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Polymer Buildup and Carbon SS Pipe Rupture

  • 1.  Polymer Buildup and Carbon SS Pipe Rupture

    Posted 02-11-2020 13:15
    ​Hello All,

    I wanted to know if under normal operating conditions, without consideration of other factors (e.g. pipe thinning and anti-foulants in the feed, etc.), could polymer buildup cause a carbon SS pipe to burst?

    …To re-word the question, could polymer buildup in a carbon SS pipe alone cause rupture?

    Recommendations to helpful articles/textbooks would be most appreciated. Advanced thank you for your input!

    Christienne Te
    Environmental Investigator - Air Section
    Houston TX

  • 2.  RE: Polymer Buildup and Carbon SS Pipe Rupture

    Posted 02-12-2020 00:02
    Edited by Steve Cutchen 02-12-2020 00:03
    This kind of question is the basis of investigation. Describe the event. Develop the facts as best as you can. Try to develop a hypothesis as to the immediate conditions required to cause the event. What combinations of conditions were required to create enough weakness in the pipe that it would rupture? What could cause the conditions? See if the evidence supports the hypothesis. If not, look for another. If the possibility exists, continue the causes and effects by evaluating the immediate causes; additional hypotheses and analysis, until you conclude what happened.

    Steve Cutchen
    Investigator, retired
    US Chemical Safety Board
    Houston TX

  • 3.  RE: Polymer Buildup and Carbon SS Pipe Rupture

    Posted 02-12-2020 01:57

    Generally, petrochemical industry is prone to polymeric material fouling, simply because most of the feeds, intermediate streams, and products are unsaturated hydrocarbons. Polymer formation and its growth in the pipe and vessel over a period of time could rupture pipe and vessel. For example, butadiene related popcorn polymer is a typical example in the petrochemical industry.

    You may refer to the links for more information:



    Ng H Kiang Lucas PE,CEngSpore
    General Manager
    Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore (private) Limited

  • 4.  RE: Polymer Buildup and Carbon SS Pipe Rupture

    Posted 02-12-2020 08:25
    The first question would be what is the polymer you are interested in.  Not all polymers are the same.  The one that classically is known to cause the rupture of piping and other equipment is "popcorn polymer" which is a form of butadiene polymer.  If you search online there are a number of articles going back many years on this subject.​

    Randolph Smith
    Process Engineer
    Channelview TX

  • 5.  RE: Polymer Buildup and Carbon SS Pipe Rupture

    Posted 02-12-2020 14:17
    Although I wouldn't consider them "normal operating conditions," I've experienced two types of failures that might be relevant.

    In one case, polymer forms and deposits. Beneath the polymer deposit, acidic species are formed or accumulated. Carbon steel pipe walls thin and eventually rupture. If the material of construction is stainless steel, a very strong acid or a chloride-containing species accumulates. If a chloride-containing species is trapped beneath polymer, stainless steel may rupture without appreciable thinning. (This is the only scenario I've experienced in wetted, as well as dry, service.)

    The other case involves high temperature. A polymer deposit may be a good insulator. Exothermic reactions may occur beneath the polymer deposit. Enough fresh reactive material seeps beneath the deposit to maintain heat generation while the insulating provided by the polymer prevents adequate heat removal. Temperature beneath the polymer rises, potentially until the temperature limit of the metal pipe is exceeded. A rupture may follow. (Something similar to this was probably involved in incidents recounted by other respondents.)

    A third possibility comes to mind, but I have no experience with it and I would consider it an unlikely source of failure. That is hydrogen embrittlement.

    If you have an actual incident under investigation, I suggest involving an experienced metallurgist.

    Steven Osborne
    Luling LA