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Modular design of smaller-scale GTL

Modularisation is opening up opportunities for GTL plants to monetise small-scale
natural gas deposits both on- and offshore
Kenneth Roberts

odularisation is a construction method that involves

designing and building
refinery and gas processing facilities as series of unitised (or
modularised) process and utility
systems. The units are designed
and fabricated in a controlled shop
environment, then shipped to the
project site, where they are installed
on foundations and connected
together. Compared to traditional
field construction methods, where
all materials are delivered to the
project site and then built on location, modularisation is proving to
be an effective solution for achieving fast-track project schedules, and
for building refining and gas
processing facilities in remote
locations. For example, Ventech
(Ventech), based in Pasadena,
Texas, is an engineering, procurement and construction company
that specialises in the design and
fabrication of modularised facilities.
A project in Siberia illustrates
the capabilities of modularisation
when dealing with remote and
challenging environments. Ventech
designed, fabricated and shipped a
2000 b/d crude processing plant to
the remote Siberian town of Urai in
just six months after contract signing. Urais temperatures drop as
low as -45C (-50F), so the modules
were designed and fabricated to
accommodate these conditions. In
particular, the crude process
module was completely enclosed
and heated. Ventech personnel,
assisted by local labour, installed
the modules at the project site and
started refinery operations four
weeks after the modules delivery.

Figure 1 Fischer-Tropsch module process unit

Ventech has applied modular

design and construction most
recently in the Kurdistan region of
northern Iraq. A large-scale expansion to a refinery in Kurdistan
started during 2010, with Ventech
providing a 20 000 b/d modularised crude processing plant that
was added to the existing 20 000
26 modules, the new crude unit
was designed and fabricated at
Ventechs Pasadena fabrication site.
The modules were shipped to the
port of Mersin, Turkey, then transported by truck to the project site
in Kurdistan, where the refinery
was erected in 16 weeks.
The refinery has continued to
expand in a modular fashion; once
completed in 2013, total capacity
will be over 185 000 b/d and it
will remain the sole producer of

Courtesy of Ventech

unleaded gasoline in Iraq. In all,

Ventech has provided modularised
crude distillation units, naphtha
hydrotreaters, catalytic reformers,
isomerisation units, demercaptanisation systems, gas plants and
supporting utilities to this threephase project. Modularisation has
made the difference in this
geographically and politically challenging location, enabling expansion
work to be accomplished quickly.

Design concepts for modularisation

In modular plant design, the different process units are contained in

separate modules. For ease of shipment to any location, Ventech
fabricates its modules to a standard
size of 13.5ft wide x 12ft high x 40ft
long. Each of the modules and
its associated equipment has a

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communicate where the module

will be installed on the plot plan.
Connections between the modules
are designed to be similar in configuration so that construction is
relatively straightforward. Ventech
estimates that, with modularisation,
approximately 70% of a project is
already complete even before the
modules are shipped from their
facility. This greatly decreases field
construction time to deliver an
operational facility (see Figure 1).
These methods also facilitate easy
disassembly and relocation, if
necessary, at some point in the
future. For example, a remotely
located gas processing facility could
be easily taken apart and moved to
a new natural gas source if an existing supply was depleted in its
current location.
Applying modularisation to refinery construction has advantages
with regard to productivity, product quality and ensuring the safety
of construction personnel. Since the
modules are built in a well-lit,
work can continue around the clock
regardless of weather conditions,
for greater productivity and easier
quality control. Since module height
is restricted, safety is enhanced, as
workers build at limited heights
within the fabrication facility.

Modularising GTL

The same advantages of modular

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construction of refineries are being

applied to the construction of
distributed GTL plants. The GTL
process involves two operations: the
conversion of natural gas to a
mixture of carbon monoxide (CO)
and hydrogen (H2), known as
syngas, followed by a FischerTropsch (FT) process to convert the
syngas into paraffinic hydrocarbons
that can be further refined to
hydrocarbon-based products, including
diesel and jet fuel. Speciality products including food-grade waxes,
solvents and lubricants can also be
produced from the paraffinic
plants, including the Sasol Oryx and
the Shell Pearl plants (both located
in Qatar), have been built at enormous capital cost. The Oryx plant,
designed for production levels of
34 000 b/d, cost around $1.5 billion
to build. The Shell Pearl plant, with
an ultimate design capacity of 140
000 b/d of GTL products and 120
b/d of natural gas liquids, cost
around $18-19 billion. Conventional
GTL plant designs rely on economies of scale to drive positive
financial returns and are viable only
where there are large supplies of
low-priced natural gas.
However, another option being
developed smaller-sized and
distributed GTL plants shows

promise for deriving value from

smaller accumulations of unconventional gas that would otherwise be
left underground, such as shale gas,
tight gas, coal bed methane and
stranded gas (gas fields located too
far from existing pipeline infrastructure). A small, modularised
GTL plant has the flexibility to be
installed close to the trapped
resource and then used to process
that resource locally. Associated gas
(gas produced along with oil) is
another area of opportunity for
modularised GTL plants. This gas
is typically disposed of either by reinjection, at considerable expense,
back into the reservoir or by the
damaging practice of flaring, which
is subject to increasing regulation.
Modularised GTL plants enable this
otherwise wasted gas to be
converted into additional revenue.
In the larger economic picture, a
modular GTL capability can be the
key factor that enables the construction of upstream projects that
would otherwise be cancelled
because of poor results derived
from economic models. For example, some shale gas discoveries are
being hampered by high development costs, which result in marginal
economics due to gas prices that
are often low. These projects can be
enhanced by converting the gas to
higher-value clean fuels produced
in the GTL process.

Distributed GTL plants, using

smaller Fisher-Tropsch (FT) reactors
and located near the natural gas
source, can be designed for use in
both offshore and remote on-shore
locations. The FT reactors developed by Velocys, the US-based
member of the Oxford Catalysts
Group, employ microchannel technology. This is a developing field of
chemical processing that intensifies
chemical reactions and reduces the
dimensions of the reactor systems
by increasing the heat removal
capability to enable reactions to
occur at rates 10-1000 times faster
than in conventional systems. This
makes it possible to use more active
FT catalysts.
Velocys reactors are the only FT
reactors to use a highly active FT
catalyst developed by Oxford
Catalysts to accelerate FT reactions
by a factor of 10-15 times compared
to conventional reactors. Individual
reactors are designed to produce
125 b/d of FT product, and desired
plant capacity is reached by linking
together, or numbering up, multiple
reactors to meet the availability of
gas feed. For example, by linking
up 40 individual 125 b/d reactors,
a capacity of 5000 b/d can be
achieved with a natural gas feed
rate of approximately 50 million cu
ft/day. As a result, the distributed
GTL plant technology developed by
Velocys has the flexibility to scale
production to match the available
resource. Plants of this type can
also be used as a flexible and
economical way to expand the
capacity at existing petroleum refineries when an economic gas supply
is available.
Velocys is currently working with
Haldor Topse and Ventech to
design a modular GTL plant using
its microchannel FT reactor (see
Figure 2). The modular GTL plant
will be comprised of standard-sized
13.5 x 12 x 40ft (4.1 x 3.65 x 12m)
modules that will be built in
Ventechs fabrication facility. In
these GTL plant designs, autothermal reforming (ATR) reactors from
Haldor Topse will be used to
produce the syngas feedstock for
the Velocys FT reactors. Haldor
Topse is also providing the hydroprocessing unit that takes raw


0.25 to 10mm
High heat flux
10 times higher than
conventional reactors

0.25 to 10mm

FT products

Figure 2 Microchannel FT reactor internals

products from the FT reactor and

produces finished fuels.

First commercial plant

The first company to select the

modular GTL plant design is
Calumet Specialty Products Partners
L.P., an independent producer of
speciality hydrocarbon products in
North America. Calumet plans to
use the modular GTL plant, which
has a nominal capacity of 1000 bpd,
in the expansion of its Specialty
Products facility at Karns City,
Pennsylvania. The very pure,
paraffinic hydrocarbons produced
by the GTL plant will be used as
feedstock for some of Calumets
1500 products, including food-grade
waxes, solvents and lubricants.
Calumet was attracted to the idea
of modular GTL technology because
it offers the ability to use readily
available, low-cost natural gas to
reduce overall costs, increase the
security of feedstock supply and
improve product quality.
The GTL plants modules will be
fabricated in Ventechs Texas fabrication facility, then transported by
truck to the Karns City site for
installation and integration with
Calumets existing refinery. Velocys
engineers are working with Ventech
and Haldor Topse on the plant
design, which is due be completed
by late 2012. Fabrication is expected
to begin during the first half of 2013
and the modular GTL plant would
come on-stream during the second
half of 2014.

Courtesy of Oxford Catalysts Group

More projects

Meanwhile, both Velocys and

Ventech expect that the Calumet
project will be just the first of many
small-scale modular GTL plants
announced, several of which are
already undergoing preliminary
design. Velocys continues to receive
numerous inquiries about the
microchannel technology, not only
for distributed GTL but also for
biomass-to-liquids (BTL) applications. For example, Solena has
recently chosen the Velocys FT
process for its GreenSky London
Project, which will produce renewable jet fuel in the UK.
Given the low natural gas prices
in the US, and the small and often
remote nature of many gas deposits
around the world, interest in modular
incorporating microchannel FT reactors is expected to grow. Once the
Calumet GTL plant comes on
stream, Velocys, Ventech and Haldor
Topse are confident that such
plants will prove to be the best way
forward for monetising stranded
and undervalued natural gas.
Kenneth Roberts is Senior Business
Development Director with Velocys, Houston,
Texas. With over 35 years experience in the
energy industry, he supports engineering
and business development activities in
collaboration with Ventech and Haldor Topse
for the modular GTL design. He holds a BS in
mechanical engineering and a MBA in strategic
planning from the University of Texas at

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