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Comparison of Present Day Peakshaving Liquefaction Technologies

Nancy C. Ballout, LNG Process Engineer Black & Veatch Corp. Houston, TX Brian C. Price, VP- LNG Technology Black & Veatch Corp. Overland Park, KS AIChE Spring National Meeting, April 2008 8th Topical Conference on Natural Gas Utilization New Orleans, Louisiana, April 6-10, 2008 ABSTRACT
While base load LNG plants provide a large quantity of the LNG market, there is an increasing need for small-scale plants to provide LNG for distributed markets. The small scale LNG industry in the US was initially developed in the 1960-70 time period and generally consisted of peak shaving facilities for winter gas supply. The numerous facilities developed during that time period are now reaching the end of their useful life and are being replaced with new, modern designs which are more efficient and easier to operate. The selection of the appropriate LNG technology can be a difficult process. Although efficiency, ease of operation, and capital and maintenance costs are usually the main decisive factors, site specific requirements, such as pipeline available pressure and tail gas allocation, can also play a big role during the selection process. In addition, these main factors are sometimes sacrificed in favor of City and/or State regulations, or simply operator preference. This paper covers a detailed comparison of three widely used peak shaving liquefaction technologies. For a small scale (8.5 MMSCFD) LNG production, three simulated cases were developed to show the differences between a Nitrogen Expander Cycle, an Open Expander Cycle, and a Single Mixed Refrigerant (SMR) Cycle. US PEAK SHAVERS The first LNG plant was built in West Virginia in 1912 and began operation in 1917. The first commercial liquefaction plant was built in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1941. The most common use of LNG in the U.S. is for "peakshaving." Small scale LNG facilities have been used for over 30 years in the US for gas supply peakshaving applications. Peakshaving is a way local electric power and natural gas companies or utilities store gas for peak demand periods when their typical pipeline capacity is a limiting factor. In these facilities the LNG produced from the liquefier is stored in a large LNG tank for use in these peak periods. Peakshaving can occur during the winter heating season or when more natural gas is needed to generate electric power for air conditioning in the summer months. When needed, the LNG is pumped from storage, vaporized and sent to the consumers. These plants are set up to send out large volumes of gas at a moments notice. The utility companies liquefy natural gas when it is abundant and available at off-peak prices. The tank inventory is replenished during the off peak periods. Typical plants have liquefaction capacities of 5-20MMSCFD and are intended to


fill a large LNG tank in 150-200 days. These facilities normally have one or more LNG tank(s) to provide 1-3 BCF of storage capacity. Facilities to vaporize and send out the stored gas during 10-20 days are also included. There are currently 58 liquefaction facilities in the US. More than 80% of these are well over 20 years old. Most of these facilities are in need of process replacement due to aging equipment, and sometimes newer local and/or environmental regulations. Also, modern technology provides more efficient and lower cost liquefaction capacity. Operators are also striving to reduce operating cost by minimizing staff and optimizing running times to fill storage. Many of the older plants struggle with disposal of regeneration gas from gas treating system and tank vapor recovery. As plants age, the parameters of pipeline supply and take away can change dramatically. LNG is also currently being used as an alternative transportation fuel in public transit and in vehicle fleets such as those operated by many local natural gas utilities companies for maintenance and emergencies. TECHNOLOGY SELECTION Existing LNG production facilities in the small scale area employ a variety of LNG production technologies. These older plants are either Cascade refrigeration, Open Expander, Single Mixed Refrigerant (SMR), Nitrogen Expander Refrigeration, or other multiple refrigerant schemes. After the initial developments in the 1960-70s, the predominant technology has been the mixed refrigerant system with over 60% of the installations. Modern LNG production facilities are either Open Expander, N2 Expander Refrigeration or SMR designs. The cascade and multiple loop systems have proven to be too complex and costly to operate. Most of these multiple refrigerant systems as well as Expander plants with tail gas disposal limitations are currently being replaced by modern refrigeration units. Pre-Treatment All LNG processing units have some kind of feed gas pretreatment for removal of impurities, including aromatics and heavy hydrocarbons. At low temperatures these impurities solidify and plug the liquefaction equipment. For pipeline quality gas major impurities include water, carbon dioxide, benzene and heavy hydrocarbons. Due to size, a common technology used by peakshaver facilities for removal of impurities is molecular sieve adsorption. Any heavy hydrocarbons, which are not removed by adsorption are condensed and removed cryogenically. Some facilities use two separate systems for the removal of water and CO2. Other facilities combine the functionality of removing both water and CO2 inside one single bed containing two different molecular sieve materials. In a single combined pre-treatment system there is a corresponding ease of operation plus a reduction in capital and maintenance costs. However, separate pre-treatment systems can give the operator more flexibility and are easier to troubleshoot in case of problems. In this comparison document it is assumed that all discussed LNG processes use the same molecular sieve pre-treatment system.


Open Expander Cycle The Open Expander process, sometimes referred to as a pressure letdown process, can only be used economically under certain conditions. In this process, the inlet feed gas is compressed to between 600 to 800 PSIG and then the majority of the gas is expanded and used as refrigeration. Since only 10% to 16% of the total feed gas flow to the plant is condensed to liquid, a very large tail gas stream of low pressure expanded gas is produced. To make this process economical, plants are usually located where the natural gas is taken from a high pressure main line and is to be delivered to a low pressure local distribution system. These expander plants have been used frequently and are interesting where enough pressure drop is available. If the tail gas could not be re-introduced into a low pressure system, this type of process would not be considered. The higher the feed gas inlet pressure, the more efficient the process since the liquefaction of that 10% to 16% of the feed gas can be accomplished with little or no compression or mechanical refrigeration. Some peak shaver facilities utilize a reduced energy process by taking advantage of the high natural gas pressure feeding the plant. These types of facilities use energy-free expander/compressor units and no feed gas booster compression (Figure 1). Other peak shaver facilities with a lower pipeline available pressure need the extra boost to still utilize energy-free expander/compressor units of reasonable size (Figure 2). A higher feed gas pressure greatly simplifies the liquefaction cold box design and increases overall efficiencies. The choice of using a gas turbine versus an electric motor driven feed gas compressor is based on economics and operator preference. Gas turbine driven units generally result in lower operating costs because usage of natural gas as fuel as opposed to purchased electricity is more economical However, gas turbine driven compressors are generally more expensive to install, involve emissions permitting and have a higher maintenance costs. Gas turbines also produce waste heat that can be efficiently and economically recovered and used in the process to reduce the size and cost of supplemental fired heaters used for the regeneration of the pretreatment vessels. The Open Expander process is not only feed pressure sensitive but composition sensitive as well. Drastic changes in feed gas composition can considerably reduce the production capacity and cause operations problems. Black & Veatch recently designed and built a new LNG Open Expander plant which includes a demethanizer system for BTU control. Figure 3 shows this type of system for tailoring the LNG product from varying feed streams. This kind of design minimizes potential NGL issues and can be used in combination with any of the liquefaction technologies. In developing such a plant, a broad range of feed gas compositions must be considered in the design in order to specify equipment capable of handling all potential feed gases. Designing for a single feed is a risky decision. Most open expander processes have very limited turn-down capabilities (about 90%). However, some expander/compressor units can be designed to operate at a 50% turn-down rate but the operation becomes less efficient and it creates extra wear and tear in the equipment. Turn-down capability allows the process to operate at lower production rates when tail gas allocation decreases. While operating at turn-down capacities, the feed gas pressure must be increased which is not always possible if the pressure is dependant on incoming pipeline pressure.


Recompression of the tail gas increases the LNG production but results in a process with the highest cost and lowest process efficiency of all processes. The addition of a recycle compressor would considerably increase LNG production. Unfortunately, the high capital and operating costs, substantial footprint, low investment return, and added complexity rapidly diminish the attractiveness of such a system. If it is necessary to recycle gas instead of releasing to a low pressure line, then a refrigerant process would be selected. Nitrogen Expander Cycle The Nitrogen Expander Refrigeration process (Figure 4) has been used on a limited basis for liquefaction, especially on smaller systems. The process is similar to the open expander process in using a vapor refrigeration stream with an additional large compressor for a closed loop nitrogen recirculation. Since the process relies on nitrogen vapor for condensing, the refrigeration flow is quite large and the system will be significantly larger than a mixed refrigerant system. In most Nitrogen Expander cycles, a gas turbine or an electric motor driven nitrogen multi-stage compressor is used to re-pressurize the nitrogen once expanded to low pressure. In addition, dual expander/compressor units are used to attain the process temperatures needed for liquefaction and help on the energy efficiency of the process. The power to run this system is much larger than other technologies making this cycle less efficient than an open expander or a mixed refrigerant cycle. However, the choice of selecting this cycle might come from the fact that there is no need to store flammable refrigerants on site. Turn-down is achieved by running the cycle system with reduced inventory. Nitrogen is removed from the system through a vent valve. Operating pressures are then adjusted which allows the process to operate at peak efficiency at lower production rates. However, since the main compression is typically a centrifugal unit, the compressor loading will be the primary factor in limiting efficient turndown. Mixed Refrigerant Cycle The Single Mixed Refrigerant process (Figure 5) is normally the lowest cost design for small scale liquefaction systems. Also, unless free pressure drop is available for the expander process, the mixed refrigerant system is the most efficient process since it has the lowest power requirement. The PRICO process offered by Black & Veatch is just such a mixed refrigerant process that has been applied in 20 facilities around the world. PRICO uses a single closed loop mixed refrigerant process which uses a mixture of nitrogen and hydrocarbons normally found in the feed gas in all our facilities. The hydrocarbon constituents range from methane to isopentane. The design of the PRICO system is such that only a small amount of refrigerant is required once the system is charged, so minimal makeup inventories are required. This technology, in contrast to the others discussed, only has a single compression system for the refrigeration. The Refrigerant Compressor is typically a multi-stage centrifugal compressor driven by a turbine or an electric motor. There are no other expanders or compressors required in the process. The inherent simplicity of the single mixed refrigerant process leads to less piping, fewer controls, and a lower equipment count. Lower valve count and lack of expander/compressors results in lower fugitive emissions from such a facility as well.


Also, the main exchanger is a very simple plate-fin unit with a minimum number of connections which increases the ease of operation. A single plate fin can be used in systems up to about 20MMSCFD. For larger capacities, multiple plate fin cores can be used in the same cold box. The system is designed such that during a shutdown the refrigerant inventory is maintained in the system. No venting or pressure relieving is needed. Improvements in the PRICO process by B&V over the years have resulted in a 25-35% reduction in power versus older facilities. Generally, these processes require about 350-500 hp per MMSCFD of LNG capacity. The exact value depends on the system design parameters such as feed pressure, ambient conditions and process specifications. Besides the refrigerant compressor, the main exchanger is the key piece of equipment in the liquefaction system. Modern SMR plants have much more efficient main exchanger designs. Figure 6 shows a comparison of the modern plate fin box design versus a 1970 vintage unit. As can be seen from this photo, the PRICO exchanger has all connection external to the cold box. There are no flanged connections, valves or instrumentation inside the box. This design avoids any leak potential inside the box from such connections. Exchangers such as this have been operated for 30 years without leaks or maintenance. Good examples of a modern installations are the Alagasco LNG plant (Figure 7) and the Brazilian White Martins plant (Figure 8) with liquefaction capacities of 12 & 14 MMSCFD respectively.

PROCESS COMPARISONS TABLES Table 1 summarizes the main characteristics of all three processes. The data logged in Table 2 was extracted from process designs developed by Black & Veatch for the three specific LNG processes. For all three processes, the production capacity is 8.5 MMSCFD.


Process Comparisons Table 1 OPEN EXPANDER PROCESS NITROGEN EXPANDER PROCESS Expander process plus nitrogen refrigeration is required SMR PRICO PROCESS

Uses portion of feed gas as refrigerant

Single refrigeration system

Needs HP feed gas availability and LP tail gas allocation

Single degree of freedom (flow only)

Mixed refrigerant gives more flexibility / another degree of freedom in operation for changing gas and conditions Minimum utilization of rotating equipment Refrigerant mix uses components already available in the gas On-site storage of refrigerants

Single or multiple expander/compressors units.

Utilizes two expander systems

More complex heat exchanger design

Higher refrigeration power required

Feed gas pressure and composition sensitive

Sensitive to pressure/ approaches

LNG Temperature: -255F

LNG Temperature: -280F

LNG Temperature: -255F

Rapid start-up and shutdown

Rapid start-up and shutdown

Rapid start-up and shutdown


Process Comparisons Table 2

OPEN EXPANDER PROCESS (with feed gas compression) Refrigeration Compressor Power (HP) Expanders /Compressors (HP) ea. Air Cooler Services Pumps Feed Gas Flow (MMSCFD at 75F & 180 PSIA) Refrigeration Flow (Lb/Hr)



2,250 1445 / 770



1,794 / 1,024


2 2 services (with spares)










PROJECT COSTS The curve shown in Figure 8 is used for planning purposes and facility studies based on B&Vs PRICO technology. These curves represent the 2008 total installed cost for CO2 removal, dehydration, liquefaction, refrigerant makeup and boil off gas compression. Table 3 shows a % cost comparison for the three LNG technologies discussed in this technical paper and are estimates based on the comparative cases. The final cost of an LNG facility is site specific and must be developed and adjusted for local conditions and scope of supply.

Process Comparisons Table 3 capital cost energy cost


Electric MM $27.0

Turbine (% FG)* 9.5%

Electric (KW) 3,500

MM $32.5

N2 Expander Open Expander

(With Feed Gas Compression)

(+) 15% to 20%



(+) 25% to 30%



* Based on the total LNG production, %FG represents the percentage of the gas not liquefied because it is consumed as fuel by the gas turbine driving the liquefaction process.

CONCLUSION The LNG peakshaving market is a strong market with many new developments and technical challenges. As the industry grows and pushes into new areas, proven designs and technology will be relied on to continue the industrys proud tradition of innovation and safety. While costs are escalating, it is important to focus on the scope of the project. While liquefaction systems are similar for most facilities, new developments have driven the industry to provide increased flexibility in feed gas and LNG product streams. All LNG processes including the three discussed in this paper have their pros and cons. There is no such a thing as a perfect process. Therefore, the selection of the most appropriate LNG technology is a very important and difficult process. In the long run the decision will be based on the individual needs of the operator, City and/or State regulations, and/or site specifics. Efficiency, ease of operation, as well as capital and maintenance costs will also play an important role during the selection process.


REFERENCES 1. Energy Economics Research at the Bureau of Economic Geology, Introduction to LNG, FINAL.pdf Brian C. Price, Shawn D. Hoffart: Small Scale LNG Facility Developments AIChE Spring
National Meeting April 22-26, 2007.



Nancy C Ballout is a Process Engineer for Black & Veatch Corp. in Houston TX, USA. She has extensive experience in LNG operations and process design and has operated and assisted in numerous liquefaction facilities startups in the US and internationally. Prior to joining BVPI, she worked as an Operations Engineer for the largest peakshaver plant in the US in Philadelphia as well as a Gas Processing Engineer for Intevep PDVSA in Caracas, Venezuela. Mrs. Ballout is a member of AIChE, GPA, and WEN. She holds a BS degree in Chemical and Petroleum Refining Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

Brian C. Price is Vice President for LNG Technology for Black & Veatch Corp. in Overland Park, KS, USA. He is in charge of technology development and process design for LNG production facilities, LNG import terminals and related gas processing and NGL recovery facilities. Mr. Price has over 34 years experience in gas processing and related technology areas. Prior to joining BVPI, he worked for ARCO Oil & Gas Co. in various positions including Manager of Process Engineering and Projects Manager. Mr. Price is a member of AIChE and is active in the Gas Processor Suppliers Association. He currently serves as Chairman of Editorial Review Board for the GPSA Engineering Data Book and is past Chairman of the Technical Committee for GPA. Mr. Price has BS and MS degrees in Chemical Engineering from Oklahoma State University.


Figure 1 Open Expander Cycle with no Pre-Boost Compression and Combined Pre-treatment
HP Booster Compressor

LP Booster Compressor

Tail Gas Regen Gas to Pre-treatment Vessels LP Gas to Boiloff Compressor

High Pres. Feed Gas


Treated Gas
Dry Gas

HP Expander

LP Expander

Pre-treatment (H2O & CO2 Mol Sieve Removal)

LNG to Storage

Figure 2 Open Expander Cycle with Individual Pre-treatment Systems

Gas To Liquefaction

Low Press. Tail Gas

Heavies to Tail Gas CO2 Removal

First Exchanger

Second Exchanger Sec'd. Exp/Comp Third Exch. First Exp/Comp Dehy Unit High Pres. Feed Gas

Figure 1 Expander Process


Figure 3 NGL Recovery for BTU Control

FEED GAS Proprietary Reflux System



C2+ to Processing/Storage/ Pipeline



Figure 4 Nitrogen Refrigeration / Expander Process

Feed Gas Heavies to Tail Gas

Sec'd. Exp/Comp Nitrogen Compressor First Exp/Comp Heavies Sepr. ` To LNG Storage

Figure 5 Single Mixed Refrigerant PRICO Process

Low Pressure Refrigerant Treated Feed Gas

High Pressure Refrigerant Refrigerant Condenser


Suction Drum

Refrigerant Compressor

Refrigerant Separator

Main Heat Exchanger

Interstage Cooler Refrigerant Pump

Interstage Separator

Heavy Liquid Interstage Pump LNG to Storage

Figure 6 Wrenshall, MN Process Replacement

Modern Plate Fin Box Design


Figure 7 12 MMSCFD Alagasco LNG Plant


Figure 8 White Martins LNG Plant


Figure 9 Indicative LNG Liquefaction Plants Cost





Turbine Electric





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