Background of Creative Engineers, Inc.

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Creative Engineers, Inc. (CEI) was formed in 1996 as a chemical process engineering company specializing in alkali metals.

The founders, Richard VanLieshout and Kevin Berry, have extensive experience with potassium, sodium, sodium-potassium alloy (NaK), and potassium superoxide because of their work at Callery Chemical Company (now owned by Ascensus Specialties), where they were responsible for the engineering and operations of all alkali metal processing areas. At the time, Callery Chemical Company was the world’s largest manufacturer of NaK, potassium, and potassium superoxide.

VanLieshout and Berry took this experience and systematized their experience, technology, and project-specific process knowledge for the use of alkali metal remediation in “real-world operational settings” into what is now known as CEI-SHS™.

Seeing a need for specialized alkali metal engineering, Creative Engineers, Inc. was formed. CEI’s engineers have over 50 years combined experience working with NaK, sodium, potassium, and potassium superoxide as process engineers, project engineers, manufacturing managers, and engineering managers.

CEI’s core competency in sodium and the other alkali metals has resulted in numerous organizations hiring us to deal with their alkali metal problems, including remediation of bulk and residual quantities of sodium.  Since 2000, CEI has worked on over 70 projects involving sodium, NaK, lithium, and potassium.  Some relevant highlights of past projects are provided below.

Alkali Metal Experience at Nuclear Facilities

1. Enrico Fermi (Fermi-1), Breeder Reactor, Primary and Secondary Systems Cleanout (1997-2008)

CEI supported Detroit Edison Company in reacting sodium and NaK residues and other un-drainable pools and accumulations throughout the whole of the Enrico Fermi 1 (Fermi-1) breeder reactor system.  Fermi-1 was a three-loop 430 MW demonstration breeder reactor.  It was shut down in the early 1970’s and the bulk of the primary and secondary sodium and NaK was removed in the 1970’s and 1980’s and taken to other sites for future potential re-use.  Components of the primary and secondary systems included the defueled nuclear reactor vessel, primary and secondary reactor pumps, intermediate heat exchangers, steam generators, two large secondary cold traps, six large bulk sodium storage tanks plus a myriad of auxiliary support systems containing sodium and NaK pools and residues.

All equipment and systems were cleaned and rendered sodium and NaK free. The large reactor vessel cleaning was completed in May 2008.

All sodium reaction/passivation work was completed using the superheated steam process except for one small NaK auxiliary system. DTE processed this NaK system using water vapor nitrogen (WVN) process early in decommissioning, however WVN was not used further because of repeated pressure excursions (hammering) and concerns about safety.

As with all project of this scale, problems were encountered, including the inability to pre-heat the reactor vessel to the ideal CEI-SHS™ treatment temperature.  CEI developed a plan for all of these circumstances so that all sodium residuals were safely removed.

One of the achievements of the Fermi-1 project was CEI’s processing of two large (2.6-4.3 m3) cold traps using a heat soak then superheated steam processing and flooding of the vessels with water.

The Fermi-1 project illustrates CEI’s long experience with sodium and NaK deactivation work in the nuclear industry and demonstrates the effectiveness of superheated steam for processing all equipment types.

2. Oak Ridge Explosion NaK Cleanup (2000)

A violent explosion occurred in the Arc Melt furnace at Oak Ridge’s Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The explosion resulted when a force was applied to an accumulation of spilled sodium-potassium alloy (NaK), mineral oil and potassium superoxide lying at the bottom of the furnace. Several serious injuries occurred, and a DOE Type “A” investigation was completed by DOE. After the Type “A” accident investigation was completed, CEI was contracted to:

  • Stabilize the existing situation after the explosion, to assure that no further explosions could occur. This included remediating existing shock-sensitive mixtures. Completion of this activity allowed portions of the area to be re-opened to resume critical production operations which had been suspended for over a year.
  • Safely react all remaining NaK liquid (approximately 1,400 pounds) at the Oak Ridge site. The NaK had been used for two different systems in the Y-12 Arc Melt area.
  • Safely react all remaining NaK residues in the existing tanks, piping, cold traps, vessels, pumps, heat exchangers, and other equipment from the two systems.
  • Chemically decontaminate the Arc Melt area (floors, walls ceiling, overhead cranes, etc.) that were splashed with debris from the explosion. Suspected chemicals in the debris included caustic (sodium and potassium hydroxides), un-reacted NaK, mineral oil, and possibly potassium superoxide.
  • Included in the equipment was a small (15 to 20 gallon) cold trap which was also cleaned. The project work was completed safely and thoroughly to the customer’s satisfaction.
  • The work area was a “radiologically contaminated” facility.

CEI was nominated for “Small Business Contractor of the Year” and received the “Administrator’s Award of Excellence” for this project. 

The project illustrates CEI’s unique experience with NaK and potassium superoxide. One of the reasons CEI was selected for this project was because of their extensive experience with NaK and potassium superoxide.

All NaK processing activities were accomplished using superheated steam.  All NaK was safely converted to hydroxide which was used as a caustic solution in the facility’s wastewater treatment plant.  Work was completed in the year 2000.

3. EBR II

  • CEI cleaned the residual sodium from the primary sodium storage tank at EBR II.
  • The SHS process was used, and the tank was flushed with water at the end to remove the resultant caustic material.
  • The storage tank had not been carbonated in the same manner as the reactor system.
  • The cleaning operation occurred several months before the failed attempt by ANL to clean the EBR II carbonated piping, in which unreacted sodium remained after carbonation caused a violent reaction that ruptured the pipework.  CEI was not involved in this phase of work.
  • There were no incidents during CEI’s work which was limited to the single storage tank.  CEI was invited to participate in the incident review as technical experts after the ANL incindent.

4. FFTF Hanford Nuclear Facility (multiple projects)

  • The reaction of remaining sodium in their CRCTA vessel, a 200 m3 gallon reactor mock-up
  • Processing and cleanup of a fully-loaded sodium cold trap and its economizer
  • Processing and cleanup of remaining sodium residues in two vapor traps
  • Processing and cleanup of remaining NaK from a large auxiliary cooling loop
  • Design of two skid-mounted systems that the FFTF facility will use for the final sodium cleanup at Hanford when funding is resumed
  • Design, fabrication, and operation of a unique “alternating pressure/vacuum” pump for removing the last quantities of sodium from the FFTF reactor. No other company provided a viable design.

5. Oak Ridge National Laboratory

  • Full draining and destruction of the contained NaK from a SNAP nuclear reactor that was taken out of service but still loaded with nuclear fuel.
  • Training of ORNL workers in the safe handling of NaK. Unions rules required ORNL workers to operate the SHS system.
  • The drained NaK, as well as the reactor, were passivated by CEI-SHS™.
  • All NaK was successfully reacted to hydroxides. There was approximately 50 kg of NaK treated.

6. Oak Ridge ETTP (2006)

  • Cleanup of sodium spill and associated caustic spill from a protective shield that occurred when a previous contractor performed the work incorrectly.
  • No CEI-SHS™ was applied to this project, treatment of small quantities of sodium was by weathering.
  • The majority of the sodium had the standing hydrated hydroxide removed from the surface, the sodium dried and packaged into drums.

7. SEFOR (2011 and 2017)

  • First contract was for sodium passivation of secondary side sodium storage tanks, equipment, piping, and other components for the experimental fast breeder reactor in West Fork, Arkansas.
  • Second contract was for sodium passivation of the reactor itself, along with primary side heat exchangers, sodium storage tank, piping, and other components.
  • In each case, all sodium was gathered and placed into the storage tanks and processed by SHS.

8. Argonne National Laboratory

  • Cleanup of remaining lithium and NaK from several components including piping, tanks, and pumps.
  • Water treatment was used along with weathering of the lithium.
  • This work was for a division of the Argonne National Laboratory involved with research of alkali metal systems applied to the nuclear industry although the facility itself was not nuclear.

9. UKAEA, United Kingdom

  • Conducted demonstration tests for processing bulk and residual quantities of NaK, converting them to sodium and potassium hydroxides.
  • Work included small tanks and specially designed piping sections to represent piping at PFR/DFR.
  • All testing was successful and was completed at CEI’s facility using CEI-SHS™ processes.

10. TerraPower, LLC.

  • CEI designed, built, and operated the complete test skid used to gather data on test components to be used on the TP prototype traveling wave reactor.
  • The system consisted of two 500-gallon sodium storage tanks, one EM pump, two EM flow switches, two mass flow meters, one plugging temperature indicator (PTI), several fine metal filters, and all of the valves and instruments required to operate the sodium loop at temperatures in excess of 300 degrees C.
  • Initial testing work was completed in early 2016 and the system was decommissioned and scrapped.
  • CEI-SHS™ was used to clean a portion of the equipment and piping. Other components were cut into small segments and treated by weathering.

Alkali Metal Experience at Non-Nuclear Facilities

CEI has completed a significant amount of work with alkali metals for non-nuclear applications.  Listed below is a brief description of other projects that CEI has led or participated in.

1. NASA, Marshall Space Flight Center

  • Design and fabrication of a skid-mounted alkali metal purification system
  • Design and construction of a customized small, superheated steam system for decontamination and deactivation of alkali metal-contaminated systems.
  • Training of NASA technicians in safe handling of NaK.
  • This work was completed in 2007.
  • The equipment and methods were successfully used by NASA.
  • The Marshall Space Flight Center where the equipment was deployed was a space propulsion R&D center.

2. Australia Magnesium Corporation

  • Drained a large sodium heat transfer system and reacted residual quantities of sodium from a complex network of sodium-contaminated piping, tanks, and heat exchangers using superheated steam processing.
  • Weathering was also employed for small quantities of sodium in small bore piping.
  • Approximately 3,000 kg were treated.

3. ASARCO

  • CEI cleaned (reacted to sodium hydroxide) the contents of a large storage tank bearing approximately 3,000 kg of sodium metal using the superheated steam process
  • Tank temperatures began at ambient due to limitations of the facility and were raised to CEI-SHS temperatures with reaction heat.

4. SARA, Inc. (Scientific Applications and Research Associates Inc.)

  • Worked with SARA, Inc. to test a system to convert ocean wave energy to electricity, using magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) generators that use NaK as the working fluid.
  • CEI was responsible to provide engineering of the NaK systems and provide assistance in decommissioning.
  • A portion of the NaK was processed by CEI-SHS at CEI’s facility.
  • Approximately 500 kg of NaK was involved.

5. Dow Chemical Company

  • NaK was used as a catalyst to produce specialty rubbers. When the system was shut down, CEI reacted the remaining NaK and NaK residues to form hydroxides to clean out the system of tanks and pipelines.
  • Approximately 1000 kg of NaK was transferred, filtered, and converted to hydroxide.
  • All processing was done by CEI-SHS with temperatures as high as 450 deg C

6. ExxonMobil Company

  • CEI completed the final deactivation of suspected accumulation of sodium catalyst in a very large chemical storage tank.
  • SHS was applied for a period of 7 days to deactivate the sodium.
  • Estimated total sodium was 500 kg.

7. Nanoscale Products (NSP)

  • CEI has designed and built several feed systems for feeding sodium as a raw material for the production of high-value metals on the R&D scale. Recovery work often involved high temperature (1000 C) sodium removal techniques and equipment.
  • Work included distillation of sodium.
  • No CEI-SHS™ was applied to this work, weathering and alcohol reaction were utilized.

8. KMR Industries – ongoing production of sodium dispersion (2000-present)

    • Installation and operation of a unit for manufacturing sodium dispersion on CEI’s plant site in New Freedom, PA.
    • Creative Engineers, Inc., as part-owner of KMR Industries, has operated the production facility for manufacturing sodium dispersion for over fifteen years. Sodium dispersion is primarily used in the treatment and remediation of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls).
    • Solid and molten sodium is handled routinely in the manufacturing process.

9. Callery Chemical Company (now Ascensus)

  • Designed, installed, and implemented a bulk NaK production facility which allowed Callery to increase the commercial supply for NaK, and improved the quality such that all NaK met high purity standards.
  • Designed, installed, and implemented a system for safe deactivation of alkali metals (potassium, sodium, and NaK) by reaction with steam to produce potassium and sodium hydroxides and hydrogen. The system was used to react alkali metals in vessels, drums, and shipping cylinders to effect a thorough reaction of the alkali metal.  This system has been safely used for 30+ years for the cleanout of alkali metals with excellent reliability.
  • Upgraded an existing facility for production of potassium metal from 2,000 pounds per day to in excess of 10,000 pounds per day. The potassium production system must be passivated for repairs every six months; this is done by CEI-SHS™ processing.
  • Shipping containers up to 375 kilos were routinely cleaned by CEI-SHS™ reaction including full containers when necessary.

10. SunEdison – decommissioning of a semi-conductor silicon manufacturing facility (2016)

    • Bulk sodium removal from two storage tanks.  CEI designed and operated a drumming station to remove surplus sodium for transfer to another company interested in using that sodium.
    • CEI-SHS™ cleanout of two sodium bulk storage tanks filled with sodium sludge (estimated at 30% of each tank with a combined capacity of over 100,000 kg).  Sodium sludge is sodium with a significant percentage of sodium oxide and calcium oxide present.  The exact composition is unknown but the material is not flowable at 250

      oC due to the large concentration of oxide solids at that temperature.

    • CEI-SHS™ cleanout of several additional large process vessels with a combination of sodium, sodium hydride, mineral oil, and various solvents. 

11. Kemet Blue Powder – Several projects at a tantalum manufacturing facility

      • Reaction of NaK, sodium oxides, and potassium oxides to hydroxides to create a more stable product for disposal.  The metal and the oxides were present in 6 tanks containing mineral oil as the primary constituent.

12. GE Matoon – light bulb manufacturing facility

    • Reaction of potassium drained from special furnaces that used potassium to evenly heat the entire vessel.
    • The drained potassium and the furnace jackets were passivated by CEI-SHS™.  Six furnaces were included in the project.

13. Cabot Corp. – tantalum manufacturing facility

    • CEI built and operated a CEI-SHS™ steam system for Cabot Corporations Supermetals unit.
    • The system was used to deactivate excess sodium and by-product NaK from a refractory metal production process.
    • CEI also conducted cleaning operations to remove sodium from obsolete equipment.

14. Timet-Henderson – Titanium Manufacturing Facility

    • CEI designed and implemented the removal of NaK from a heat transfer loop at a Titanium production facility.  The NaK was stored and later filtered back to a new storage tank.
    • The scrap NaK and old tank were treated by Timet personnel by mixing with salt and slowly exposing to water.  Large amounts of smoke were created as a result.  The total amount treated was estimated at less than 20 kg.  CEI-SHS™ was not used for cost reasons.

15. Timet-Witton (UK) – Titanium Remelt / purification facility

    • CEI managed the reconstruction of 6 large NaK-cooled Vacuum Arc Remelt furnaces for Timet’s UK titanium melting facility.  The work involved removal of the NaK to storage, replacement of the holding tanks, repairs to piping, refill, and commissioning of the six systems.
    • The storage tanks had the residuals passivated by the CEI-SHS™ process.
    • Several other large components from the system were drained and the residuals cleaned by CEI-SHS™. 
    • A seventh furnace was permanently decommissioned.  CEI was responsible to dismantle the NaK containing systems and components of the furnace.

16. Rockwood Lithium – lithium manufacturing company (now Albemarle)

    • CEI designed and operated a lithium purification unit.  The intent of the unit was to achieve a 10-fold reduction of impurities in the lithium.
    • The system operated at 550 deg C and 0.1 millitorr pressure.
    • At the conclusion of testing the system was decommissioned using a combination of techniques.  Note that lithium is much less reactive than sodium, so the treatment options are more extensive.
    • The system included tanks, EM pumps and flow meters, piping, and a distillation column.

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