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High & heavy: a desulfurization column on the move

Reading time: 6 min

It’s only about every ten years that equipment of this magnitude travels on Austrian roads. When transporting such a heavy load, the most important things are energy, time, and good planning.

A special kind of transport


Usually the industrial port in Albern in southeastern Vienna is almost devoid of people. That’s not the case on this Wednesday morning in June. Over 100 people are standing on the bank of the Danube whipping out their camera phones, journalists are looking for a good place to watch the action, and a film team is standing on a platform about 40 meter up in the air. The reason for the excitement lies on a barge: a 25 meter long, 382 tons cylindric desulfurization column. It was manufactured by the company MAN in Deggendorf, Bavaria and then transported on the Danube River to Vienna, where it is now waiting to continue its journey. The trip will end at the OMV refinery in Schwechat, where the column will desulfurize fuel - an environmental measure to reduce emissions caused by traffic.

Extensive preparation and painstaking work

The arrival of this column is not only important for OMV. It is also the first “high & heavy” transport being executed in the new heavy load center at the Port of Vienna in cooperation with the transport company Felbermayr. The planning was accordingly extensive: “We’ve been preparing this project since 2013,” says Christian Jüttner, Engineering Manager at the Schwechat refinery. Even though the destination for the transport from the port in Albern is only a few minutes away, the multi-ton column will be brought to the OMV refinery via an indirect eleven kilometer route. That’s because of a bridge over the highway along the direct route, which wouldn’t bear the weight of the heavy load - comparable to a fully loaded Airbus A380, explains Christian Jüttner. And so this Wednesday morning marks the beginning of a major event on Austria’s roads that will last several days. The column still needs to be moved onto a flatbed truck. “The column has to be optimally positioned for transport, this is an absolutely painstaking process”, says Christian Jüttner. Then that’s it for the first day.

Christian Jüttner Engineering Manager at the Schwechat refinery
Transporting a column like this requires team work: Tight curves are widened with metal plates, motorway closure notices are put up and bridges have to be reinforced – all of this needs to be planned in advance. It goes without saying that it can only be achieved in cooperation with the police, the highway agency and the district authorities.
Christian Jüttner, Engineering Manager, OMV Raffinerie Schwechat

Night Shift


The journey will continue a few days later, for good reason: Many special measures are necessary, since the transport from here on will be on the road. Christian Jüttner: “The transport will take place on the weekend and at night to avoid disrupting traffic as much as possible.” At precisely 10:00 pm on Saturday night, the load leaves the port. Two marked cars with yellow warning lights announce the heavy load, driving in front of and behind the transport vehicle. Behind them are police cars, employees of OMV and Felbermayr, as well as the press. Plenty of spectators also follow the convoy for a stretch or just walk along beside it, since everything happens at a walking pace.

On the home strech


The desulfurization column reaches Mannswörth at about 10:30 pm, blinking, beeping, and buzzing. To make room for the column, street signs were taken down in town, low tree branches removed, and lanterns turned sideways. A crane even lifts up low hanging electrical cables so the column can be driven under them. It’s only a few kilometers from the highway driveway to the east entrance of the refinery, but they are quite challenging. After a short stretch, the truck moves to the opposite lane to drive in the “wrong direction”; the guardrails were temporarily removed to make this possible. The electronic traffic signs are another problem. Eventually these are lifted by a crane and the column can pass by. At around 2:00 am the truck drives through entrance to the refinery, where it is temporarily parked. Until 9:00 am. The next stretch is short as well, but again loaded with challenges. Combined with the flatbed truck, the column is 7 m high: too high for the pipeline bridge that the load has to pass underneath. Therefore, it is laid lengthwise on special tracks and pulled under the pipeline piece by piece. About 20 men are needed for getting it back into the correct position. The column finally reaches its next destination in the evening. Then there’s another break.

Precision work


The final challenge will be tackled a few days later than planned. Construction of the steel giant has to be postponed a couple of days due to bad weather, because this work demands great precision and a lot of patience. Wind would make the lifting process simply impossible. A special self-propelled flatbed truck with a tilting device puts the column in position until the tower lift system takes effect. The column is raised slowly, then it hangs in the air like a giant bottle of water and the gantry crane imperceptibly moves it to its final position, where it will be fitted, set down on the foundation, and fixed with large screws. A general sigh of relief: The desulfurization column has arrived.

Now it’s a waiting game again. The preparation work for installing it in the refinery system will take about half a year. It will finally be put into operation in April 2016 in the course of a routine system stop, so as not to interrupt ongoing operations.

More facts

  • What is the column used for?
    The purpose of the column is to remove the sulfur from the starting products for diesel and kerosene, a key environmental measure to reduce emissions caused by traffic. The presence of sulfur in fuel would pollute the environment and damage car engines. All of the fuel produced at the Schwechat refinery has been sulfur-free since as early as 2004.
  • How does the desulfurization column work?
    Desulfurization is an important stage in processing crude oil. The sulfur is released along with hydrogen from petrol, kerosene and gas oil under 80 bar pressure at temperatures of up to 435 degrees Celsius (815 Fahrenheit).
  • What actually happens at Schwechat refinery?
    The Schwechat refinery is one of Europe’s largest, most cutting-edge, and most complex inland refineries. It has a capacity of 9.6 million tonnes and covers around half of Austria’s demand for mineral oil products. Schwechat supplies district heating to more than 42,000 households and to Vienna International Airport. A dedicated pipeline also runs to the airport and supplies the aircraft with kerosene. Neighboring countries also receive a range of products from Schwechat.
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