Think about acid rain, if you want to get a sense of what the company has accomplished. It’s sort of like what’s currently going on with global warming, a concept transitioning from speculation to reality. “We started learning about acid rain in the early 1970s,” recalls Ken Black, vice president of sales and marketing for the St. Louis-based Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps, commenting about the value his company brought to the world. “We did something about it.”
As with global warming, the acid-rain idea was, at first, blithely dismissed. But it proved to be a real and present danger. As Black indicates, Weir Mineral Lewis Pumps offered technology to mitigate the environmental damage.
A fine line had to be trod. The company’s technology attaches itself to chemicals, which are a necessary element of the production process in many industries. Indeed, chemicals play an important role in the creation of thousands of products that have positively impacted the planet (recall the well-known tagline from a famous company: “Better living through chemistry”).
And here’s where it becomes tricky. Chemicals are organic (did you ever look closely at that periodic chart? Sure, you hated chemistry class, but the elements are as much of our composition as DNA and RNA); but at the same time, playing with chemicals can be risky. They can be highly corrosive, even toxic. And if you’re not careful, chemicals will blow up in your face like a novelty store trick cigar. Only, the results are anything but funny.
Here’s where an entity such as Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps comes in. Pump technology is needed to protect people working with chemicals, as well as to maintain the integrity of the air we breathe. The company addresses the important issues. “We focus on industries involved with sulphur, sulphuric acid and phosphoric acid,” describes Black.
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS
Pumps – and that’s the major product the company purveys – circulate and transfer acid of all concentrations from one piece of equipment to another. In a sulphuric acid plant, two types of pumps predominate: vertical and horizontal – and that’s what Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps offers, along with its valves. “Eventually, we added a valve line used in sulphuric acid applications,” says Black, about this ever diversifying organization. “In the early 1970s we developed butterfly, globe and gate valves for either control purpose within a plant, or for on/off service that isolates equipment for removal.”
Indeed, the organization assumes great responsibility. Consider its pumps. It has made its technology the industry standard, and for good reasons. The resulting leak containment prevents toxic escape into the atmosphere and forestalls hazards to workers. The company’s Lewis® vertical pumps have become not just an industry standard, but a global standard.
As the company describes, combined with material selections to provide maximum corrosion resistance, the hydraulic and mechanical engineering concepts embodied in its pumps assure the operator outstanding performance and reliability in high temperature sulphuric acid, molten sulphur, and other high specific gravity fluid applications.
“As far as markets, we’re focused in mining, fertilizer and oil and gas,” says Black.
For the mining industry, this means off-gas cleaning, to strip out SO2 and SO3 from the off gases at the refineries, or the smelters, Black indicates. SO2 is sulfur dioxide, which includes two oxygen atoms in a molecule. SO3 is sulfur trioxide, which means three oxygen atoms in a molecule.
“For fertilizer industry clients, we provide sulphur pumps for sulphur burner applications, sulphuric acid pumps used in acid plants, and the axial flow pumps used in the phosphoric acid applications for flash cooler and evaporator applications,” continues Black.
In its other major market – oil and gas –Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps works with clients that deploy sulphur recovery units, commonly known as SRUs. “These are designed to extract sulphur out of the oils and gasses processed and refined,” explains Black. “If you look at the tank at the gas stations, they are now providing ultra-low emission fuels, and what has been done is extraction of the sulphur from the fuels, to lower SO2 and SO3 emissions.”
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
“SO3 combines with water in the atmosphere and comes out as H2 SO4, which is sulphuric acid,” says Black.
And that can comprise the toxic rain that can that fall down upon our heads.
Fortunately, we have Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps, a “weatherman” that knows which way the wind blows.
More specifically, the company serves the following markets: metal mining, leaching and pollution control; non-metallic mining, process pumps and pollution control; petroleum and gas production, sulphuric acid alkylation and desulphurization services; chemical process industry, process pumps for sulphuric acid production, elemental sulphur, phosphoric acid production, elemental phosphorous, molten salts, and other corrosive, high specific gravity chemicals; and cargo pumps for the marine industry.
Currently, the company’s technology is deployed in more than 120 countries.
The company is well armed to serve both its clients and the world. It has the experience. Its roots date back to 1891, when it began as Charles S. Lewis & Company Inc. Subsequent decades included important milestones.
In 1914, the emerging organization manufactured its first vertical centrifugal sulphuric acid pump, a date and accomplishment that marked the beginning of a specialization that continues today. Then, building on its own prior experience of manufacturing heavy-duty sulphuric acid pumps, the company began production of vertical submerged molten sulphur pumps in 1940, which resulted from its combined expertise in pump hydraulics, metallurgy and mechanical engineering.
As its name implies, Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps is now part of Weir Minerals, a business committed to offering end-to-end solutions for all mining, transportation, milling, and processing and waste management activities. Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps considers itself more than just a company. It perceives its corporate mission as an ongoing “project,” one that provides comprehensive process solutions designed to meet customers’ technical and commercial challenges, especially within the global mining and minerals processing industry.
But back to capabilities: usage of specialty alloys is something that underscores the products produced by Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps, and this dates back to the 1920s. Moving forward, as a metallurgically-based manufacturer of pumps used in the production of fertilizer acids, Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps began developing alloys for P205 service in 1957. This culminated in its LEWMET® alloy in 1971 for use in high-performance pump components. “The alloy is nickel-chrome based and highly corrosion resistant,” says Black.
Indeed, the LEWMET® alloy range was specifically designed to provide superior erosion resistance combined with outstanding corrosion resistance in the operating environment of contact process sulphuric acid producing plants, according to the company.
Further, the technology – and this company – is versatile. Witnessing the superior performance in the difficult service conditions of the typical absorbing tower circulating pump, plant operators soon recognized the innovation’s problem-solving potential.
This impressive legacy led to an incomparable industry reputation. Today, the company is a leader in the design and manufacture of pumping equipment and valves for the most complex chemical applications.
But it takes more than technology and capabilities to make a successful business; it also takes good business sense, and Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps’ customer service commitment has been a major contributor to its global success. Along with its products, its value-added services have become an industry benchmark. “You can offer the best quality and the most robust heavy duty equipment, but if you can’t back that up with strong customer support, then everything you’ve tried to do means nothing,” comments Black. “And we have a historic track record of excellent customer support.”
Also, success means expanding business boundaries. “We’re venturing into new arenas, the solar energy market, for instance – where we are dealing with molten salt applications,” says Black.
And, again, solar isn’t speculation; it’s reality. In 2011, Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps secured the contract to provide molten salt pumps for the 280-megawatt Solana Generating Station in Gila Bend, Ariz. The project, developed by Abengoa Solar S.A., will be one of the largest concentrating solar thermal power plants in the world when completed. “We’re talking about the largest order in our history as well as the largest salt pump in any recent project,” says Black.
Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps will provide all of the project’s molten salt pumps. The highly engineered centrifugal pumps are an integral part of Solana's Thermal Energy Storage system, which will rely on the Lewis® pumps for circulation. The molten salt system will store enough thermal energy to continue generating electricity for six hours without solar input. Once operational, the plant will produce enough energy to serve 70,000 households.
Also, there’s that environmental element: the project will provide a cleaner energy source, preventing the release of 475,000 tons of carbon dioxide.
Weir Minerals Lewis Pumps will provide the direction.