Mitigation of Coking in Fired Heater Tubes

76 Submissions
$20,000 USD
Challenge under evaluation

Challenge overview


Can you come up with novel ways to mitigate, prevent, or eliminate coking – 'coke’ is the building up of solid carbon – on fired heater tubes’ internal surfaces?

The Seeker encourages submissions of improved or novel techniques of elimination of coke buildup through on-line or offline cleaning, reduction of coke buildup during operation, or surface treatments/coatings to prevent or reduce coke buildup. These innovative solutions will improve refining processes by improving efficiency and reducing downtime.

In this Challenge, the Seeker encourages intuitive and theoretically-supported ideas and concepts which have not been demonstrated in the past and are reasonably practical to implement in real life: however, if you can submit improved products or services that have been used with evidence of great effect in the field, your submission will be prioritized.

This is a Prize Challenge which requires a written proposal to be submitted and there will be a guaranteed award for at least one submitted solution. By submitting a proposal, the Solver grants the Seeker the right to use any information included in their proposal.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on December 03rd, 2023.

Login or register your interest to start solving!



What is the Wazoku Crowd?

Imagine a world where any problem you have can be looked at by millions of expert, motivated eyes. The Wazoku Crowd makes this possible. With twenty years of experience in crowdsourcing, the Wazoku Crowd is the gold standard for open talent and external innovation solutions. Commercial, governmental and humanitarian organizations engage with the Wazoku Crowd to solve problems that can impact humankind in areas ranging from the environment to medical advancements.

In this Prize Challenge, Solvers may:

  • Submit ideas of their own
  • Submit third-party information that they have the right to use and further, the authority to convey to the Seeker this right with the right to use and develop derivative works
  • Submit information considered in the public domain without any limitations on use
  • However, Solvers should not reveal any confidential information in their submissions.

Submissions are typically about two written pages with sketches/ illustrations, and Seekers receive a non-exclusive, perpetual license to use the information in all submissions.

Find out more about participation in Wazoku Crowd Challenges.




For decades and across many industries, carbon buildup in fired heaters during hydrocarbon heating services interrupts and slows down production – often at considerable cost to the operator and decreased efficiency. In the fired heater tubes used to heat up hydrocarbon feedstocks for refining purposes, the breaking of hydrocarbons results in solid carbon (or coke) buildup inside of these tubes – a process known as “coking”.

The size of the buildup of coke and how often it takes to build up again depends on various factors, including the type of feedstock, temperature used, and operation severity. Coking of these tubes is an ongoing problem in many refinery processes of this type. Not only does it reduce the efficiency of the process but the coke buildup eventually raises temperatures of the tube surfaces close to acceptable ranges with the heater tubes then needing to be cleaned, either through cleaning the heater offline or by using online cleaning (which is less effective).

Taking facilities offline to clean or running at lower loads results in a real dollar value in the millions. Finding better ways to mitigate coking buildup in these facilities will have a massive impact on both efficiency and financial savings across many sectors.

Please find attached a graphic, designed to show conceptual conditions for a fired heater apparatus, for use by Solvers with example temperatures, width examples, and overall structure. This is representative of some fired heaters, not all, and should be used to guide but not completely instruct your solutions.




Mitigating this problem through cleaning coke buildups comes at a cost: either through downtime or by running the fired heaters at lower loads or lower temperatures to accommodate steam cleaning or the use of devices called “pigs”. Coking is currently mitigated through cleaning, including:

  1. Offline “Pigging” – the use of rubber bullets, known as “pigs”, that are driven through the fired heater tubes by water and scrape the carbon deposit from the inside walls.
  2. Offline steam cleaning (or, Steam Air Decoking) –sending steam and air through the tubes helps remove the coke.
  3. Online steam cleaning – performed similar to above but while the heater is in operation and running lower loads. This is not as effective and the heater need to be shut down for offline cleaning later.

There are also several technologies that prevent buildup of carbon or reduce the levels of coking:

  1. Anti-foulant chemicals applied to process feedstock are  claimed to reduce coking but can have negative process impacts downstream: coking buildup reduction in the tubes can result in a changed product quality or the buildup simply occurring on areas of lesser or no application of the antifoulant, including equipment and distillation towers that are downstream of the fired heaters.
  2. Different coating materials are being trialed by the Seeker that claim to reduce the amounts of carbon deposited on tube surfaces. By applying ceramic coatings or metal impregnation, these turn the tubes internal surface into ‘low surface energy’ surfaces that means the carbon particles are less attracted to bond or stick to the tubes as easily. Through this process, the Seeker could increase the time before next cleaning – however, these solutions are currently delicate and could not sustain processes like pigging or last for long under the high metal temperatures that occur from any coke buildup.

Current methods to address and mitigate coking are varied and have not moved the needle enough to make great savings on time or money.



Solvers are asked to provide their mitigating or preventative solutions to improve current processes or explore novel areas of removing coking. Submissions to this Challenge should reduce the speed of coking and make de-coking easier (in order to improve efficiency and reduce downtime) either through improved cleaning practices, effective coatings, improvements to the pigs used, or other innovative solutions.

Solvers are asked to keep in mind that each type of mitigating solution listed above have their own drawbacks. Offline pigging requires downtime, on-line steam cleaning requires either downtime or lower loads, anti-foulants may affect product quality due to breakdown of applied chemicals, different coatings may not be able to sustain pigging due to their thickness, and online pigging would require redesign of the rubber “pigs” used, etc.

For instance, an online pigging solution while the heater is in operation would be of great interest to the Seeker – however the metal temperature during online pigging could range between 1000F – 1300F, too hot for currently-used pig devices.

Solutions and submissions to this Challenge must take into account the Seeker’s desire to continue running their operations within current operating limits. For your information, here are some general statistics and details about the fired heater use by the Seeker organization:

  • Applicability for Coker, Vacuum, and Crude Heaters primarily. Coker heaters in this case will benefit the most and will find faster adoption.
  • Timelines: Fired heaters are taken offline at different intervals depending on their loads.
    • As a broad example, within a 6 month period of use for a fired heater, ~ 2 days might be spent on the use of on-line steam to remove coke from interior tubes.
    • Within a year and a half’s use of a heater with a higher capacity, ~ 10 days might be used on decoking (offline).
    • Pigging (offline) takes place over a minimum of 10 days, where the heater must be shut down, cooled, cleaned, pigging is done, and then heater started up again.
  • Factors affecting speed and amount of buildup: Operation severity and coke buildup depend on the temperature of the hydrocarbon feedstock when inside the tubes, temperature of the feedstock at the inner surface of the tubes, process conditions, and type of feed.

Your submission to this Challenge should improve the current systems used or provide novel approaches by reducing downtime, increasing the efficiency of cleaning processes, eliminating or reducing coking deposits, or by offering other operational improvement.



The Seeker is aware that different hydrocarbon feedstocks have different characteristics in terms of coking propensity. However, the Seeker will not be interested in submissions that suggest replacing the hydrocarbon feed.

Lowering temperatures for online pigging or other cleaning is also not of interest in this Challenge, meaning any online solution must be able to withstand temperatures up to 1300F. However, a lower temperature solution is acceptable if there are no alternate high temperature solutions proposed.

Designs for heater improvements that change the overall size of the heater are also not of interest in this Challenge.



IP Rights required by Seeker: Freedom to use information in all submissions. There is a guaranteed award in this Challenge.

In this Challenge, the Seeker is primarily interested in solutions with the potential to meet the following requirements:

Must have:

  1. Less frequent cleaning of fired heater tubes
    • Currently, an estimated 10 or more days is taking to perform offline pigging, ~ 10 or more days for offline steam cleaning, and ~ 2 or more days for online steam cleaning. These are provided ranges for general knowledge, not as assured certainties – heater designs, qualities, and contexts differ globally.
    • This less frequent cleaning solution requirement could come in the form of online cleaning solutions, extending the time between decoking, or by improving offline cleaning to reduce the downtime or by use of any other methods line anti-foulant chemicals or such.
  2. No impact on product quality downstream or operation of other parts of the plant
    • For instance, some anti-fouling coatings have had impacts on product quality.


  1. Online cleaning solution is preferable in this Challenge, due to the associated costs and efficiency losses during extended downtime for offline cleaning.
  2. If applicable, you could submit novel heater designs for a system that eliminates or minimizes coke buildup by any means or through use of novel concepts.
    1. However, due to the high up-front costs that would be associated with redesigning the whole system, this approach is listed as a nice-to-have, and will not affect evaluation if it is not present in your solution.

Solutions with Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) 1-9 are invited, with ideas about WHAT to do; concepts/solutions with HOW to achieve this; collaboration proposals about existing mature technologies and/or WHO can provide these. The Seeker has a long history of tackling this problem, so priority will be given to higher-stage TRL solutions of ready-made or already-tested solutions to mitigate or eliminate coking.

This is a Prize Challenge, which has the following features:

  1. There is a guaranteed award. The award(s) will be paid to the best submission(s) as solely determined by the Seeker. The total payout will be $20,000, with at least one award being no smaller than $5,000 and no award being smaller than $2,500.
  2. By submitting a proposal, the Solver grants to the Seeker a royalty-free, perpetual, and non-exclusive license to use any information included in this proposal.
  3. The Seeker may also issue ‘Honourable Mention’ recognitions for notable submissions that are not selected for monetary awards.



Please login and register your interest, to complete the submission form.

The submitted proposals must be written in English and should include:

  1. An Abstract and optional conclusion of the proposed solution.
  2. A Detailed Description of the proposed use case that meets the above Solution Requirements, including diagrams where necessary.
  3. A rationale as to why the Solver believes that the proposed technology will achieve the objectives of the Challenge. This rationale should address each of the Solution Requirements as described in the Challenge and be supported with relevant examples or precedents.
  4. Any appropriate supporting data, drawings, etc.
  5. The Seeker may wish to partner with the Solver at the conclusion of the Challenge. Please describe your expertise and include a statement indicating your interest in this opportunity.

Wazoku encourages the use by Solvers of AI approaches to help develop their submissions, though any produced solely with generative AI are not of interest.

Find out more about participation in Wazoku Crowd Challenges.

Submissions to this Challenge must be received by 11:59 PM (US Eastern Time) on December 03rd, 2023.

Late submissions will not be considered.

Your submission will be evaluated by the evaluation team first reviewing the information and content you have submitted at the submission form, with attachments used as additional context to your form submission. Submissions relying solely on attachments will receive less attention from the evaluation team.

After the Challenge submission due date, the Seeker will complete the review process and make a decision with regards to the winning solution(s) according to the timeline in the Challenge header. All Solvers who submit a proposal will be notified about the status of their submissions.

Use the slider to explore how the Challenge process works:


Review & Accept



To start solving this Challenge, log in to the Challenge Center or register as a Solver

Visit the Wazoku Crowd Community to start the conversation