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Preventing catastrophic failure in manufacturing and wastewater

Digester catastrophic failure investigations


Several owners/operators of anaerobic digesters



About The Project

CNF has undertaken several root cause investigations into the catastrophic failure of anerobic digestors across the wastewater and manufacturing industry sectors. The failures present not only WHS and environmental hazards but can lead to costly plant downtime and extensive repair works.

CNF has noted several similarities in the cause of the incidents:

  • Inadequate, unsuitable or unmaintainable overpressure protections; 
  • Lack of understanding of the processes that can lead to a pressure build up; 
  • Missing tell-tale changes to the processing conditions and spurious methane emissions that indicated process instability.

CNF was responsible for:

  • Site investigations;
  • Reviewing safety, operational and control systems; 
  • Reviewing control system data logs and events;
  • Determining the root cause of the failures;
  • Recommending changes to hardware, process monitoring, control system protection and operational procedures to avert future incidents;
  • Implementing low-cost remedial works to ensure similar plants on the site are protected;
  • Reviewing repair methodology for damaged plant and equipment.

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Major Achievements

  • Identifying the exact causes of each incident.
  • Identifying critical factors that, in combination, led to significant overpressure events and catastrophic structural failure.
  • Identifying control measures that would have averted the overpressure event that resulted in damage.
  • Recommending modifications to hardware and control system design and operational procedures to prevent future incidents.
  • Determining the digestor processing mechanisms responsible for the Rapid Volume Expansion (RVE) events.
  • Identifying common design flaws that rendered existing overpressure controls inadequate, unmaintainable or non-operational.

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