Persistence Pays Off

A Koch Fertilizer Enid employee’s belief in a better future state saved the site $350,000 a year and reduced CO2 emissions.
Posted on Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Persevering for more than three years, one Koch Fertilizer Enid employee’s belief in a better future state eventually saved the site more than $350,000 a year and reduced CO2 emissions by more than 7,000 tonnes.

Aaron Beagley (Beeg-lee) joined Koch Fertilizer in Enid, Oklahoma as a fixed equipment planner in 2018. The daily life of a fixed equipment planner consists of reviewing work orders for repairs, making parts lists, estimating manhours and resources needed to complete repairs, and identifying documentation requirements.

Aaron’s daily responsibilities did not include steam trap monitoring, but he didn’t let that stop him when he saw the opportunity to make a major improvement at the plant.

As part of the planning process, Aaron spent a considerable amount of time walking through the plant and checking equipment. About six months into his job, Aaron noticed the facility was losing steam through its steam traps. 

The primary function of a steam trap is to remove condensate from the steam system. When operating correctly, steam traps reduce the amount of natural gas and water needed by reducing steam loss. They can also decrease potential safety hazards, such as reducing the likelihood of ice accumulation in the winter by keeping the plant warmer. 

“I had worked with steam in my previous career," said Aaron. “Through that experience, I learned how expensive it was to lose, which brought the extra steam around the plant to my attention.”

He submitted work orders to replace individual steam traps as he came across them but realized he wasn’t making meaningful progress to fully address the problem.

“That's where I started gathering the idea to build some sort of steam program and monitoring system,” Aaron said.

While Aaron had a basic understanding of steam traps, it wasn’t enough to build a case for a comprehensive steam program. In 2019, Aaron attended a weeklong training course where he learned about technology and software to test and monitor the performance of steam traps.

Humble Beginnings

Following training, Aaron pitched the idea of a steam trap program, but he had two things working against him. First, he had to rely on old data and decision-makers weren’t confident in the estimated steam loss. Additionally, the site had recently completed a major expansion and was focused on running the new production unit reliably; they didn’t have the capacity to take on another major project at the time.

Aaron’s idea was turned down.

“I got a little discouraged after the first time I pitched the idea,” Aaron said. “I didn't touch anything  steam related for six months after that. But I really wanted to make it happen, so I decided to pick it back up.”          

Aaron’s opportunity came when the site focused on making Urea 1 — one of the site’s five production units — more efficient and more reliable.

Aaron estimated the site could save $200,000 by updating the steam traps. He presented his idea to John Reneau, an environmental engineer, who was the reliability center coordinator for Urea 1 at the time.

“It takes courage to bring an idea back, even though you've already been rejected before,” John said. “It took humility to do what Aaron did, and I appreciate his persistence.

“I knew there was an issue, but I didn't know how significant it was until Aaron laid it out and showed the data. The cost savings alone from a steam efficiency standpoint were a no-brainer, but from a winterization standpoint, Aaron’s plan also would help us make sure we didn't have any safety hazards or downtime concerns due to freezing. Those were two significant selling points.”

With John’s approval, Aaron coordinated the new steam trap surveys in Urea 1 as well as the UAN production unit in fall 2020. After surveying all traps in Urea 1, they found 20 percent of the traps were faulty, resulting in an estimated loss of approximately $140,000 per year. The team spent the next few months replacing most of the failed traps and improved Urea 1’s performance.

“Over roughly four months we were able to take Urea 1 from an 80 percent performance rating — which is average — up to a 99 percent performance rating and we lowered our estimated loss to about $38,000,” Aaron said. “We also took UAN from a 71 percent rating up to 99 percent and decreased our estimated loss to about $7,500.” 

Great Success

After the success in the Urea 1 and UAN units, the reliability team was eager to survey and replace faulty steam traps in the remaining production units. By the end of 2021, the site replaced most of its steam traps. Altogether, the new steam traps reduced the site’s estimated loss by more than $350,000 a year. 


Additionally, the site reduced its consumption of natural gas to produce steam in the facility. As of the end of 2021, the site saved more than 139,000 MMBtU — reducing CO2 emissions by an estimated 7,400 tonnes. 

“One value is, of course, the financial savings,” Aaron said. “The other is being good stewards of our resources. We're making our units more efficient and lowering our CO2 emissions.”

Since the project in Enid, Aaron has shared his knowledge and experience with other Koch Fertilizer sites.

“This project has given me the opportunity to work with reliability engineers and others at the Koch Fertilizer facilities,” Aaron said. “The more people I talk to, the more they start to understand the potential savings and other benefits and they seem very eager to do what we’ve done here. It’s been very rewarding for me.”