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Safely changing Altona’s outlook

On a still day in September, the Altona skyline was changed with the removal of the top of the refinery’s 100-metre Thermofor Catalytic Cracker (TCC).

When it was built in the mid ’50s the TCC was the tallest structure in Melbourne.

The tower’s catalytic cracking refining technology was developed by ExxonMobil affiliates during World War II. It changed the refining industry and allowed the production of 100 octane aviation fuel in large quantities, a key factor in supporting the Allied success.

Altona’s TCC was the first of its kind in Australia. It was decommissioned in 1997 when it was replaced with newer, more efficient technology, the Fluidised Catalytic Cracker.

“As we renew the refinery, we need to reclaim the area it takes up so we can put it to better use,” explained the Refinery Maintenance, Reliability and Engineering Manager Andrew Williamson.

The project team began the demolishing work last July.

“To remove the tower itself we are using the World’s largest, free-standing, luffing-jib tower crane,” said Senior Project Manager Paul McNamara. “One of our key tasks in planning the TCC demolition back in 2014 was relocating a family of peregrine falcons.

“Although they had nested in several locations around the refinery, their favourite spot was on the surge separator at the top of the TCC.

“We consulted Victorian Peregrine Project Manager Victor Hurley who recommended a new nesting box on a larger chimney nearby.

“Using design drawings provided by Victor, we installed the new nesting box in 2015 halfway up the chimney with the peregrines’ favourite southeasterly view over the city skyline.”

Photo — The tower crane starts to dismantle the TCC.

On September 9 the TCC Removal Team were able to take advantage of still weather to safely lift the 125 tonne surge separator off the top of the TCC.

“By the end of September we were able to remove the most visible components of the tower slightly ahead of schedule,” said Paul.

“This was a significant milestone as it has reduced the overall risk-profile of the task. However, the coming weeks and months still present significant challenges for the team as we move into the next phase of works.”

Project Executive David Young said that removing the TCC from an operating refinery was a complex engineering endeavour.

“In safely executing what is an intricate, multifaceted demolition job all project personnel have worked impressively as a cohesive unit,” he said.

“We have received excellent support and collaboration from the refinery operations team throughout the extensive planning stage and project execution.”

The Altona Refinery Manager Riccardo Cavallo presented the contractor, McMahon Services, the annual award for Commitment to Continued Safety Performance Improvement.

With the TCC tower gone, this was the peregrine falcon’s first breading season without their favourite nest site.

“I can’t tell you how pleased we all when a drone filmed three grown chicks in their new home,” said Paul.

“On a dollar-per-square-metre basis, this would have to be one of the most expensive apartments in Melbourne.”

Photo — A drone picture of the peregrines in their new home. “In safely executing what is an intricate, multifaceted demolition job all project personnel have worked impressively as a cohesive unit.”
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