Seismic performance of spherical liquid storage tanks: a case study
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Abstract
Spherical storage tanks are widely used for various types of liquids, including hazardous contents, thus requiring suitable and careful design for seismic actions. On this topic, a significant case study is described in this paper, dealing with the dynamic analysis of a spherical storage tank containing butane. The analyses are based on a detailed finite element (FE) model; moreover, a simplified singledegreeoffreedom idealization is also set up and used for verification of the FE results. Particular attention is paid to the influence of sloshing effects and of the soil–structure interaction for which no special provisions are contained in technical codes for this reference case. Sloshing effects are investigated according to the current literature state of the art. An efficient methodology based on an “impulsive–convective” decomposition of the containerfluid motion is adopted for the calculation of the seismic force. With regard to the second point, considering that the tank is founded on piles, soil–structure interaction is taken into account by computing the dynamic impedances. Comparison between seismic action effects, obtained with and without consideration of sloshing and soil–structure interaction, shows a rather important influence of these parameters on the final results. Sloshing effects and soil–structure interaction can produce, for the case at hand, beneficial effects. For soil–structure interaction, this depends on the increase of the fundamental period and of the effective damping of the overall system, which leads to reduced design spectral values.
Keywords
Spherical tank Sloshing Soilstructure interaction FE modeling Seismic behaviorIntroduction
Seismic loading can induce large damages in industrial facilities and their complex components (e.g. Babič and Dolšek 2016; Demartino et al. 2017a, b, c). The loss of the structural integrity of these structures can have severe consequences on the population, the environment and the economy (Krausmann et al. 2010; Rodrigues et al. 2017). Looking at power/chemical/petrochemical plants, storage tank containers are widely employed. These hold liquids, compressed gases or mediums used for the short or longterm storage of heat or cold. Liquid storage tanks and piping systems are considered as critical components of those industrial facilities (Vathi et al. 2017; Bakalis et al. 2017).
The seismic response of tanks has been widely studied in the past, starting from the pioneering studies of Housner (1957, 1963). In particular, Housner (1957) first presented the simplified formulae to compute the dynamic pressures developed on accelerated liquid containers and successively (Housner 1963) studied the dynamic behavior of groundsupported elevated water tanks considering equivalent spring–mass systems. Current practice for the seismic design of storage tanks is mainly based on Appendix E of API 650 (2007) standard and on Eurocode 8 (1998). Generally speaking, there are many different types of equipment used for the storage of liquids and gases. The characteristics of the different tanks adopted mainly depend on: (a) the quantity of fluid being stored, (b) the nature of the fluid, (c) the physical state of the fluid and (d) the temperature and pressure. In industrial plants, gases are usually stored under highpressure, often in liquid form since the volume is largely reduced. Spherical storage is preferred for storage of highpressure fluids. A sphere is usually characterized by even distribution of stresses on the surface and by the smaller surface area per unit volume than any other shapes. These tanks are usually named Horton sphere and are used for storage of compressed gases such as propane, liquefied petroleum gas or butane in a liquid–gas stage.
The seismic analysis of spherical storage tanks requires to account for the fluid–structure interaction and for the soil–structure interaction. The first phenomenon is generated by the presence of a free surface allowing for fluid motions. This phenomenon, referred to as “liquid sloshing”, is generally caused by external tank excitation, and may have a significant influence on the dynamic response (Patkas and Karamanos 2007). The second phenomenon is related to the interaction between the structure and the soil (Mylonakis and Gazetas 2000). In particular, in the case of tanks, EN 19984 with reference to foundations on piles, recognizes the importance of kinematic interaction and the effects of dynamic soil–structure interaction.
For spherical pressure vessels, failure modes include steel yielding (possibly leading to plastic collapse) and buckling (elastic or elastoplastic). Different failure modes exist (e.g., lowcycle fatigue), but yielding and buckling are preeminent. The analysis of the two failure modes is usually done by performing a stress analysis (for yielding) and a stability analysis (for buckling). This paper focuses only on yielding, and shortly deals with buckling. Anyway, for sake of completeness, it should be pointed out that, differently from cylindrical vessels for which different types of buckling can occur under seismic action, directly involving the cylinder (e.g., diamond or elephant foot buckling), in the case of spherical tanks, if provided with a braced lateral loadresisting system, buckling mainly arises in the form of failure of the columns of the supporting system until the vessel becomes unstable (Djermane et al. 2014; Moschonas et al. 2014). With reference to this latter case, Eurocode 3 (2005) classifies cylindrical column sections (which represent the typical crosssection adopted for the supporting system of spherical pressure vessels) in three classes, in relation to the diametertothickness situation ratio. According to this classification, the buckling failure of a column is expected to be caused by local buckling of critical sections for class 2 and 3 sections and by global buckling of the column for class 1 sections.
Although the seismic performance of spherical liquid storage tanks was studied by different authors, little attention has been paid to the assessment of the seismic performances on real cases. Within this framework, the present paper describes an interesting case study concerning the seismic performance of a spherical storage tank containing “butane”. As above underlined, attention is mainly paid to the stress analysis, while the stability analysis is just mentioned since it falls outside the scope of this study. The analysis comprises a sophisticated numerical FE modeling as well as a simplified model for the estimation of the dynamic properties of the tank structure. The paper is organized as follows: First, the steelspherical pressure vessel containing butane adopted for the case study is presented (Sect. "Casestudy"). Sections "Sloshing" and "Soil–structure interaction" describe the mathematical model adopted for accounting for the sloshing and the soil–structure interaction, while Sect. "Fundamental period" focuses on the fundamental period of the structure. Results of the analyses are given in Sect. "Stress analysis" and a parametric analysis is given in Sect. "Sensitivity analysis". Finally, conclusions are given in Sect. "Conclusions".
Case study
Geometrical properties of the spherical vessel
External diameter of the sphere  12.4 m 
Thickness of the sphere walls  0.018 m 
Height of the vertical legs  7.66 m 
External diameter of the vertical leg section  0.495 m 
Thickness of the vertical leg section  0.012 m 
Diameter of the Xbraces  0.033 m 
Width of the base slabs  0.65 m 
Depth of the base slabs  0.65 m 
Height of the base slabs  0.04 m 
Mechanical properties of the spherical vessel
Design strength of sphere steel (f_{d})  310 MPa 
Design strength of vertical legs steel (f_{d})  270 MPa 
Design strength of connections steel (f_{d})  260 MPa 
Design strength of Xbraces steel (f_{d})  290 MPa 

Nominal expected life of the structure: V_{n} = 50 years;

Utilization coefficient of the structure: 4th class (C_{u} = 2);

Reference period for the seismic action: V_{R} = 100 years;

Behavior factor: q = 1.
Seismic zone is identified by the following characteristics: ground type: C; soil type T_{1} (soil factor S = 1.5).

Design ground acceleration for the significant damage requirement (SLV): a_{g} = 0.05 g;

Maximum amplification factor of the acceleration response spectrum: F_{0} = 2.6;

Upper period of the constant acceleration branch of the response spectrum: T _{C} ^{*} = 0.5 s.
The above values are representative of low seismicity areas in Italy (Vanzi et al. 2015).
Sloshing
Seismic design provisions of liquidstorage tanks such as API 650 (2007) and Eurocode 8 (1998) are based on a mechanical springmass analogy initially developed by Graham and Rodriguez (1952), Jacobsen (1949) and Housner (1963) for rigid tanks and by Haroun and Housner (1982) for flexible tanks.
According to this analogy, a tank subjected to a seismic motion may be reduced to a simpler model with lumped masses and springs. More precisely, a portion of the mass of the liquid content (M_{I}) is considered as rigidly connected to the tank walls while the remaining portion (M_{C}) is flexibly attached to the tank walls. The liquid (with mass M_{I}) that synchronizes with the vibration of the tank is called impulsive while the sloshing component of the fluid (with mass M_{C}), generating free surface waves and characterized by its own frequency of vibration, is referred to as the convective component.
In Fig. 1, y_{2} = X (t) represents the motion of the external source, while y_{1} = u_{1} (t) expresses the motion of the liquid mass associated to sloshing.
The total mass M_{T} is split into two parts m_{1} and m_{2}, corresponding to y_{1} and y_{2} and expressing the “convective” or “sloshing” motion (M_{1C}) and “impulsive” motion (M_{I}), respectively.
The above quantities can be computed by utilizing the graphs and the tables reported in (Karamanos 2004), which refer to a spherical tank belonging to the same typology of the one herein analyzed. The procedure can be so summarized: (1) calculating the liquid mass M_{L} on the basis of the fluid level in the tank; (2) calculating the total moving mass M_{T} = M_{L} + M_{tank}, M_{tank} being the mass of the empty tank; (3) deriving the convective mass M_{1C} from Table 4 in (Karamanos 2004); (4) computing the impulsive mass M_{I} = M_{T} − M_{1C}; (5) obtaining the fundamental sloshing period T_{1C} and the fundamental impulsive period T_{I} from Table 8 in (Karamanos 2004). In the same Table 8 also the maximum convective force F_{C,max}, impulsive force F_{I,max}, and the total design force F_{D} for different liquid levels within the sphere are reported. It can be noted that, since sloshing is a lowfrequency motion, the corresponding spectral values are small and as a consequence, the impulsive component of the response prevails. Thus, the maximum seismic design force, i.e., the most unfavorable condition is obtained in corresponding of the maximum possible liquid fill height in the sphere, that is when the fluid mass tends to behave like an impulsive mass and sloshing effects become negligible.
Application to the case study
Dynamic properties of the spherical tank and seismic forces
M_{L} (ton)  M_{tank} (ton)  M_{1C} (ton)  M_{I} (ton)  T_{1C} (s)  T_{I} (s)  S_{A} (T_{1C}), (m/s^{2})  S_{A} (T_{I}) (m/s^{2})  F_{D} (kN)  F_{C,max} (kN)  F_{I,max} (kN) 

511.93  81.52  151.98  441.47  3.33  0.516  0.22  2.05  905.65  334.35  905.03 
From Table 3, by comparing the values of F_{D}, F_{C,max} and F_{I,max}, it can be deduced that the convective component of the fluid motion is negligible. Thus, dynamic spectral analyses were carried out by modeling the liquid mass through its impulsive component only. In this way, an accuracy higher than 99% was obtained.
Fundamental period
 1.
A detailed finite element (FE) model;
 2.
A simplified methodology based on a singledegreeoffreedom (SDOF) inverted pendulum analogy.
The structure was assumed perfectly constrained at the basis, as it will be better clarified in Sect. "Soil–structure interaction".
Stiffness parameters of the inverted pendulum model
k_{3} (N/m)  k_{4} (N/m)  k (N/m) 

2.921 × 10^{7}  3.512 × 10^{7}  6.433 × 10^{7} 
Soil–structure interaction
The analysis of soil–foundation–structure interaction can be carried out by different methods, depending on the part of the system that is examined. These methods can be classified into: (1) analytical, usually referring to simple foundation geometries lying on elastic halfspace; (2) semianalytical, combining analytical formulations for the halfspace with numerical procedures; (3) numerical, usually FEM; (4) simplified discrete models, which allow fast calculation of the foundation–soil–structure system properties.
Discrete models for the analysis of soil–foundation–structure system have been developed by various researchers and are the most used for practice purposes. Focusing on pile foundations, according to these methods, the restraining action of soil is simulated by distributed springs and dashpots which substantially result in the evaluation of dynamic impedances for a single pile foundation.
Different formulations can be found in the literature to calculate the dynamic impedances, depending on various parameters among which the frequency of seismic excitation.
The general expression of a dynamic impedance along an arbitrary degree of freedom is given by: k + iΩc, where k and c represent the foundation stiffness and damping, while Ω is the circular excitation frequency.
Gazetas (1984) also proposed approximate expressions not depending on the excitation frequency of soil.
As to the influence of pile group configuration, in current engineering practice, the dynamic impedances of pile groups are usually estimated using the impedances of a single pile and accounting for the group effect by means of interaction factors (static or dynamic). These group effects, due to the kinematic component of the pilesoil dynamic interaction, are quite small and can be neglected when, as in the case under examination, the ratio E_{p}/E_{s} (L) between the pile and the soil (at the pile extremity) Young’s moduli of elasticity is \(\ll 1000\) (Gazetas et al. 1993).
Application to the case study
As above underlined, in the proposed study, it is possible to refer to single pile impedances, without accounting for the group effects. With reference to the analyzed spherical pressure vessel, the lateral impedance k_{x} of a single pile was calculated by Eqs. (7), (9) and (15), so obtaining comparable values (~ 571,337.5 N/m). The total number of piles is 40. The period resulting from the simplified model described in Sect. "Fundamental period" is equal to 0.87 s. As a consequence, the consideration of soil–structure interaction would be beneficial in this case, leading to a higher value of natural period and to reduced seismic spectral forces. For this reason, this effect was neglected and the vessel was assumed perfectly constrained at the basis.
Stress analysis

Dead load (G_{1});

Internal pressure (P_{i} = 6 bar);

Hydrostatic pressure (P_{H}, due to butane);

Seismic spectral loads in all three directions.
Verifications were carried out in terms of VonMises stresses. The following load combination resulted to be the most unfavorable condition: 1 × G_{1} + 1 × P_{i} + 1 × P_{H} − 1 × Seism X − 0.3 × Seism Y + 0.3 × Seism Z.
Stress verifications (VonMises stresses)
Elements  σ _{eff}  f _{d}  Ratio  Verification 

MPa  MPa  β  
Sphere walls  177.4  310  1.75  Satisfied 
Vertical legs  267.7  270  1.01  Satisfied 
Top vertical legs – Xbraces connections  183.9  260  1.41  Satisfied 
Bottom vertical legs – Xbraces connections  189.6  260  1.37  Satisfied 
Xbraces  193  290  1.50  Satisfied 
It is worth to note that global and local buckling phenomena were also checked. For the case study, buckling safety margins were high, and, for the sake of conciseness, buckling verification is not documented in the paper. Global buckling verification was made on legs, under normal stress and bending moment. The compressed brace within each Xbrace couple was obviously removed from the FE model since its buckling stress is very low. Local buckling verification was made at the maximum compression stress locations in legs, and at legsphere intersection sections. In both cases, local stresses were low and compatible with buckling verifications. It should be noted that this is not a general feature of this type of tanks, and buckling behavior was satisfactory for this case study tank, under the case study seismic action.
Sensitivity analysis
Structural models considered for the sensitivity analysis
Constraint  Xbraces  

Present  Absent  
Perfectly constrained  A  C 
Spherical hinges  B  D 
The described structural schemes allow examining all the configurations that could affect the spherical tank, due for example to an unexpected seismic event or to a malfunctioning of constraints or so far to the development of a plastic mechanism in the Xbraces.
Strength verifications were carried out under the most unfavorable seismic load condition.
Structural models considered for the sensitivity analysis
Model  Fundamental period (s)  Max stress σ_{eff} (MPa)  Max displacement (m) 

A  0.51  268.5  0.0176 
B  0.64  239.2  0.0258 
C  0.68  257.5  0.0287 
D  1.44  268.4  0.0536 
In all the models, maximum VonMises stresses occurred in sphere walls, in the proximity of vertical legs. The sensitivity analysis was aimed at assessing structural safety in case of unexpected behavior of braces and constraints, due to braces and foundation stem yielding. Such behavior could arise for structural properties (e.g., materials; construction details) different from the assumed ones. The analysis showed that the stress level was similar to that computed for model A (the reference one). A further useful result was the estimation of the maximum displacement. This was an important piece of information for verification of the tubes connecting the sphere to the external services. The tubes, in fact, may be torn by displacements incompatible with their flexibility.
Conclusions
In this study, the seismic behavior of a spherical pressure vessel containing butane was analyzed, accounting for the influence of sloshing effects and of the soil–structure interaction. Both a detailed FE model of the spherical tank and a simplified SDOFinverted pendulum model were implemented. It was shown which are the most unfavorable conditions to be considered under sloshing and soil–structure interaction effects: (1) liquid in the sphere up to the “block level”; (2) structure perfectly constrained at the basis. Structural robustness was also checked: plastic mechanisms in the Xbraces or malfunctioning of the base constraints were independently modeled, thus showing structural performance in case of unexpected high (i.e., higher than code design earthquakes) seismic event or malfunctioning of constraints.
In conclusion, a significant case study concerning the seismic behavior of a spherical tank containing butane was presented in this paper. In spite of the limitations due to the uniqueness of the real case object of study, some specific issues dealing with spherical tanks were simultaneously addressed (sloshing, soil–structure interaction, FE modeling), so providing a rational framework for the analysis of such special structures, particularly useful for practical purposes. Whereas the detailed observations may be dependent on the analyzed case study, the broad conclusions, such as the considerations about simplified modeling, sloshing or soil–structure interaction, should apply to many practical cases.
Notes
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