Spray foam that stands up to Mother Nature

Whether it's water, wine, oil, or even grain, savvy business owners protect their assets and the bottom line, by fortifying storage tanks against environmental hazards.

Extreme fluctuations in weather are nothing new to North American business owners. Fargo, ND, for example, has a record high temperature of 114 degrees Farenheit, and a record low of -48 degrees Farenheit ¾ recorded in the same year. These fluctuations may come as no surprise to asset owners, but, they can drastically impact energy costs on storage tanks.

Tank construction

Storage tanks need three main layers to protect goods. The steel wall of the tank protects the contents from environmental conditions such as water, dirt, etc. A layer of insulation prevents the goods from external temperature variations and improves energy efficiency. Lastly, a protective coating shields the insulation from damage and water uptake.

The type of protective outer coating depends on the needs of the business owner, but it may be used to safeguard the tank from different environmental factors — for example damage from nesting birds or the sun's rays. The key to preventing heat from escaping the tank, especially in fluctuating outdoor temperatures, lies in the specialized spray foam insulation.

The high cost of shortcuts

Run-of-the-mill foams can do more harm than good for both the applicator and the end user, mainly because they aren't well suited to tank application. In an effort to cut costs, some companies use roofing foams as a shortcut, even though they offer less protection. These generic foams do not account for fluctuating outdoor temperatures, liquids temperatures inside the tank, or the way those two temperatures interact — which can cause faster corrosion and expensive heating bills.

According to Chris Lacarte, Technical Manager at BASF, oil tanks are the most difficult tanks to spray because of their precise temperature requirements. "Because they're sitting out in the field, they're exposed to extreme temperatures and conditions on the outside, and yet very hot oil on the inside," he says, noting the foam must create a thermal barrier to prevent temperature variations of stored liquids.

As a foam that can be used in a wide range of tank applications, Elastospray 2973 has excellent adhesion to steel substrates and can be applied across a wide temperature range. Additionally, it provides a rise profile that applicators like to see with rapid curing times. “The time between when the material first goes onto the tank as a liquid to when you can touch it without sticking to it, is less than four seconds,” says Lacarte.

In addition to excellent thermal insulation properties and ease of application, the product offers an ultra-smooth surface. “This is a big cost savings for the tank applicators,” adds Lacarte.

When the time comes to apply a protective coating to the outside of the tank, the texture of the foam makes all the difference. If the foam texture is coarse and irregular, applicators need to use more of the higher-cost protective coating to cover the tank surface.

A walk on the wild side

Once applicators have found the right foam to do the job, with a smooth enough surface to keep costs down, they apply the final layer based on the end user's needs.

Companies can (and should) choose the outer coating according to the unique environments where their tanks are situated. They can plan for specific climates, UV protection, bad weather events… and even bovines.

In the US's northern Great Plains, storage tanks are particularly susceptible to interference from cows.

“The cows will walk up to the tank and scratch their backs against the tank,” says Lacarte. “It sounds funny, but this happens all the time, and they'll take all the coatings off the surface because they rub on it that hard.” When animals rub down the layers with their itchy backsides, it ends up costing companies serious money over time.

“All of a sudden you've got exposed foam, and then the cows will keep rubbing on it, and they'll break the foam apart,” explains Lacarte. “It just destroys the performance of the tanks.”

That said, cows aren't the only culprit. Crows, ravens, deer, and other wildlife do their fair share of damage as well. Some animals chew up the outside of the tank, creating patches, or cold spots, on the tank. The heater will keep running, but with inconsistencies in the insulation, heat will start to escape from the tank.

It's a little bit of a premium that pays off very, very quickly once you get it out in the field, and the service life of the tank is just that much better."

Stan Howe

“It's like leaving the door open on your house,” says Lacarte. “It ends up costing you in energy.”

To avoid racking up costs from insulation damage, companies can choose to cover their tanks with a hard coat material that protects against animal damage and UV rays to boot.

“We recommend using a coating over [the tank] that's a little thicker, a little more durable," says Stan Howe, Account Manager at BASF, referring to the Elastocoat® 95540R. “It provides a better back scratch for the animals," he adds jokingly, “and it won't damage the tank."

Although companies will need to shell out a little more money up-front for a durable coating, Lacarte believes it's well worth the investment.

“It's a little bit of a premium that pays off very, very quickly once you get it out in the field, and the service life of the tank is just that much better," he says. “It does pay for itself over the service life of the tank."

What else can companies do to protect their products in the field? For Howe, it's all about making sure the foam and coatings manufacturer provides accurate, reliable technical data to the applicator.

“When the specs are wrong, the metal of the tank gets too cold or too hot, the foam will pop off, and you'll lose your insulation," Howe explains. He adds that when manufacturers fail to back up their numbers with solid test data, “it puts the customer at risk."

From Lacarte's perspective, end users can safeguard their investments simply by staying aware of their specific needs when ordering foam insulation and coatings for the tank applications. Then it's up to the applicator to make sure everything is properly installed.

Elastospray 2973 and Elastocoat 95540 are available in North America. Ask you BASF representative or visit www.performance-materials.basf.us/coatings for more information.

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