Without pressure equipment in general, and without pressure vessels in particular, the modern life in the industrialized countries would not be possible. In fact this kind of life requires much greater amounts of energy than in the past, which can only be generated with the substantial contribution of pressure equipment.
Up to the first half of the 19 century, the only known forms of energy were human energy, animal’s energy (supplied by horses, donkeys or cattle), wind energy (which moved wind mills and sailing ships) and small amounts of energy taken from water streams moving wooden wheels: while the heat, which is also energy, could be produced only by burning wood or coal.
Well, do you think that our modern way of living could be possible using these old traditional energy sources? It is clear to everybody that the life in the 21st century requires much higher quantities of energy and from sources more easily accessible. Thanks God, today we are able to produce energy and heat with many different and more sophisticated methods: however all of them involve the use of pressure equipment. Hydraulic energy requires pressure pipes to carry the water from basins in the mountains to turbines situated at lower levels; oil can be converted into fuels in petrochemical plants, which are made of pressure vessels and pipes, and fuels are used to generate steam under pressure in thermal power plants, made of pressure vessels, heat exchangers and steam generators. Nuclear reactors are also pressure vessels, where nuclear energy is converted into heat, also used for steam generation; natural gas extracted from the soil is stored and transported into pressure vessels; big chemical plants, always made of pressure vessels and piping, are also used to produce fertilizers for agriculture; steam under pressure is used by different kinds of industries, such as food industry, pharmaceutical industry, paper mills, air conditioning, refrigeration. Wherever you have something heated by steam, or cooled by refrigerant gases, or operated by compressed air, there are pressure vessels, heat exchangers and piping components. In many cases also the so called alternative energies require pressure vessels (like in the thermal solar power plants); and even if we dream of a future made of clean electric vehicles, we must not forget that the electric energy used to replace LPG, diesel and gasoline will always be generated by hydraulic, thermal, nuclear, solar power plants, that is in some kind of plants that cannot operate without pressure equipment.
It is a fact that pressure components are dangerous: if they are not properly designed, manufactured and tested, and if the materials used in their fabrication have not the required characteristics, the risk of explosion, as well as the risk of less catastrophic but always dangerous failures (e.g. fatigue failures, gasket leaks, etc.) is always present. This is the reason why all the industrialized countries have developed laws, standards and regulations concerning pressure equipment, of course with the aim to minimize the risks, but always trying to reduce as much as possible the costs. So the modern trend in pressure equipment technology is to have always better and more reliable materials, fabrication procedures, design and testing methods, while the basic shapes used in the manufacturing industry are practically unchanged: if you compare a drawing of a pressure vessel or a heat exchanger made 40 years ago with a modern drawing made today for a similar piece of equipment, you will probably realize that the differences are really negligible. But if you compare a pressure vessel standard of 40 years ago with a modern pressure vessel standard, you will realize that the size of a modern standard is 4 or 5 times bigger than the size of the old one: and the same proportion exists between a calculation report made today and a calculation report of 40 years ago.
This progressive complication of the standards, particularly of the standards concerning calculation methods, requires a continuous effort from the experts that are working for their preparation and update, who are many times obliged to make theoretical investigations on specific subjects with the support of research activities. This is the reason why in the most important industrialized countries there are institutions working for the coordination of these activities: in U.S.A. there is the Pressure Vessel Research Council (PVRC), in Japan there is the JPVRC; in 1995 the European Commission has encouraged the foundation of EPERC, the European Pressure Equipment Research Council. It would take too much time to tell the story of this institution, that ten years ago counted more than 300 members among individuals and organizations (manufacturers, research organizations, service providers, users, universities, material manufacturers, notified bodies and trade associations), coming from all European countries: it is enough to say that when the decision was taken to convert EPERC from a “de facto” organization, sponsored initially by the Commission, to a “de jure” organization (EPERC-AISBL), that is a legal entity based in Belgium (association internationale sans bût lucratif = international non-profit association) supported by the annual fees of its members, something went wrong, the interest in research activities decreased, as well as the number of members; so that in 2011 the proposal was made to disband it.
Unbelievable! How it is possible that in Europe nobody is interested in research on Pressure Equipment? A small group of old engineers (who spent all their professional lives in the area of Pressure Equipment) did not accept this idea, and are now trying to revitalize EPERC. Well, the efforts and the enthusiasm of these people are now beginning to produce some effect: EPERC-AISBL has now a new operating agent (the British company ETD Consulting), a General Assembly took place in Gent at the end of March, a program of activities has been drafted, new technical task groups (TTGs) have been created. This is the information about EPERC that you can get from the web site: http://www.eperc-aisbl.eu/
Co-ordinate, develop and promote the common technical interests and strategies of European industry with regard to pressure equipment through research in relation to the international context and European institutions.
EPERC areas of research priorities recently defined by its Members are:
If you now look now at the web site of the European Commission:
you will realize that there is a great amount of calls for research activities under the program named “Horizon 2020”. Many of these calls are concerning pressure equipment. The rules of the game are very simple: a group of at least 3 different organizations, coming from different European countries , can submit a research proposal in the context of any one of these calls (see https://ec.europa.eu/research/participants/portal/desktop/en/funding/index.html). But of course, being members of EPERC-AISBL and working in one of the existing TTGs, or, maybe, founding a new TTG, will give a better opportunity to all interested organizations or individuals.
EPERC is organizing a new General Assembly in Brussels (open also to non-members) for the 27th of January 2016. Don’t miss this opportunity!
Dr. Fernando Lidonnici
Vice-Chairman of EPERC-AISBL