You are on page 1of 9


Wenisch2, Denis Jacobs3

Copyright 2012, Brazilian Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Institute - IBP
This Technical Paper was prepared for presentation at the Rio Oi & Gas Expo and Conference 2012, held between September, 1720, 2012, in Rio de Janeiro. This Technical Paper was selected for presentation by the Technical Committee of the event according to the information contained in the final paper submitted by the author(s). The organizers are not supposed to translate or correct the submitted papers. The material as it is presented, does not necessarily represent Brazilian Petroleum, Gas and Biofuels Institute’ opinion, or that of its Members or Representatives. Authors consent to the publication of this Technical Paper in the Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012 Proceedings.

In the past, the capacity of reciprocating compressors was typically controlled by on/off unloaders (step-control) and recycle valves. But due to the fact that the power ratings of new reciprocating compressors for the oil & gas industry increase significantly, advanced control systems are required to reduce power costs and save energy. On top of that, multi-stage compressors are frequently integrated into complex process plants that demand precise control and operational flexibility. There are several solutions for this equation, but maybe the most successful is the use of the reverse flow principle applied to an electronically controlled and hydraulically actuated suction valve unloaders system.

1. Comparison between step and stepless control
1.1. Step Control Step-control is a common method to vary the compressor output on double acting cylinders. Capacity variation is achieved by unloading the suction valves on one or more cylinder ends. Pneumatic actuated diaphragm cylinders prevent the suction valves from closing and keep the valves open. Therefore the gas sucked into the cylinder is not compressed. The number of available cylinder ends per stage defines the possible load steps.

Figure 1: Compressor with on/off cylinders for step-control

____________________ 1 Industrial Engineer, MC&S Sales Support LATAM Area - HOERBIGER VENTILWERKE 2 Industrial Engineer, MC&S Sales Support Leader - HOERBIGER VENTILWERKE 3 Chemical Engineer, General Manager - HOERBIGER do BRASIL

Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012

Start Unloading, 0%


100% Cylinder end loaded Cylinder end unloaded

Figure 2: Step-control with two stage, two cylinder compressor Step-control is only efficient if the gas flow required by the process is equivalent or just a little below the load step. The excessive gas flow must be recycled. Gas that is already compressed to discharge pressure is throttled down to the suction pressure by the recycle valve and therefore, energy is wasted.


Energy Savings

Indicated Power, %

Step-Control 50 Reverse-Flow Control (HydroCOM) Ideal Control System

0 0 50 Capacity % 100

Figure 3: Indicated power versus capacity for various control modes (typical) Moreover, step-control interferes with the process whenever it is demanded to increase or decrease the capacity by loading/unloading of cylinder ends. These load regulations are disturbances to sensitive processes and recycle valves are not able to maintain the process parameters (e.g. discharge pressure) in a stable range immediately. Bumpless load variations with cylinder end loading/unloading are not possible. 1.1. Stepless Control. Use of Reverse Flow Principle Starting point for the explanation of the reverse flow control principle is the pressure-volume and valve motion diagram at 100% capacity.


Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012
pV and lift diagram of valve sealing element:
Impact on guard

Motion Discharge valve
Guard Seat pd A D

v [m/s]

t [s] Lift of from seat




Guard Seat

Motion suction valve

v ... Velocity t ... Time

Displaced Volume

Figure 4: ‘Pressure vs Volume’ (pV) diagram At top dead centre position (TDC), the discharge valve closes (A). The discharge valve sealing element (ring or plate) moves from the valve guard to the valve seat and closes the channels of the seat. Since the volume from (A) to (B) expands (re-expansion stroke) the pressure decreases until the pressure in the cylinder corresponds to the pressure in the suction chamber (ps), (B). Now the suction valves open automatically as soon as the pressure difference between suction chamber and cylinder pressure exceeds the valve spring load. The valve plate / ring hits the guard and the channels of the suction valve seat are open. The suction stroke ranges from (B) to (C). At (C) the piston has reached the bottom dead centre (BDC). The valve springs automatically close the valve approx. at BDC and the compression starts. The discharge valve opens as soon as the pressure difference between cylinder pressure and discharge pressure exceeds the spring load (D). The reverse flow principle achieves capacity control by delaying the start of the compression stroke. While at full load the compression starts at point C, the compression at part load start at point Cr. Since the volume in the cylinder gets reduced from C to Cr a portion of the gas flows back to the suction chamber. So the quantity of gas in the cylinder available for compression is reduced. Due to the valve pressure loss there is a slight pressure increase from C to Cr. The discharge valves opens at Dr. Reverse flow control has no effect on the re-expansion stroke (A to B) and the suction stroke (B to C).

Figure 5: ‘Pressure vs Volume’ (pV) diagram at part load with reverse regulation The area enclosed by the pV graph corresponds to the indicated work required. The orange shaded area is the work required for part load with reverse flow regulation. The orange and yellow area in total are equivalent to the indicated work for 100% capacity and any part load if only recycle valve control is used.


Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012 1.2. Effect of reverse flow control on suction temperature Similar to step-control the suction loss during reverse flow increases the suction gas temperature. The lower the capacity the higher temperature increases. Therefore the lower limit of the control range must be limited to a project specific value. The control range for light gases (e.g hydrogen) ranges typically from 20 to 100% whereas the minimum load for heavier gases (propylene, ethylene) amounts from 40 to 100%. The compressor can be run temporarily on lower loads for a few minutes. Operators use reverse flow control on lower loads to start or stop compressors smoothly without interference into the process. 1.3. Stepless Control System Components and System Layout For the implementation of a Stepless Automated Control System, the system should have the following components: 1.3.1. Hydraulically driven actuator

Such component should act on each admission valve in order to control the amount of gas entering in the compression chamber during the suction period (segment B-C on figure 5). The actuation unit should have 3 main parts to acquire the electric command signal, a solenoid and a sealing module:
Valve Housing
Check 3/2 way solenoid valve Softtouc dampe High pressure

Seal Housing
Dynamic and static seals Temperature

Electric Housing
48VDC connection Field

Figure 6: Actuator In the valve housing a 3/2 way valve is driven by the solenoid and the retracting spring. The technology for the fast switching solenoids is derived from reliable diesel injection systems for large scale engines. The solenoid in the actuator is electronically timed by a central control unit. Depending on the position of the 3/2 way valve the high pressure piston in the valve housing is either exposed to the pressure maintained by the hydraulic unit or to atmospheric pressure. A high pressure piston in the actuator acts directly on the unloader rod. Up streams of the 3/2 way valve a check valve is located. The reverse flow through the suction valve causes a pressure loss across the valve sealing elements that is in opposite direction as during suction stoke. This pressure loss depends on the compressor geometry, speed, valve type, suction pressure, temperature and gas composition and is referred to as drag force. The total of all forces (drag force, suction pressure, spring forces) acting on the unloader tends to drive the unloader in upper position. But since 3/2 way valve and check valve are closed the hydraulic oil is blocked in the actuator and the unloader stays in open position. The check valve in the actuator actually fulfils two tasks. First, during unloading at maximum piston speed the hydraulic pressure in the actuator reaches up to 500 bars. But the operating pressure of the hydraulic can be less since the oil is blocked by the check valve. This reduces the energy consumption of the hydraulic pump and the hydraulic piping can be designed for lower working pressure.


Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012 A soft-touch-damper should prevent long term damages in the valve sealing elements by reducing the impacts on the static sealing part of the valve. The seal housing must provide the sealing of the unloader rod against ambient. Sealing is performed by a wiper element, several sealing elements and guiding rings. Temperature probes for monitoring should also be mounted. These sensors would have two tasks: Detect low partial loads and be of help for continuous monitoring showing the progressive wear or defects of seal elements.

Figure 7: Actuator and suction valve

Figure 8: Installation


Central Control Unit

The central control unit is the interface between the distributed control system (DCS) and the actuators. The control unit transfers the load signal (4 to 20mA) from the loop controllers in the DCS into opening/ closing commands for the actuators, acting as a translator. The data exchange can be done either from the DCS via Hardwired I/Os or Modbus interface A Real-time field-bus must be used for communication between actuators and the unit. The actuator control is synchronized with the position of the crankshaft. That signal should be connected to the unit. 1.3.3. Hydraulic Supply for Actuators

The hydraulic unit supplies hydraulic oil to the actuators. All components on the hydraulic unit must be in compliance with the corresponding standards for hazardous area since it is important to install it nearby the compressor. The unit must contain several transmitters to monitor the function of the unit. 5

Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012

Pressur transmitte Oil/air Ex-proof motor Temperatur transmitte Level switch Filte


Figure 9: Hydraulic Unit 1.3.4. System Layout and installation

Figure 10


Process Controllability Improvement

Besides using only the necessary energy, another main benefit from an automated stepless compressor capacity control would be the fine controllability and adaptation to the process needs. By establishing set points for variables like suction, discharge or interstage pressures, gas flow rate, motor power… and with the use of automated controllers that calculate the difference between the set point and the actual value, the actuating equipments on the suction valves can get the order signal from the master system to adapt the opening time of the suction valve on demand. With example 1, we can see a 1-stage compressor, controlling the suction pressure:

Figure 11: Example 1 6

Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012

W represents the fixed set point and PT shows a pressure transmitter that emits the actual pressure signal. The controller calculates the control signal based on the difference between the setpoint and the actual value. The higher the compressor signal, the more gas the compressors delivers. If the suction pressure drops below the set point, the controller decreases the control signal to the acting system and the compressor gas flow is reduced. Example 2 shows a 1-stage compressor, controlled by the discharge pressure:

Figure 12: Example 2 If the discharge pressure decreases below the established set point because there is a higher demand of gas, the controller increase the compressor discharge flow and viceversa, if the process demand goes down and therefore, the discharge pressure increases, the compressor discharge flow is reduced. Example 3. Suction pressure control for a 2-stages compressor:

Figure 13: Example 3 The first stage is controlled by the suction pressure. The control on the second stage is done via the interstage pressure. In such case, and acting on the first stage the pressure ratio is variable, so we need to calculate the interstage pressure automatically out of the suction and discharge value to keep the compressor balanced in terms of pressure and temperatures.


Energy Savings

Nowadays, most of the customers in the industry are very sensitive to energy consumptions since it has an influence both on the production costs and the CO2 emissions. When it comes to reciprocating compressors, especially for large machines a small improvement in the efficiency leads to significant savings.


Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012 The following graph shows the energy share in a reciprocating compressor:

Figure 14 According to Figure 14, our automated capacity control might be able to reduce the consumption by a 12-50% compared to traditional step control systems since less energy is requested, besides the indirect financial savings offered by an easier compressor operation. The savings mechanism works as follows: The potential reduction in power consumption multiplied by the number of running hours per years provides the energy saved per year. The use of less energy can make us save money in two ways: lower energy bills (electricity) and less CO2 emissions to the atmosphere which are charged under Emission Trading Schemes (ETSs) or carbon taxes. Reduced energy consumption means less output from power plants. Therefore, less fuel for the production of the energy is consumed, and less CO2 emitted. In the best scenario, the user might be able to sell the spare CO2 emission permits.

Figure 15


Rio Oil & Gas Expo and Conference 2012


Stepless capacity control systems offer flexibility and adaptation to the process demands within a few revolutions. Fast and precise system together with excellence in controllability Continuous regulation within a load wide range. Fully automation of the process available. Only the required gas flow is compressed. Energy costs and, therefore, CO2 emissions are reduced with the use of reverse flow based stepless capacity control systems.

• • • •