Exploiting small scale gas-to-liquids

Paul Boughton

Valuable liquid fuels are being produced from gas resources that would otherwise be wasted. Sean Ottewell reports.

Smaller scale gas-to-liquids (GTL) technology based on the use of microchannel steam methane reforming (SMR) followed by Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis offers a promising option for producing valuable liquid fuels from gas resources that would otherwise be wasted. These include associated gas and stranded gas located far from existing infrastructure.

Now a commercial agreement has been executed between PTT, the national energy company of Thailand and Velocys (formerly Oxford Catalysts), to proceed with the commercial deployment in Thailand, and other regions, of the company's smaller scale microchannel GTL technology. PTT is particularly interested in the company's smaller scale modular GTL technology as a means to monetise associated gas from onshore wells that is currently disposed of by flaring.

The two companies have been collaborating since late 2009. In February 2010, under the terms of a memorandum of understanding, PTT agreed to provide funding to support the development and commercialisation of Velocys microchannel SMR technology. In 2012, under terms of a research collaboration with Velocys, PTT opened a new experimental facility for testing microchannel reactors at its research institute in Wangnoi, approximately 70km north of Bangkok.

In this next phase of collaboration, PTT has commissioned Toyo Engineering to conduct a detailed engineering design of a 100 barrel per day (bpd) GTL facility that will include Velocys' microchannel SMR and FT technologies (Fig.1). The location of a facility will be finalised at the end of the FEED study in mid-2014, depending on the availability of gas resource and synergies with existing facilities.

Jeff McDaniel, commercial director of Velocys, said: "We're pleased to be extending our long relationship with PTT and begin the design of this integrated GTL plant using our own technology. It's a great step forward towards enabling the use of smaller scale microchannel GTL technology for onshore facilities."

Ethane cracker complex

In other GTL developments, Sasol has chosen Emerson Process Management for a comprehensive programme to automate its planned integrated GTL and world-scale ethane cracker complex in Lake Charles, Louisiana, USA.

The automation programme's overall scope - including dozens of integrated process units and more than 100,000 measurement and control points - makes it one of the largest Emerson has been awarded.

Sasol anticipates a total investment of US$16billion (EUR12billion) to US$21billion (EUR16billion) in the two facilities.

When completed, the GTL plant will transform the region's abundant low-cost shale gas into high-performance, low-emissions diesel and other transportation fuels.

The adjacent ethane cracker and derivatives plant will convert ethane to ethylene and other downstream derivatives.

Automation activities

A main automation contractor, Emerson will provide the majority of the process automation technologies, engineering, and ongoing support services for the operations under a long-term agreement. The two companies will work closely together to chart ongoing automation activities shaped by the facilities' performance.

"We were seeking a trusted partner to execute the key automation portion of this programme," said Johan du Preez, executive vice president of Sasol US mega projects. "Emerson has the expertise, technologies, and experience - particularly on large, complex projects - to help us optimise the return on these investments for years to come."

Emerson's automation solution for the Sasol plants is based on its PlantWeb digital plant architecture, which includes its industry-recognised control and safety systems, control valves, and measurement and analytical instruments. Initial automation planning and engineering work begins immediately.

Developments in LNG

Clean Energy Fuels, Ferus Natural Gas Fuels, GE Ventures and GE Energy Financial Services have launched a consortium to jointly deliver LNG in the USA. Known as Eagle LNG Partners, the consortium will develop regional LNG projects to meet the growing demand for the cleaner-burning, less expensive fuel in industries such as long-haul trucking, rail, mining, marine, and oil and gas services.

Clean Energy brings its experience in developing, constructing and operating micro-LNG plants. Ferus Natural Gas Fuels offers tailored expertise in cryogenic and micro-LNG plants, along with a deep understanding of cryogenic logistics that ensures an uninterrupted fuel supply. GE Ventures drives commercial and technical innovation, while GE Energy Financial Services provides capital for energy projects.

The consortium will identify strategic US locations to develop, own and operate LNG production projects.

Additionally, when required in certain markets such as oil and gas and marine, the consortium is capable of providing its customers with complete LNG solutions including transportation and delivery, on-site storage, gasification and dispensing. Eagle LNG Partners is set up to provide proximal and uninterrupted LNG supply which is critical to its customers' operations.

John Shepherd, managing director at GE Energy Financial Services said, "Natural gas is revolutionising the fuelling of long-haul trucking and other high-horsepower applications. With massive amounts of domestic reserves, America is facing a generational opportunity to move to a more secure, less expensive and cleaner-burning fuel. Eagle LNG Partners' mission is to provide customers with technology and know-how to confidently make the switch."

Terminal services

In September, the Cove Point LNG project in Maryland, USA - from which Sumitomo and Tokyo Gas are planning to receive terminal services and purchase LNG - received approval from the US Department of Energy (DOE) for LNG export to non-free trade agreement countries.

The project involves the construction of a new natural gas liquefaction facility at the existing Cove Point LNG terminal, which the operator of the project, Dominion, is currently operating as an LNG receiving terminal. The project aims to start operation from 2017.

Sumitomo Corporation and Tokyo Gas view the approval from the DOE as clearing the way for significant progress in realising the project's planned LNG export to Japan.

In December 2012, Sumitomo, through its wholly owned subsidiary Pacific Summit Energy, signed a terminal services agreement with Dominion for liquefaction services to liquefy natural gas to produce LNG at a volume equivalent to approximately 2.3million t/annum (mtpa). In April 2013, Sumitomo also entered into a heads of agreement with TG PLUS, a wholly owned subsidiary of Tokyo Gas, and another heads of agreement with Kansai Electric Power for the sale and purchase of LNG from the project in the volumes of 1.4mtpa and 0.8mtpa, respectively.

To implement the terminal services agreement and the sale and purchase agreements, Sumitomo and Tokyo Gas are wpreparing to establish a joint venture vehicle.

Intertek expands GPA natural gas testing capabilities

Intertek is a provider of quality and safety services to a wide range of industries around the world and has added significant, new, Gas Processors Association (GPA) gas testing capabilities to its Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, laboratory in the USA. The laboratory provides fast and reliable GPA natural gas analysis for clients working in the Marcellus and Utica Shale play regions.

Marcellus and Utica GPA natural gas testing services provided by Intertek include GPA-2261 (analysis for natural gas and similar gaseous mixtures by gas chromatography), and GPA-2286 (extended analysis for natural gas and similar gaseous mixtures by temperature programmed gas chromatography).

Intertek's additional shale gas services in the Marcellus and Utica regions include on-site sampling, natural gas composition analysis, isotopic analysis for both liquids and gases (IRGC/MS), and metering and calibration expertise.

Jeff Kaylor, director for the inland region, said "The addition of specialised GPA natural gas analysis capabilities into our Pittsburgh laboratory transforms our ability to service local shale gas clients in the Marcellus and Utica play regions.

"Our people are trained in safely handling high pressure natural gas samples and the laboratory is equipped with modern testing equipment.

"We're ready to support shale clients in the area on a 24/7/365 basis."

Other services offered by the Intertek's laboratory include:

- Well-site and field technical services;

- Load and off-load survey inspection for barges, railcars, trucks;

- Inspection and sampling of barges, railcars, trucks;

- High pressure gases and liquid condensates sampling and analysis;

- Crude oil and petroleum refined products testing.