A Good Thing In A Small Package

Turning waste gas into a revenue stream

Concerned about the impact of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the Alberta Energy Regulator says it plans to come out with new rules for upstream flaring and venting, which are on the increase because of growth in crude oil and bitumen production and low gas prices, which make it uneconomic to conserve the gas.

Flaring is a controlled burning of natural gas, while venting is the release of natural gas. They release GHGs, CO2, sulphur dioxide and methane into the atmosphere.

Alberta has had flaring restrictions for many years, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are phasing them in, and Manitoba is evaluating the practice, says Brad Barton, operations engineer at Vancouver-based ME Resource Corp. (MEC).

MEC is developing a way to process waste natural gas, such as vented, flared or stranded gas, into electri­city and fuel, including no-sulphur diesel and diluents. The solution is its micro-refinery unit (MRU), says MEC.

“We have built a micro-refinery unit that can take under-valued gas, and that’s gas that’s stranded, shut in, wasted, flared, vented—associated gases—and run it through our system and create value end products,” says Parminder Singh, the company’s chair and president at Intellectual Ventures Management, LLC, Canada, a $5.4-billion private equity fund that invests in early-stage technologies and intellectual property. “These are engineered fuels, electric power, heat, ammonia and other end products customers are asking for, at the same time reducing GHGs.”

While certain aspects of the technology have existed since the 1940s, MEC is building the world’s first unit that exists on a “microscale,” it says, made possible with the integration and assembly of proven technologies and its proprietary single-vessel microreactor system for hydrocarbon processing and catalytic reactions technology.

The new system employs a patent-pending combination of partial oxidation and Fischer-Tropsch reactions on a small shipping-container-size scale, making the MRU an economically viable and transportable solution, says MEC.

The gas-to-liquids Fischer-Tropsch process involves the conversion of synthesis gas, composed mainly of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, into hydrocarbons through the application of heat and elevated pressures in the presence of a catalyst.

MEC says it has developed a proprietary catalyst, which enables high yields and efficiency and has a slow deactivation, which means a longer lifetime, driving down operating costs and requiring fewer catalyst replacements and service breaks.

With the MRU, the methane is first converted to carbon monoxide and hydrogen (syngas) and followed by the Fischer-Tropsch process, all in a single vessel. Power is produced from heat generated by exothermic catalytic reactions and combustion of unreacted light hydrocarbons and CO2.

MEC says the units can be scaled to process anywhere between 75 thousand and 250 thousand cubic feet (mcf) per day of raw natural gas into seven to 25 barrels per day of liquid fuel.

“If you really want larger volumes, there is an economic point at which this doesn’t work, but you can certainly use multiple units, perhaps up to 500 mcf or one mmcf [million cubic feet] per day,” says Michael Raymont, an MEC independent director. “Beyond that, you might want to look at other technologies. We might not be competitive. Frankly, we haven’t done the economics; we haven’t got there.”

A 100-mcf-per-day flare stack—the typical size for the MRU—creates about 2,500 tonnes of CO2 per year, and at the current conversion rates MEC is looking at, its unit would reduce CO2 emissions by about half, says Raymont, who holds PhD degrees in chemistry and chemical engineering, was chief executive officer of The Energy Innovation Network, a think tank led by both the government and major energy companies, and was the president of the National Research Council Canada. Raymont is now the chair and a principal of Borderline Asia, an investment funding and financial advisory company.

Successful at the lab-and-bench scale, the project is now in the design and construction stage of a full-scale field prototype that will run at about 100 mcf per day and produce around eight barrels of liquids per day. MEC is looking for industry feedback about producer’s needs and for demonstration hosts.

At 100 mcf per day, the process creates about 100 barrels per day of water suitable for drilling and completion operations, says Barton. Because it can be used for fracture fluid and drilling mud, in some places that would be an asset, he tells New Technology Magazine.

Barton stresses the flexibility of the unit’s design. The single-vessel reactor can go on one skid, he says. “Pressure in, product out. What we do after that is plug and play.”

One of the beauties of this is that no special training is required to operate it, he says. “All the stuff that’s on this vessel is the same control valves and pressure regulators that your operators already see. And because it uses standard controls, existing SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition] systems can hook up to it.”

Infrastructure required to run the unit includes a separator, tanks and compression, either existing or new.

Compression is what really sets the technology apart, says MEC director Gregory Patience, adding that instead of using steam, it uses air in a patent-filed process.

High temperatures produce electricity to drive the compressor and generate power. “It’s energy-efficient because we don’t need to burn methane to actually drive the first reaction. The reaction is exothermic, it’s not endothermic,” says Patience, who is a chemical engineering professor at École Polytechnique de Montréal, where MEC has entered into a research agreement.

Waste Stream Energy Corp.—a joint venture between MEC and ABS Electric Group Ltd.—is to fabricate the units, help commercialize the technology and provide field services. Calgary-based ABS Electric maintains and constructs electrical systems for the oil and gas industry.

MEC believes its technology can be applied to various resource-extraction projects, such as new well sites where flaring reduction and power are needed, temporary tie-in situations and flaring sites where heavy oil is produced and diluent is necessary.

Further possible applications are flaring sites that require drop-in diesel, units that operate with high levels of hydrogen sulphide and other condensates, and coalbed methane sites.

Once the technology has been developed and proven in Alberta, the company believes it can be adopted around the world to reduce GHGs associated with flaring and venting.

“Our solution lends itself very nicely to global applications,” says Singh, adding MEC has received inquiries from as far away as New Zealand, Africa and the Middle East. “Everybody has a slightly different need, and that’s what drove us to this flexible, scalable, modular solution.”

Gurdeep Johal, ME Resource Corp.
Tel: 604-893-7033
Email: [email protected]


You are here: Home Arrow Environment, Health & Safety Arrow A Good Thing In A Small Package

  • Twitter Feed

  • Blog

New Twitter Updates

msmith Illumiti And Vandrico Launch Minesafe Smartwatch Built On The SAP Hana Platform https://t.co/MM4XcU3QXf oilandgas IoT
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
msmith Lifteck Enters Joint Development Agreement With Shell For Artificial Lift Technology https://t.co/BUme69chEl oilandgas
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
msmith UBI Awards In North America: Innovate Calgary And TEC Edmonton Rank Among Top Five In North America https://t.co/s5O30y681Z
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
msmith Schlumberger, Ikon Develop Optimized User Experience With Quantitative Seismic Interpretation Workflows https://t.co/WBVMx5ptKA oilandgas
Tuesday, 10 November 2015
msmith Verisk Analytics Acquires Infield Systems, Enhances Upstream Supply Chain And Modelling Capabilities https://t.co/Mxm99QwGq6 oilandgas
Tuesday, 10 November 2015