LIMS helps LNG facilities ensure product quality

Paul Boughton

Oil and gas companies now collect and analyse massive quantities of data to ensure the quality, safety and profitability of their profit. Leading facilities use laboratory information management system to manage these data in real-time. Colin Thurston reports.

Accessing, producing and transporting natural gas is a complex undertaking. The facilities charged with harvesting natural gas typically operate by transporting natural gas via pipelines to a production facility, converting it to liquefied natural gas (LNG) using a cooling process and shipping it to customers around the world. Given the many steps involved with these operations, many modern LNG facilities, are backed by state-of-the-art laboratories that constantly analyze output content and product quality.

A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is an essential tool for managing the large quantity of data generated by these laboratories during the process of extracting and refining natural gas.

All LNG facilities, regardless of location, must comply with local environmental, health and safety regulations. Adherence to these ever-tightening regulations requires the ability to accurately and securely capture, store, track and analyse large quantities of data. The laboratory must also perform quality testing of gas, process monitoring at plants, testing at upstream facilities as well as environmental monitoring across the plant facilities. The plant's laboratory must provide real-time, round-the-clock, consistent analytical services, results and advice in a timely, accurate and reliable manner.

Many laboratories supporting LNG facilities have moved away from cumbersome paper-based and/or manual systems and replaced them with flexible data management solutions, such as a LIMS.[Page Break]

Understanding the process

A typical LNG laboratory provides analytical services to the LNG facilities. This includes generating analytical reference data for product quality and custody transfer invoicing, calibration of in-line process analysers, plant performance, equipment condition and environmental monitoring. It may also provide expert advice and data on LNG and Sales Purchase Agreements (SPAs) as well as plant troubleshooting and ad-hoc laboratory services to other pipelines, offshore platforms or facilities.

The majority of samples are taken by operations staff and delivered to the laboratory. Laboratory staff typically train the senior operators and maintenance technicians to collect samples. Laboratory staff also collect special samples that require complex sampling techniques, such as two-phase samples and flue gas. The sampling and testing requirements are agreed on and scheduled with operations, engineering, environmental and technology departments to match production plans.

Internal customers then use the analytical reference data in several ways:

- Operations: plant performance monitoring and product export.

- Engineering: equipment condition monitoring.

- Technology: efficiency checks and troubleshooting.

- Environmental services: environmental monitoring and compliance.

- Marketing: customer liaison support.

- Finance: invoicing.[Page Break]

A laboratory handles the samples coming from upstream operations, through the LNG plant and the final products. The analyses of final products are performed when the LNG storage tanks are prepared and isolated or during the ship's loading. When sufficient reproducible results are obtained, the mean and weight average composition are both calculated. The mean composition of each cargo is used to calculate density and gross heating value and all values are included on the Certificate of Quality.

Any data required by the business is automatically available from the LIMS with sophisticated automatic data transfer. The LIMS is used to interface seamlessly with critical IT systems, such as PIMS (Plant Information Management Systems) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) for efficient reporting and documentation support.[Page Break]

Industry innovation

Shell's behemoth floating LNG (FLNG), the world's biggest 'ship', will be anchored 200m off the coast of Australia in order to harvest natural gas from Shell's Prelude field. Moving natural gas production and processing out to sea on a moving platform, where huge reservoirs of gas exist beneath the oceans, is a major innovation. Such a floating facility brings huge new energy resources within reach and avoids the potential environmental impact of constructing and operating a plant on land, including laying pipelines to shore and building other infrastructure. It does, however require that the entire platform is self sufficient for its day to day operations and can manage the collection, testing and distribution of the LNG produced.

In the same way that a land-based production facility operates, the gas is piped in, cooled to -161°C until it liquefies and stored in tanks. Chilling gas to -161°C turns it into liquid and shrinks its volume by 600 times, allowing it to be shipped to global locations where the energy is needed. Every six or seven days a huge tanker will dock beside the floating facility and load up fuel for transport to Japan, China, Korea or Thailand.

The ship required ground-breaking technology, not only to ensure the ability to capture natural gas but also to ensure that the platform can operate safely and stay moored even in the most extreme weather conditions, including high winds, giant waves and even cyclones.[Page Break]

State-of-the-art LIMS

Operating a state-of-the-art facility on- or off-shore requires an ultra-modern laboratory, and a LIMS is vital to any facility's ability to produce LNG safely and profitably. Without a LIMS to constantly analyse output content and product quality, this feat of engineering would essentially be unable to function.

For modern LNG facilities, a LIMS achieves several major benefits, including improved sample turnaround times, centralised access to data and improved operational efficiencies. The system also meets a laboratory's needs for compliance and can handle standard and non-routine sampling requirements, providing audit trails to track deviations and disseminate that information in order that production decisions can be made with the most up-to-date and accurate knowledge.[Page Break]


The Shell Prelude FLNG is at the cutting edge of oil and gas industry production. Similarly deploying a modern, flexible LIMS to support laboratory and operations and provide the scientific background allows producers to ensure year-round LNG production. Any natural gas facility requires modern technology, both in its processing operations and its laboratory information handling.

Colin Thurston is Director of Process Industries Product Strategy, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Altrincham, Cheshire, UK.

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