Helping to solve process problems and install equipment and technology solutions is always great fun. I’ve had forty plus years now meeting these challenges in the chemical, pharma, energy, environmental, and water industries. Now, I’m involved in battery materials processing too!  Throughout all these experiences, sometimes the task is mothballing or decommissioning plants. This could be as a result of market conditions, economic forces, or simple process obsolescence. It’s sad to see a plant go, but it is important to prioritize safety.

In one case, for a broad-spectrum antibiotic, I worked with the client’s team in the lab, on the pilot plant, and finally in the equipment specification, purchase and install for 3+ years. The client was positive of the FDA approval, so they constructed the plant, in advance, to get the antibiotic to market once approved. Unfortunately, the drug failed the Phase 3 Clinical Trials. We then worked with the client to mothball the facility. Fortunately, it was eventually restarted for a much more successful outcome.

In another case of chemical plant decommissioning, the market for the product changed from North America to Asia. The client decided to decommission the plant I’d worked on and move all the technology to Asia.

Actually, the more I think about this topic, the more examples I can find. But one essential thing is the same — It takes careful planning to mothball or dismantle / decommission  a plant.

Decommissioning Plants Safely

In my recent article in Chemical Processing, Safely Decommission And Decontaminate Plants, co-authored with Vinay Devgon, retired Technology Director from Bayer CropScience, we cover the steps for mothballing and dismantling. We explain that the same manner of organizing and executing is required in decommissioning plants as is seen in a design-and-construction project. There also needs to be a  special emphasis on personnel safety and environmental compliance.

It can be hard and sad to demolish equipment. While it is only a mechanical part, personnel become attached to the equipment and remember the good production days and the difficult troubleshooting nights. But, sometimes it has to be done

At the end of the process, discussed in more detail in the article, there should be a final project report. Seek to capture any lessons learned that could be helpful to engineers in the future. Remember, a plant closure / demolition means that a new plant / process is being built and developed. So, looking on the bright side, the integration and optimization will begin again.

This blog and the related article are excerpted from my new book, Integration and Optimization of Unit Operations. Find more industry-focused insights on my P&ID website. In the meantime, if you need assistance with dismantling, mothballing, or decommissioning of a process or plant, Vinay and I are ready to assist you.