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A pressure vessel is a closed container designed to hold gases or liquids at a pressure substantially different from the ambient pressure.
The pressure differential is dangerous and many fatal accidents have occurred in the history of their development and operation. Consequently, their design, manufacture, and operation are regulated by engineering authorities backed by legislation. For these reasons, the definition of a pressure vessel varies from country to country, but involves parameters such as maximum safe operating pressure and temperature.
ASME Code Vessel
A pressure tank connected to a water well and domestic hot water system
A few pressure tanks, here used to hold propane
Pressure vessels are used in a variety of applications in both industry and the private sector. They appear in these sectors as industrial compressed air receivers and domestic hot water storage tanks. Other examples of pressure vessels are diving cylinder, recompression chamber, distillation towers, autoclaves, and many other vessels in mining or oil refineries and petrochemical plants, nuclear reactor vessel, habitat of a space ship, habitat of a submarine, pneumatic reservoir, hydraulic reservoir under pressure, rail vehicle airbrake reservoir, road vehicle airbrake reservoir and storage vessels for liquified gases such as ammonia, chlorine, propane, butane, and LPG.
Pressure vessel features, Shape of a pressure vessel
Pressure vessels may theoretically be almost any shape, but shapes made of sections of spheres, cylinders, and cones are usually employed. A common design is a cylinder with end caps called heads. Head shapes are frequently either hemispherical or dished (torispherical). More complicated shapes have historically been much harder to analyze for safe operation and are usually far more difficult to construct.
Theoretically, a spherical pressure vessel has approximately twice the strength of a cylindrical pressure vessel. However, a spherical shape is tough to manufacture, therefore more expensive, so most pressure vessels are cylindrical with 2:1 semi-elliptical heads or end caps on each end. Smaller pressure vessels are assembled from a pipe and two covers. A disadvantage of these vessels is that greater breadths are more expensive, so that for example the most economic shape of a 1,000 litres (35 cu ft), 250 bars (3,600 psi) pressure vessel might be a breadth of 914.4 millimetres (36 in) and a width of 1,701.8 millimetres (67 in) including the 2:1 semi-elliptical domed end caps.
Steel Pressure Vessel
Theoretically almost any material with good tensile properties that is chemically stable in the chosen application could be employed. However, pressure vessel design codes and application standards (ASME BPVC Section II, EN 13445-2 etc.) contain long lists of approved materials with associated limitations in temperature range.
Many pressure vessels are made of steel. To manufacture a cylindrical or spherical pressure vessel, rolled and possibly forged parts would have to be welded together. Some mechanical properties of steel, achieved by rolling or forging, could be adversely affected by welding, unless special precautions are taken. In addition to adequate mechanical strength, current standards dictate the use of steel with a high impact resistance, especially for vessels used in low temperatures. In applications where carbon steel would suffer corrosion, special corrosion resistant material should also be used.
Some pressure vessels are made of composite materials, such as filament wound composite using carbon fibre held in place with a polymer. Due to the very high tensile strength of carbon fibre these vessels can be very light, but are much more difficult to manufacture. The composite material may be wound around a metal liner, forming a composite overwrapped pressure vessel.
Other very common materials include polymers such as PET in carbonated beverage containers and copper in plumbing.
Pressure vessels may be lined with various metals, ceramics, or polymers to prevent leaking and protect the structure of the vessel from the contained medium. This liner may also carry a significant portion of the pressure load.
No matter what shape it takes, the minimum mass of a pressure vessel scales with the pressure and volume it contains and is inversely proportional to the strength to weight ratio of the construction material (minimum mass decreases as strength increases).
Scaling of stress in walls of vessel
Pressure vessels are held together against the gas pressure due to tensile forces within the walls of the container. The normal (tensile) stress in the walls of the container is proportional to the pressure and radius of the vessel and inversely proportional to the thickness of the walls.Therefore pressure vessels are designed to have a thickness proportional to the radius of tank and the pressure of the tank and inversely proportional to the maximum allowed normal stress of the particular material used in the walls of the container.
Because (for a given pressure) the thickness of the walls scales with the radius of the tank, the mass of a tank (which scales as the length times radius times thickness of the wall for a cylindrical tank) scales with the volume of the gas held (which scales as length times radius squared). The exact formula varies with the tank shape but depends on the density, ρ, and maximum allowable stress σ of the material in addition to the pressure P and volume V of the vessel. (See below for the exact equations for the stress in the walls.)
Design and operation standards
Pressure vessels are designed to operate safely at a specific pressure and temperature, technically referred to as the “Design Pressure” and “Design Temperature”. A vessel that is inadequately designed to handle a high pressure constitutes a very significant safety hazard. Because of that, the design and certification of pressure vessels is governed by design codes such as the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code in North America, the Pressure Equipment Directive of the EU (PED), Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS), CSA B51 in Canada, Australian Standards in Australia and other international standards like Lloyd’s, Germanischer Lloyd, Det Norske Veritas, Société Générale de Surveillance (SGS S.A.), Stoomwezen etc.
Note that where the pressure-volume product is part of a safety standard, any incompressible liquid in the vessel can be excluded as it does not contribute to the potential energy stored in the vessel, so only the volume of the compressible part such as gas is used.
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