LNG On The Go: GE’s modular liquefied natural gas facility offers field flexibility

Some small-scale liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities can have big problems when it comes to mixing and matching components by different manufacturers.

But GE has come up with a solution designed to make everything uniform, transportable and affordable. The company has developed a completely modular small-scale LNG facility than can be trucked to different locations from its manufacturing location in the Austin, Tex., area.

SMALL-SCALE LNG LIQUEFACTION GE’s small-scale LNG modular plants are built on its wealth of experience in the field. Standardized plug and play designs and a simplified plant control system mean faster plant commissioning times and reduced installation costs. (PHOTO: GE)

“It is fully modular and turnkey,” says David Sherman, an LNG process engineer with GE based in Calgary. “All the modules are designed to be trucked to [the LNG plant] location. There’s a six-acre pad where all of the modules can be pretested as well so that, when the customer makes a purchase, they know that what they’re going to get on location is ready to go – and the risk of cost overruns is, basically, zero.”

Initially, all modules, interconnected piping and cable trays are mechanically fit-tested, and an end-to-end test of the control system is performed. The facility is then disassembled and transported to the field and reassembled for customer use.

“It’ll save money, it’ll reduce emissions and should result in a lower CO2 footprint for all the end users,” says Sherman.

Modules fall within standard road-transportation weight limits and, save for any seasonal restrictions, do not require additional trucking permits to reach remote northern locations. Benefits of using the modules include cost savings due to reduced skilled labour required at the construction site; minimization of heavy equipment on-site; improved quality and safety thanks to standardized fabrication procedures in a factory environment; and faster project execution.

“GE is the only one with a fully-modular system,” Sherman says. “Run 100 truckloads in and you’ve got yourself an operational LNG facility, unlike, stick-built plants. Because everything is all individual modules, you can move it from one site to the next. Because everything is not custom-built or site-specific, it can just be picked up and dropped down someplace else later. So you don’t lose that value [after] making special pipes specific to the site, because it’s all individual modules. It can be picked up and put down anywhere, and plants can be brought online in months instead of years.”

The modules have a steel framework, and gas turbines can be used to drive centrifugal refrigerant compressors. Depending on availability and cost, the whole plant can be powered via a local electrical grid or, in remote locations, a gas-powered turbine or a natural-gas reciprocating engine. For example, if a plant is used to power a natural-gas drilling site, some of the drilled gas could be used as fuel by placing a reciprocating engine on the refrigerant compressor.

“It totally depends on the availability and cost of power” at the site, says Sherman.

Assuming 300,000 gallons per day of LNG production for 355 days per year at a cost of six cents per kilowatt-hour, a GE facility with a pre-cooled mixed refrigerant cycle would have a total annual power cost of US$6.71 million, whereas a facility with a nitrogen expansion cycle would have an annual power cost of US$9.18 million.

All necessary connections, including electrical cable and piping, are contained within the modular structure.

“We have absolutely everything smack down the middle of it,” says Sherman. “We have a specially designed pipe rack, so all the main piping, electrical instrumentation and everything is all on there,” says Sherman, adding individual modules are designed to accommodate cables and pipe, depending on the specific requirement.

“A lot of people have modules, but we have the next step,” he says, referring to the piping, cabling and diagnostics.

GE’s mixed-refrigerant cycle provides more energy efficiency and capital savings that allow for more capital expenditures on other parts of the facility, he adds.

Meanwhile, the all-in-one GE facility and holistic approach allow one control system to run all major equipment, enabling the user to avoid deploying patchwork systems of parts from different manufacturers, which make competing facilities more vulnerable to programming and communication errors.

The GE plant enables the operator to use a single screen to monitor all parts of the plant, and such analytics as heating, cooling and pressure levels, in real time. “Those screens are available to operators on site,” says Sherman. “As well, [the data] can be available to engineers at a firm’s head office.”

The control system can also provide early-detection warnings of problems, and reduce the need to store extra LNG on site in case of a plant outage.

The plants can contain a number of LNG trains to accommodate current and future production, ranging from 25,000 gallons per day to 1.2 million gallons per day. Put in different terms, the GE facilities can accommodate a minimum of 59,000 cubic metres of natural gas per day and up to 2.78 million cubic metres of natural gas per day.

Depending on the GE plant’s power source, emissions are lower than comparable facilities, says Sherman. Access to an electrical grid results in much lower emissions, while GE’s Aeroderivative gas turbines, Jenbacher gas engines and Waukesha engines on refrigerant compressors also produce less carbon dioxide.

“Gas doesn’t need to be pipeline-spec, because we do have [a] pre-treatment up front,” says Sherman.

Currently, rail, mining, remote stationary-power generation and trucking are the main markets for LNG produced at GE small-scale LNG plants. In the case of trucking, some companies are hauling LNG to oil and gas drilling sites for power-generation purposes.

Sherman expects the rail and trucking sectors to be the biggest early adopters of expanded LNG use.

“I think that rail and mining will be large adopters, and once the LNG is available in the space, I can see the adoption probably quadrupling in the next 10 years,” says Sherman, adding remote residential communities are also potential users. “With the oil and remote power-gen, there’s no reason why they all couldn’t be [LNG] users.”

He says LNG chances of being used to power oil and gas operations will depend on the remoteness of the operations and their proximity to compressed-natural-gas processing facilities.

“If you’re over 500 or 1,000 miles [away from a conventional power source], then LNG is the fuel of choice,” says Sherman.

By Monte Stewart


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