relatively slow but highly effective for large, complex systems.
- High-Velocity Flush – Achieving high oil velocities creates a turbulent flow that can dislodge and suspend contaminants. This method works best in systems with minimal flow restrictions and few piping dead ends.
- Reverse-Flow Flush – Cyclically reversing the direction of oil flow helps dislodge contaminants from hard-to-reach areas that standard unidirectional flow may miss.
- Intermediate Flushing Fluid – Temporarily using a lighter oil can help release deposits during an oil-type switch. This prevents freed contaminants from settling again when new oil is introduced.
Having dissected the various techniques, it’s crucial to understand the risks of ignoring this essential maintenance step. Let’s examine what could go wrong if oil flushing is overlooked.
When you don’t perform oil flushing, acidic compounds, soot, metal particles, and other contaminants build up and become more concentrated over time. Eventually, the oil deteriorates into a semi-solid, gel-like sludge, which can:
- Foul valves can cause leaks or make them get stuck.
- Clogging of oil filters and screens, reducing their effectiveness.
- Accumulation of oily deposits on heat transfer surfaces, hindering their performance.
- Increased wear and tear on machinery due to inadequate lubrication.
- Breaching mandated emissions limits, resulting in environmental compliance issues.
This gradual decline in system efficiency results in less-than-optimal asset performance and, in the end, unexpected downtime. Dealing with reactive repairs caused by these failures tends to be both more disruptive and costly.
Clearly, when oil quality is compromised, it significantly reduces operational reliability and the lifespan of equipment. So, how does oil flushing offer an economic advantage?
Although oil flushing involves an initial investment, it pays off with long-term benefits:
- Extending oil drain intervals by eliminating degradation byproducts.
- Enhancing heat transfer by preventing insulating varnish deposits.
- Decreasing abrasive wear through the removal of particulates.
- Reducing energy consumption due to decreased fluid friction.
- Preventing collateral damage resulting from component failures.
- Maximizing the utilization of costly synthetic oils.
Case studies have shown that flushing turbine oil extended the time between oil change outs from 8,000 hours to over 50,000 hours. The resulting savings from reduced oil consumption and maintenance expenses provided a return on investment (ROI) within just two years.
Actively keeping your oil in great shape through regular flushing saves you money and makes your equipment more reliable.
To sum it up, neglecting oil flushing is like putting off regular oil changes in your car. It inevitably results in more wear and tear, breakdowns, and costly repair bills.
1. Is oil flushing really necessary for all types of equipment?
Mission-critical assets with high-viscosity lubricants like turbines, hydraulics, gears, and compressors derive maximum benefit from periodic oil flushing. The need is lower for equipment with easily replaceable oil like gasoline or diesel engines.
2. What are the health and safety risks associated with chemical cleaning?
Solvents such as kerosene are highly flammable and require careful handling. Operators must use proper PPE and ensure adequate ventilation to avoid vapor inhalation. Acute toxicity is a significant concern with certain caustic chemical cleaners that can cause burns.
3. How often should oil flushing be conducted?
General guidelines are once annually or every 2-3 years for turbines, and 3-5 years for hydraulic and lube systems. Usage patterns dictate ideal frequency. Periodic oil analyses help detect contamination levels that call for earlier flushing.
Oil flushing is an essential maintenance process that helps extend the life of equipment while ensuring it runs efficiently, reliably, and safely. The lasting advantages, such as reduced energy use, less downtime, and lower maintenance expenses, offer significant returns on investment. Flushing brings back oil quality and prevents irreversible damage to critical parts.
For the oil and gas industry, it’s crucial to make oil flushing a standard proactive practice, rather than a reactive measure of last resort. Operators need to use the right techniques tailored to their equipment to get the most out of their investment. By effectively incorporating oil flushing into their asset management plans, they can boost their bottom line by enhancing performance, productivity, and sustainability.