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How to solve the problem of refinery lighting

Author : Daniel San Bernardino, Business Developer Manager, Zalux

13 September 2022

Refineries require a very well lit space and as hazardous areas, corners cannot be cut in the lighting process. The harsh environment necessitates high quality lighting to ensure safe operation, but as they are a centre of flammable substances, any installation has to meet stringent requirements. With so many options on offer for operators, and so many factors to consider, choosing the correct luminaire can be a challenge.

Image: Zalux
Image: Zalux

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Ensuring safe operation must be the highest priority and lighting solutions must comply with the strict safety standards in accordance with ATEX and IECEx regulations, or even UL products designed for the US market, as well as the most demanding of end-user specifications. The quality of the equipment should also guarantee its performance in the challenging areas found throughout a refinery facility.

Other issues when selecting an overall lighting installation include the variety of areas in which luminaires need to be fitted, such as storage tanks, cooling towers, walkways, staircases, catwalks, and platforms, both indoor and outdoor, which may have differing requirements and be difficult to reach for maintenance purposes. Luminaires may need to handle extreme temperatures as well as wind, rain, dust, and highly corrosive salt aerosols. Depending on location, they may further be subjected to vibrations, corrosive gases or chemicals, and extreme soiling from dirt, grime, or oil mists. Luminaires should provide extreme dust and impact protection with robust mounting to guarantee performance over long periods. Construction also needs to be resistant to corrosion from sulphur and other chemicals in the atmosphere. Copper-free aluminium alloys will provide greater resistance to chemicals and the resulting corrosion of the luminaire.

Lighting further needs to be at the right level and quality to ensure operators can carry out their tasks safely and efficiently. Above and beyond this, however, energy consumption is an important factor. Refineries operate 24/7 and the operating cost of a lighting solution in terms of energy must be considered as part of the overall cost of an installation.

Digital LED lighting solutions offer significant energy savings, much greater sustainability, longer life, and easier installation and maintenance. Integrated smart solutions, such as DALI and Bluetooth, further enable the control of luminaires in terms of occupancy and daylight levels, with sensors ensuring the light is only on when and where it is needed. But how and why do these units provide such excellent return on investment?

A cost-efficient alternative

Image: Zalux
Image: Zalux

LED is the most sustainable, tested, and proven technology available on the market today. It can reach remarkable levels of efficiency and, with values above 200 lm/W, performs two or even three times better than traditional technologies such as discharge lamps or fluorescence. This equates to a remarkable 50% saving in energy. Combined with the integration of smart technologies to control and configure lighting settings based on sensors detecting luminosity or presence of personnel, a modern lighting solution can nett around 80% operational cost savings compared with traditional lighting technologies. Such technology reduces wasted electricity and means lighting is provided at the level required and only switched on when it is needed. By incorporating the lighting system into a communications network and using simple software, site managers can further begin to understand the behaviour of the lighting and its energy consumption to enable even greater energy efficiencies.

Ensuring robust, reliable, efficient performance

The lifetime of a luminaire depends on a combination of construction materials and design. Glass, a traditional material choice for luminaires, is fragile and has a relatively lower impact resistance compared with more modern materials, such as PMMA. Glass can therefore reduce the life of a product and increase overall maintenance overheads. It is also a much heavier material than PMMA, so traditional luminaires made of glass require more effort during installation and maintenance. In addition, linear luminaires with copolymer covers are lighter than those with aluminium covers.

The lifetime of LED modules within a luminaire are affected by the temperature the module reaches as well as external temperatures. A design that uses a large casing and aluminium profile inside the luminaire will dissipate heat and reduce the internal temperature, thereby extending the life of the unit. Good electrical control will also extend life and reduce temperature. In regions where extreme temperatures are experienced, units need to further offer a wide temperature operating range (at least up to 55ºC) to ensure long, reliable performance. Even then, some lighting fittings can operate in an ambient temperature of 75ºC, such as manufacturers who must to meet Middle East requirements.

Overhead reduction

LED technology offers up to 10 times longer useful life than conventional technology, significantly reducing maintenance overheads and modern luminaires are available as a direct replacement for traditional fluorescent units, making the changeover incredibly straightforward. The use of wireless intelligent controls can further optimise life expectancy and the data collected can enable predictive, rather than time-based, maintenance, while facilitating installation.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Many of the places where luminaires need to be installed may be difficult to reach, adding to maintenance difficulties and increasing safety risks. However, the use of plastic housings (for example, made of PMMA), creates a lightweight solution that is easier to handle and install.

A selection of versatile and easy mounting options, including suspended installation, surface mount brackets, installation in poles or ceilings, will reduce installation costs. Features such as the ability to use existing wiring, necessary EX quick fit accessories, long cables for direct connection to junction boxes, and wireless technology will all help lower the overall cost of a lighting solution.

The unique needs of a refinery

Tank, oil storage, stairs, processing, maintenance, pedestrian, chemical product storage, and warehouse areas all have differing needs and requirements. Finding a single vendor, registered with EPC and end users, that can meet all these requirements, with products approved to relevant safety and end user specifications, reduces the difficulties in installing new, more energy efficient lighting in existing or new refineries. Choosing a manufacturer that also provides comprehensive lighting studies to ensure appropriate lighting in each of the different areas within the refinery will also give greater peace of mind and confidence that the best options are being utilised.

For example, a luminaire installed in an Ex zone 1 tank storage area outdoors, which has staircases and walkways, must provide high quality lighting so operators can safely carry out visual inspections and other maintenance tasks. However, it may be exposed to potential direct sunlight exposure and high temperatures, or maybe high wind and rain, and therefore must be very resistant. Here, PMMA profiles offer excellent chemical resistance, robust construction, and UV protection, as well as wide operating temperatures.

An Ex zone 2 processing area has structures around pipeline areas and, although there may be a ceiling, could still be exposed to dust, dirt and weather. A good solution here would be a luminaire with polycarbonate diffuser with UV protection, with prismatic design for the best light distribution from high ceilings. While a versatile, weatherproof luminaire is needed, intense use of lighting in this area means high efficiency is important and long life will reduce maintenance and cost.

Daniel San Bernardino, Business Developer Manager, Zalux
Daniel San Bernardino, Business Developer Manager, Zalux


Having the correct lighting is so important for the safe operation of the refinery, but each installation has varied and demanding requirements. The wide variety of lighting solutions required throughout a refinery requires a broad range of versatile solutions and options to meet the unique challenges each operating area presents. Having a guarantee from a well-known manufacturer will also offer the assurance refineries need.

About the author:

Daniel San Bernardino is ZALUX Business Developer Manager for hazardous area lighting and EPC projects. He has wide experience in projects for oil & gas, petrochemical and energy applications.

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