Thermoacoustic Natural Gas Liquefier


Gregory W. Swift

Submitted to:

US DOE Natural Gas Conference Proceedings March 24-27, 1997 Houston, Texas DOE/FETC-97/1043

Los Alamos

Los Alamos
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Form No. 836 R5 ST 2629 10/91

Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Technology Center. The project is known as “acoustic lique…er” for short. approximately 40.Thermoacoustic Natural Gas Liquefier Gregory In the Cryenco-Los Alamos collaboration (with the Los Alamos tasks supported by the US Department of Energy). S. and to demonstrate the liquefaction of 60-70% of input gas. Objectives Although most natural gas is still carried from well to user as gas in pipelines. made of common materials. with capacity of 500 gallon per day (i. we are developing a version of this invention suitable for use in the natural-gas industry. which is operated by the University of California. It will have useful e¢ciency. Our present program plans call for a two-phase development. to build scienti…c foundations and a patent portfolio for future acoustic lique…ers. Swift (swift@lanl. close to major consumption centers for seasonal peakshaving. is large enough to illuminate all the issues of large-scale acoustic liquefaction without undue cost.000 scfd. 505-665-0640) Condensed Matter and Thermal Physics Group Mail Stop K764 Los Alamos National Laboratory Los Alamos NM 87545 Introduction Cryenco and Los Alamos are collaborating to develop a natural-gas-powered naturalgas lique…er that will have no moving parts and require no electrical power. directed toward increased e¢ciency. and low cost.000 gallon per day capacity. relatively constant ‡ow of gas through pipelines from the gas …elds to load centers can be maintained throughout the year by liquefying and storing the excess when demand is low in summer and vaporizing it as needed when demand increases in winter.. The 1990 invention of the thermoacoustically driven ori…ce pulse-tube refrigerator (TADOPTR) provides cryogenic refrigeration with no moving parts for the …rst time. requiring a refrigeration power of about 7 kW). without exacting tolerances. In parallel with both. this invention uses acoustic phenomena to produce refrigeration from heat. remarkable reliability. In this practice. 1 . Phase II will target versions of approximately 106 scfd = 10. the use of lique…ed natural gas (LNG) [1] has been increasing 5-10% per year. Fleet-vehicle use of LNG as fuel is increasing Research sponsored by the U. we continue fundamental research on the technology. The required apparatus consists of nothing more than helium-…lled heat exchangers and pipes. under Work Authorization Number AB/05 686/AL/03 to the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Phase I. In short. which occurs at only 115 Kelvin (¡250± F) at atmospheric pressure. The liquefaction of natural gas.e. Large liquefaction plants and cryogenic storage tanks exist throughout the US. while burning 30-40%. has previously required rather sophisticated refrigeration machinery.

This invention and development follows a long evolution of related devices.rapidly. lique…es 109 scfd. the development of a practical acoustic lique…er appeared very challenging. Even the 500 gallon per day prototype represents a scaleup of a factor of 1600 in cooling power over the best previous TADOPTR. To address this great challenge. A typical modern. adding a ‡ow resistance. Stirling-cycle [6] refrigeration. Worldwide. each directed toward elimination of moving parts from heat engines and refrigerators. and had an e¢ciency implying that it would have lique…ed only 9% of a natural-gas stream while burning the other 91%. one of which is in contact with the cold temperature. as are attendant coastal LNG facilities. such “ori…ce” pulse-tube refrigerators. [7] developed largely at NIST-Boulder. LNG ocean transport vessels of 105 m3 capacity are also commonplace. Project Description From the beginning of the Cryenco-Los Alamos collaboration. Los Alamos and NIST eliminated this last moving part. 10] generate an acoustic standing wave from heat. Approach Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) invented [2] the TADOPTR. and has substantial operating and maintenance costs. reliable. They called this new technique pulse-tube refrigeration. over a century old. Gi¤ord and Longsworth discovered a refrigeration technique which eliminated the cold piston. With a liquefaction temperature of only 115 Kelvin (¡250±F). a signi…cant simpli…cation leading to high reliability. research at Los Alamos (sponsored by the US Department of Energy’s O¢ce of Basic Energy Sciences) has led to quantitative understanding and the …rst attempts at practical implementations. Although thermoacoustic devices were discovered and explained qualitatively a century ago. [4] which used much simpler electric heater power for the engine and an electric-heat test load on the refrigerator. discovered by Zhu. thus producing oscillating pressure at the frequency of the standing-wave resonance. The pulse-tube refrigerator’s importance is primarily due to the elimination of the cold piston. promised to bring the e¢ciency of pulse-tube refrigerators near that of Stirling refrigerators. and Chen [8] in 1990. Wu. Thermoacoustic engines [9. substituting for it a thermoacoustic engine. In 1963. inexpensive liquefaction equipment is clear. now routinely reach 50 Kelvin in a single stage. at ambient temperature. The addition of a bypass valve to the pulse-tube refrigerator. our project encompasses three parallel thrusts: 2 . uses 15% of its throughput to power itself. [3] and built a small experimental version [4] directed toward cooling of infrared sensors on satellites. The need for smaller. In 1984. has historically required two moving pistons. Until recently. large liquefaction plant costs a billion dollars. pulse-tube refrigerators still required one moving piston. Development of a more compact version [5] was later undertaken in a Tektronix-Los Alamos-NIST collaboration. natural gas has (until now) required rather sophisticated refrigeration machinery. Mikulin made a signi…cant fundamental advance.

The resulting dramatic reduction in projected costs achieved this year was unexpected. and is a milestone as important as the 100-gallon-per-day capacity demonstration. and many engineering challenges were discovered and overcome in all three components. As described in the introduction.1. we chose to break the development into two phases. 2. and test reports and software written at Los Alamos are used to document important design procedures for future reference at Cryenco. built. and daily telephone contact is the norm at other times. This important milestone demonstrates for the …rst time that TADOPTR technology works at a capacity suitable for practical liquefaction of natural gas. while using the strengths of each partner and allowing thermoacoustics skills to grow among Cryenco personnel. was also demonstrated 3 . and probable that e¢ciency goals will be met. Testing of this assembly with a burner heating the engine began in January 1997. Testing is ongoing. we designed. Prototype development. Los Alamos personnel have been at Cryenco one-third of the time. A new type of thermoacoustic heat exchanger with tube-in-shell geometry was tested successfully. Most physics design and test-and-measurement duties have been Los Alamos responsibilities. with a focus on patentable inventions leading to improved e¢ciency without sacri…cing high reliability or low cost. where they are working as well as predicted. and as of March the assembly produced LNG at a rate of 100 gallons per day. Interaction and cooperation. Construction and assembly of the engine. we have adopted a highly interactive working relationship. opportunities still exist for dramatic improvements based on fundamental understanding. Both these developments were completed in time to be used in the Cryenco prototype. while most engineering and almost all hardware and test-facility construction have been Cryenco responsibilities. In the past year.000 gallons per day in Phase II. and assembled the …rst pieces of this prototype: one engine and one refrigerator on the resonator. A third invention. Fundamental work at Los Alamos this year broke new ground in several areas. Accomplishments The 500 gallon per day prototype will comprise two identical thermoacoustic engines and three identical ori…ce pulse tube refrigerators sharing a common resonator. Each problem was …xed as quickly as possible. Los Alamos continues fundamental applied research on TADs and OPTRs. To develop the Phase-I prototype as quickly as possible. but each …x was also regarded as an opportunity to reduce the projected cost to manufacture the acoustic lique…er. 3. and resonator were di¢cult. Because TADOPTR technology is so new. Science and fundamental invention. Turbulent limitations to the use of variable acoustic impedance in OPTRs were explored. use of a tapered pulse tube to suppress streaming-driven convection (patent to be …led). but it appears certain that capacity design goals will be met. Hence. and a control method was invented (provisional patent …led. Lunchtime lectures and discussions at Cryenco help personnel there learn the fundamentals of thermoacoustics. with target capacities of 500 gallons per day in Phase I and 10. …nal patent in preparation). refrigerator.

which have enjoyed decades of engineering development. its cost will be very low. and the …rst 10. this would represent a (1. recovery of associated gas from small oil wells. recovery of associated gas from o¤shore oil wells. will be necessary before production planning can begin. recovery of coal bed (gob) gas. although not as high as that of conventional large-scale lique…ers. Near the completion of the 500 gallon per day prototype. we will begin planning the 10. but we expect that most of the 7 will indeed succeed. and it will be economical at a size far smaller than that of existing LNG equipment. medium.000 gallon per day production units to liquefy 75-80% of throughput. So far. if all of them worked. hence. recovery of land…ll gas and other bio-waste gas. These features are suited to a wide range of applications. Medium capacity (approximately 10. Large capacity (much larger than 10. we have identi…ed 4 potential improvements to OPTR technology and 3 potential improvements to TAD technology.000 gallon per day prototype. and large capacity: Small capacity (approximately 500 gallons per day): Local liquefaction of pipeline gas at ‡eet-vehicle fueling stations. but it is possible that large-scale gas production in extremely hostile environments will be enabled by this technology’s intrinsic high reliability. Later research should lead to improved e¢ciency. Because it has no exotic materials or close tolerances anywhere (it is nothing more than welded piping and heat exchangers). boilo¤ recovery at seasonal peak-shaving facilities. The acoustic lique…er will o¤er unsurpassed reliability. Improvements to vital auxiliary subsystems. We will continue research directed at improved e¢ciency. That is probably too optimistic. which would imply an acoustic lique…er e¢ciency comparable to that of the best existing large-scale conventional LNG plants. Each of these 7 improvements can potentially contribute about a 20% increase in system e¢ciency. Inertance and tapered pulse tubes (discussed above) are the …rst two of these that we have completed. and cost at such large scales. reliability.2)7 = 3-fold improvement in TADOPTR e¢ciency. 4 .at small scale at Los Alamos and incorporated into the Cryenco prototype. liquefaction of gas for storage near emergency facilities such as hospitals. such as the burner regenerators. Future Activities We will complete testing the present one-engine-one-refrigerator subassembly of the 500 gallon per day prototype. and most of the applications listed above for small capacity.000 gallons per day): Production from shut-in wells.000 gallons per day): It is premature to predict the acoustic lique…er’s e¢ciency. We expect the …rst 500 gallon per day production units to liquefy 70% of throughput. Applications The e¢ciency of small acoustic lique…ers will be reasonable. liquefaction at seasonal peakshaving facilities. testing of this feature at Cryenco is not yet complete. at small. and then complete the 500 gallon per day prototype.

esa. 35:1191– 1205.. [10] G. and R. W. July 1995. W. Plymouth MA. who can be reached by telephone at 303373-3247. Bethesda MD. Development of a thermoacoustically driven ori…ce pulse tube refrigerator. 1990. [8] S. Godshalk. Martin. R. Acoustic cryocooler. Adv. Am. Swift. Swift. Rod Malone at Morgantown. pages 22–28. Double inlet pulse tube refrigerators: An important improvement. for his continued encouragement. Patent number 4. W. K. Thermoacoustic engines. by fax at 303-371-6332. [4] R. Advances in Cryogenic Engineering. David Taylor Research Center. G. Swift.Acknowledgments The project leader at Cryenco is John Wollan. Boulder CO. 1990. 1990. Chen.S. or by mail at Cryenco Inc. Wu. Hershberg. publication 91/ Swift. W. 1973. G. and R. and R. and Z. NIST. Noyes Data Corporation. M. Characterization of 350 Hz thermoacoustic driven ori…ce pulse tube refrigerator with measurements of the phase of the mass ‡ow and pressure. Lique…ed Natural Gas Technology. 3811 Joliet. J. 1988. Cryocoolers. Radebaugh. Thermoacoustic engines and refrigerators. 5 . [6] G. A.. Radebaugh. Plenum. E. W. New York. September 4. Denver CO 80239. [3] A computer animation and short description of the essential thermodynamic and acoustic processes in the TADOPTR can be obtained from Greg Swift or via Internet at http://rott. by email at johnw@cryenco. U. We are grateful to our Contracting O¢cer’s Representative.. Important technical support in the past year has been provided by Ray Radebaugh. Jin. Swift. C. Radebaugh. Y. October 24. Park Ridge NJ. 1990. Zhu. Radebaugh. [2] G. Martin. DOE Fossil Energy’s …nancial support for this project began in March 1995. Huntington Beach CA. and by Gene Zwick. Cryogenics.lanl. Walker. 1983. [5] K. McDermott.953. In Proceedings of the Interagency Meeting on Cryocoolers. 1996. K. M. 1990. 84:1145–1180. Zwick Energy Research. References [1] John McDermott. Physics Today. L. A review of pulse tube refrigeration. P. by selecting “Educational demonstrations”. 41:1411–1418. 30:514. Cryogenic Eng. A. Acoust.366. Soc. [7] R. page 205. [9] G.

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