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AIChE T4 174869

Turboexpander-Compressor
Technology for Ethylene Plants
Radjen Krishnasing
Senior Lead Process Engineer
The Shaw Group
Gabriele Mariotti
Engineering Manager
GE Oil & Gas
Florence, Italy
Kara Byrne
Applications Engineer & Commercial Manager
GE Oil & Gas
Houston, TX, USA
Radjen Krishnasing
Senior lead process Engineer
The Shaw Group

Prepared for Presentation at the 2010 Spring National Meeting


San Antonio, TX, March 21-25, 2010
AIChE and EPC shall not be responsible for statements or opinions contained
in papers or printed in its publications

Turboexpander-Compressor
Technology for Ethylene Plants
Radjen Krishnasing
Senior lead process Engineer
The Shaw Group
Gabriele Mariotti
Engineering Manager
GE Oil & Gas
Florence, Italy
Kara Byrne
Applications Engineer & Commercial Manager
GE Oil & Gas
Radjen Krishnasing
Senior lead process Engineer
The Shaw Group

Abstract
Todays ethylene plants incorporate Turboexpander Systems to optimize
cryogenic recovery and reduce the energy demand. The molecular weight
and flow rate of the residue gas depend directly on the selected upstream
feedstock gas composition, conversion, and feedrates. Various recent
ethylene units have generated residue gas volumetric flow ranges from
approximately 100-200%. Hence, the Turboexpander system is designed and
manufactured accordingly.
As we are aware, the typical naphtha cracker produces a methane rich
residue gas (bulk hydrogen is recovered, treated, and delivered as a high
pressure co-product). On the other hand, the typical ethane or E/P cracker

produces a very high hydrogen content residue gas. Current designs and
revamps require a wider range of feedstocks, and hence, a correspondingly
wide range of residue gas composition and quantity.
In order to meet the above demands, the Turboexpander solution must be
flexible. As an overview, we will discuss the typical performance of one- and
two-stage Turboexpander solutions for the expansion and recompression of
the residue gas. Key mechanical design recommendations (e.g., magnetic
bearings, variable nozzles, multistage control, high head wheels) will be
outlined. Based on the demand from the different feedstocks and the
industry requirements for feedstock flexibility, we will then discuss the
technology and mechanical solutions. This presentation will also include
related design improvements that have been successfully utilized in other
Turboexpander applications.
Part A
Radjen Krishnasing

Introduction
Turbo-expanders/re-compressors play a crucial role in the recovery of both
ethylene and hydrogen from cracked gas in steam cracking units. A turboexpander converts energy that has been incorporated into the cracked gas,
by the cracked gas compressor and by the ethylene/propylene refrigeration
systems, back to refrigeration at the lowest temperature levels, to further
enhance the recovery of ethylene and hydrogen. Turbo-expanders are,
therefore, integrated into the cold fractionation cryogenic section of an
ethylene unit.
Turbo-expanders take the tail gas (mixture of hydrogen and methane) at high
pressure and low temperature and drop the pressure over the expander with
isentropic efficiencies of well more than 80%, producing a cryogenic stream
that can be 40oC to 50oC lower than the lowest level of ethylene refrigerant.
These cryogenic streams are then used for refrigeration to retrieve the last
minor portion of ethylene from the tail gas that otherwise would have been
lost. After providing refrigeration, the warmed up tail gas is compressed by
the re-compressor to fuel gas pressure level. The driver of the re-compressor
is the expander that conveys the energy liberated by the expansion through
a common shaft.
Effects ethylene plant feedstock
A critical parameter in the integration and design of turbo-expanders is the
composition of the tail gas (mixture of hydrogen and methane). Depending
on the plant fresh feedstock and the potential hydrogen pre-recovery, the tail
gas can be very rich in methane for one feed or very rich in hydrogen for
another. Most ethylene units are designed to crack either a light feedstock,
such as ethane/propane, or a heavy feedstock, such as naphtha or heavier

liquid feedstock. However, there are units with a much wider range of
feedstock. Cracking a light feedstock, in particular ethane, produces a high
ratio of hydrogen to methane. However, a typical ethylene complex based on
ethane (or ethane/propane) needs very little hydrogen as product. The need
is limited to the hydrogenation of acetylenes and small quantities of high
purity hydrogen product, for use by downstream polymer units. To the
contrary, an ethylene unit cracking naphtha or heavy liquid feedstock
produces a lower ratio of hydrogen to methane but demands much more
hydrogen co-product for the hydrogenation of unsaturated by-products that
have been produced.
Table 1 below demonstrates the yield patterns of different feedstock,
expressed in component molar ratio with respect to ethylene. It shows a
noticeable difference between ethane feed and any other feedstock:
- Ethane as feed produces the highest ratio of hydrogen to ethylene,
while the ratio of heavier byproducts to ethylene is the lowest. It
produces very low ratio of methane leaving a tail gas high in hydrogen.
-

Naphtha and gasoil as feed produce a relatively low ratio of hydrogen


to ethylene, but a very high ratio of heavy byproducts to ethylene,
therefore requiring very high recovery of hydrogen as product.

Propane as feedstock has a very interesting mid-position. It produces a


tail gas that has a close resemblance to naphtha or gasoil. Propane can
act as a buffer for the heavy feedstock in ethylene plants designed
with a broad range of feed slate such as a unit to crack a combination
of ethane and heavy feeds.

Table 1: The molar ratio of key components / ethylene in cracker


effluent for typically used feedstocks.
Feedstock type
Ethane
Propane Naphth
Gasoil
a
Cracked Gas H2 / C2H4
1.07
0.63
0.44
0.30
Cracked Gas CH4 / C2H4
0.23
1.24
0.83
0.62
Cracked Gas (C4 & C5) / 0.02
0.07
0.22
0.24
C2H4
Cracked Gas Pygas / C2H4
0.01
0.05
0.19
0.14
Tail gas H2 / CH4 ratio
4.15
0.51
0.53
0.48
Ethylene plants cracking primarily liquid feedstock produce relatively high
ratios of unsaturated C4 and heavier fractions. These fractions often require
hydrogenation to either serve as recycle feed to the cracking furnaces or as
finished product of the ethylene plant. A typical ethylene unit cracking liquid
feed is therefore characterized by a very high recovery of hydrogen to
balance this need. Recovery of hydrogen as product can be as high as 90%.
Hydrogen is recovered at high pressure (3000 kPa), which means that the

recovered hydrogen can no longer be part of the tail gas that feeds the
turbo-expander. The challenge in the integration and design of the turboexpander is to find the optimal balance between maximizing hydrogen
recovery while maintaining a reasonable flow to the turbo expander to
minimize loss of ethylene.
On the contrary, an ethylene plant cracking ethane or a combination of
ethane/propane is characterized by a very high ratio of hydrogen to
ethylene, a low ratio of methane and an insignificant amount of C 4 and
heavier fractions. As a result, the recovery of hydrogen as a product is little
to none, meaning that virtually all of the tail gas is available as feed to the
turbo-expander. However, as a lighter tail gas will have a richer ethylene
content, maximizing the available tail gas for the turbo-expander is a critical
parameter in reducing the loss of ethylene.
Case study
The following two cases are presented to further emphasize the design
challenges when specifying and selecting a turbo-expander.
The first case is for an ethylene plant where the predominant feedstock is
naphtha, producing a nominal product rate of 1,000 KTA ethylene (1 million
metric tons per year). This case will demonstrate that with the integration of
a turbo-expander, only a single stage is needed. Hydrogen recovery is
maximized while minimizing the loss of ethylene in the tail (or residue) gas.
The variations in composition, and frequently the flow rate of the tail gas to
the turbo-expander, are not affected if the feedstock cracked by the ethylene
unit does not vary over a wide range from heavy to light naphtha. It is also
not very sensitive to the cracking severity because the high hydrogen
recovery results in a residue gas feeding the turbo-expander that is very rich
in methane. A minimal variation of composition and flow rate to the turboexpander is then often caused by the extent of hydrogen recovery, or the
overall plant capacity.

Table 2: Overview liquid (Naphtha) feedstock cracking.


Key item clarifications:
Am3 / min
Actual cubic meters / minute
dHs
Isentropic enthalpy difference between inlet & outlet
kmol / hr
1000 moles per hour
kPA
kilo pressure atmospheric (0.0145 psi / kPA)
kW
Hp = 0.746 kilowatts

Expander Inlet
Flow
rate
(kmol/hr)
Molecular weight
Pressure (kPA)
Temperature( oC)
Expander outlet

Naphtha
feed
cracking

Higher Hydrogen
recovery (less flow
through turboexpander)

Lower Hydrogen
recovery
(more flow through
turbo- expander)

2400

2176

2850

14.0
3050
-100

14.5
3050
-97

13.2
3050
-103

Flow rate (Actual 69


m3/min)
Re-compressor
Inlet
Flow
rate
(kmol/hr)
Mole weight
Pressure (kPA)
Temperature ( oC)
Flow
rate
3
(Am /min)
Re-compressor
Outlet
Pressure (kPA)
Expander
dHs
(kJ/kg)
Turbo-expander
RPM
Expander power
(kW)
Expander
efficiency (%)

63

83

2400

2176

2850

13.99
354
-3
214

14.52
356
-3
194

13.2
357
-4
250

604

604

604

111

105

118

28,630

27,640

30,000

970

870

1140

86

86

85

The second case (Tables 3A and 3B) is for an ethylene unit cracking light
feedstock, ethane or ethane/propane. It is based on 1,500 KTA ethylene
production rate (1.5 million metric tons per year).
As can be seen from Table 1, that when ethane is cracked, it produces a high
ratio of hydrogen and a low ratio of methane. The opposite is true if propane
is cracked, resulting in a low ratio of hydrogen and a high ratio of methane. A
turbo-expander designed for a hydrogen rich feed will, in general, require
two single-stage expanders in series. The limitation is imposed by the recompressor section as is discussed in the second part of this paper.

Table 3A: Overview light


(ethane, ethane/propane)
feedstock cracking (HighPressure Machine)
Key Item Clarifications: Refer to
Table 2

Table 3B: Overview light (ethane,


ethane/propane) feedstock
cracking (Low-Pressure Machine)

100%
C2 feed
crackin
g

50/50
C2/C3
feed
cracking

HP
Expander
Inlet
Flow rate (kmol/hr)
Mole weight
Pressure (kPA)
Temperature( oC)

7935
4.94
2131
-114

7883
7.66
2131
-118

HP Expander
outlet
Flow rate (Am3/min)

LP
Expander
Inlet
Flow rate (kmol/hr)
Mole weight
Pressure (kPA)
Temperature( oC)

127

121

LP
Expander
outlet
Flow
rate 215
(Am3/min)

HP
Compressor
Inlet
Flow rate (kmol/hr)
Mole weight
Pressure (kPA)
Temperature ( oC)
Flow rate (Am3/min)
HP Compressor
Outlet
Pressure (kPA)
Expander
dHs
(kJ/kg)
Turbo-expander
RPM
Expander
power
(kW)
Expander efficiency
(%)

7837
4.72
630
63
580

7567
7.17
636
60
550

740
130

740
80

20,000

16,240

1360

1255

86

85

LP Compressor
Inlet
Flow rate (kmol/hr)
Mole weight
Pressure (kPA)
Temperature ( oC)
Flow
rate
(Am3/min)
LP Compressor
Outlet
Pressure (kPA)
Expander
dHs
(kJ/kg)
Turbo-expander
RPM
Expander
power
(kW)
Expander
efficiency (%)

100%
Ethane
feed
cracking

50/50
Ethane/propa
ne
feed
cracking

7923
4.91
1165
-135

7742
7.42
1175
-134

207

7836
4.72
532
43
647

7567
7.17
541
43
612

630
124

636
82

20,000

16,340

1355

1265

89

86

Further evaluation/observations
An important turbo-expander design parameter is the isentropic enthalpy
drop (dHs) across the expander. As discussed in the second part of this paper,
this number is indicative of the expander or re-compressor wheel tip speed.
As a general guideline, an enthalpy drop of up to 180kJ/kg is considered to
set an optimal basis for the turbo-expander design. For our naphtha case,
the isentropic enthalpy drop is in the order of 110kJ/kg a number that falls
in this range and does not provide unusual constraints to the design of the
turbo-expander. A single-stage design is therefore very common for naphtha
(or other liquid/LPG feedstock) based ethylene plants.

For our ethane cracking case, a two-stage turbo-expander/re-compressor


design is used. The isentropic enthalpy drop across each expander stage is
kept around 125kJ/kg. Although using a single stage expander is not
impossible, the overall isentropic drop in that case would be 250 kJ/kg. In
general, the constraint is not the expander side but the compressor side. As
can be seen from the tables, the volumetric flow of gas flowing into the recompressor is nearly five times higher than the expander outlet flowrate. The
re-compressor rotor is therefore the larger of the two wheels, becoming the
limiting factor in the design.

The naphtha case demonstrates the effects of higher or lower hydrogen


recovery than the design recovery of the turbo-expander. A higher recovery
of hydrogen can be desired in plant operations as a way to produce more
product hydrogen. This will reduce the total flow through the expander, while
at the same time increasing the molecular weight. As can be seen in the
second column in Table 2, the turbo-expander is still within its operable
range, but it will provide less refrigeration because of the reduced flow rate
through the turbo-expander. This will have to be taken into consideration
when
deciding
on
increasing
recovery
of
hydrogen.

As the demand for raw C 4 and perhaps also raw C5 as finished co-products
without hydrogenation increase, an ethylene plant cracking liquid feedstock
can end up with excess hydrogen product. If there is no other output for
product hydrogen, it is ultimately letdown to the fuel gas header and
combusted in the cracking furnaces. Instead of letting the product hydrogen
across a control valve (isenthalpic), it would be more beneficial to pass this

excess of hydrogen through the expander. The third column of Table 2 (the
naphtha case) demonstrates the effects this will have. More hydrogen across
the expander will result in more cryogenic duty from the turbo-expander, and
as an overall effect, it will reduce the refrigeration demand from
ethylene/propylene refrigeration systems. Table 2 shows that the increased
flow rate combined with a reduced molecular weight will increase the RPM of
the turbo-expander. How much hydrogen can be diverted to the turboexpander is a function of how much room is available in the design of the
turbo-expander. A typical design comfortably will accommodate an increase
such as demonstrated in the table.

The gas cracker case evaluation demonstrates the simple fact that in case a
turbo-expander is designed for the tail gas of an ethylene plant cracking
ethane (tail gas very rich in hydrogen), a mixed feed case of ethane and
propane is less stringent to the operation of the turbo-expander. The first
column of Table 3A and Table 3B are for pure ethane feedstock, while the
second column of each is for a 50/50 ethane/propane case.

In these days of mega-size steam cracking units, serious challenges are


presented to the sizes of major compressors and other equipment, such as
separation columns. When it comes to turbo-expanders however, the sizes
are far from reaching their maximum. While the naphtha case turboexpanders use a 225mm expander wheel and the gas case a 350mm wheel;
these are by far not the largest sizes used in other branches of the industry
for turbo-expanders. It is also interesting to note that the scale-up, which has
been seen since the early use of turbo-expanders, from small ethylene units
to todays mega-size plants, hardly has affected the high (isentropic)
efficiencies the industry has relied upon. This feature continues to make
turbo-expanders a very important choice in maximizing the economics of
ethylene plants.

Part B
Gabriele Mariotti
Kara Byrne

Foreward
The importance of turboexpanders has increased significantly over the past
few decades since the first application of a turboexpander in the oil and gas
industry by the founder of Rotoflow, Dr. Judson Swearingen. Typically,
turboexpanders were used to replace a Joule-Thompson (JT) valve in order to
increase the overall efficiency of air separation plants. Driven by increased
competition in the oil and gas market, it is increasingly common to find a
turboexpander as a key component for the overall production in a hydrocarbon gas
separation plant. This is especially important for designing a more efficient and
competitive ethylene plant.
While the turboexpander alone can easily reach isentropic efficiencies of up
to 90%, when it is directly coupled to a compressor the interaction of the two
machines must be taken into account. The turboexpander efficiency is limited by
the compressor (and vice versa) and, therefore, cannot be optimized beyond the
mechanical limitations of each machine.
This paper, after a brief discussion of current technologies and the
characteristics of GE Oil & Gas Turboexpanders, will focus on some typical
turboexpander compressor selections showing the interaction between the
selection of the turboexpander and re-compressor.
Turboexpander History
The turboexpander is a reaction type radial turbine originally developed to
replace the Joule-Thompson (JT) valve in air separation plants.
The French Engineer, George Claude, utilized the first radial turbine for air
liquefaction in the early 1900s. German engineers, including Dr. Carl von Linde,
further developed and improved the turbines for many other applications, such as
refrigeration and jet propulsion engines.
After World War II, Dr. Judson Swearingen began to develop the
turboexpander for natural gas processing applications (Photo-1). He realized the
overall cooling capacity of the plant and, therefore, the cost and performance, is
greatly improved by replacing the JT Valve with a simple and reliable machine that
expands a single-phase stream in a nearly isentropic method. The fact that the
radial inflow turbine could handle two-phase flow at the discharge made the
machine perfect for heavy hydrocarbon removal.

The turboexpander continues to date to develop in the natural gas industry.


In the 1960s, turboexpanders were used in ethylene projects and then naturally
progressed into several other markets such as liquefied natural gas, geothermal,
and gas-to-liquids.

Turboexpander Applications
Turboexpanders are predominantly used in refrigeration/liquefaction
processes and power generation applications.
The refrigeration/liquefaction process utilizes the Turboexpander for cooling
fluids through nearly isentropic expansion from a higher pressure to a lower one.
This is able to achieve much lower temperatures than throttling the fluid through a
JT valve by isenthalpic expansion. The lower temperatures considerably increase
the overall refrigeration cycle efficiency.
Typical applications covered by GE Oil & Gas Turboexpanders are: Natural
Gas Processing/Dew Point Control Plants, Pressure Let Down Energy Recovery, and
Geothermal/Waste Heat Energy Recovery.
Depending on the service required, mechanical power produced by
expansion of flow in the radial turbine can be recovered or dissipated through
three main machine configurations:
Turboexpander-Generator
Mechanical power is converted into electrical power through a reduction gear
and a generator (Photo-2).

Photo-2: Turboexpander-Generator General Arrangement


Turboexpander-Compressor
Mechanical power drives a compressor impeller either coupled to the same
shaft as the turboexpander or driven via a gearbox (Photo-3).

Photo-3: Turboexpander-Compressor General Arrangement


Turboexpander-Dyno
Mechanical power is dissipated through an oil brake if it is not economical to
convert the excess power into another form of energy (Photo-4).

Photo-4: Turboexpander-Dyno
Often it is not clear which turboexpander configuration is suitable for an
ethylene plant, since the same service can be covered through either a
Turboexpander-Generator or a Turboexpander-Compressor. Table-1 lists the pros
and cons of both solutions.

COMPRESSORTURBOEXPANDER- GENERATOR TURBOEXPANDER-

Table-1: Comparison of Various Turboexpander Machinery Configurations


PROS
CONS
Very high efficiencies can be achieved.
The wheel can be optimized to achieve
the best aerodynamics by freely
changing the RPM without other
machinery constraints.
Recompressor is designed independently
from the turboexpander, merging more
stages into a single machine with higher
efficiency.
Simpler plant layout: reduced number of
piping interconnections.
Simpler machine control can easily be set
up for a fully automatic control system.
A fixed speed machine can typically
perform better in off-design condition
when the enthalpy drop is maintained
constant with process controls.

Very robust and simple machine.


Perfect for oil free applications with the
use of active magnetic bearings (AMB).
The stiff shaft design improves the
operating range and the capability to
withstand very high imbalances.
Labyrinth, or similar, seals and the
pressurized auxiliaries system makes it
very difficult for gas to escape from the
machine in case of failure.
For a well-balanced machine, the
turboexpander flow and re-compressor
flow are linked. This reduces the size of
required anti-surge systems to manage
unbalances in flow between the
turboexpander and compressor.

The machine has a tendency to


speed up in case of electric load
rejection. This limits the maximum
tip speed of the wheel and tripping
devices need to be redundant for
safety reasons.
The machine is typically more
complex than a TurboexpanderCompressor due to the presence of a
gearbox, generator, and other
auxiliaries.
Cost per unit is higher and oil free
solutions are not yet economically
feasible.

Efficiencies are sometimes lower than


turboexpander-generator due to the
balancing of the turboexpander and
compressor performance and
limitations.
If the plant throughput (flow) is
decreased while the pressure ratio is
kept constant, the machine speed will
reduce with a significant loss in
efficiency.
Units may be arranged in series,
increasing the complexity and tuning
of the control system.

It should be noted that dyno, pump, and blower configurations have not been
included in the comparison table because they are not typically applied to medium
and large sized machines that are commonly found in ethylene plants.
GE Oil & Gas Product Line
The GE Oil & Gas Turboexpanders product line is standardized so that most of
the components are pre-designed. Parts that normally need to be customized for
each project are the wheels (both turboexpander and compressor), shaft, nozzle
assembly, diffuser cone, compressor follower, gear, auxiliaries and controls.
The naming convention for machine standardization is the Frame size. The
frame size is directly linked to the casing and, therefore, the overall dimension of

the machine. Each standard frame can accommodate a specific diameter range of
turboexpander wheels. Frame sizes are also distinguished by the design pressure
and flow rate. The design pressure sets the flange ratings. Each of the Frame Sizes
are clarified further in Table-2.
Table-2: GE Oil & Gas Frame Size vs. Flange Ratings & Flow
FRAME #

TURBOEXPANDER RATING ACCORDING TO ANSI


(PSI)
150

10
15
20
25
30
40
50
60
80
100
130
160
180

x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
X

300
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x

600
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x

900
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x
x

OUTLET FLOW (ACMH)

1500
x
x
x
x
x

450
1000
4000
5500
9000
16000
25000
36000
45000
65000
100000
160000
200000
TURBOEXPANDER GENERATOR FRAME SIZE AVAILABLE
TURBOEXPANDER COMPRESSOR FRAME SIZE AVAILABLE

Table-2
is
applicable
to
turboexpander-compressors
(EC),
turboexpander-multistage compressors (ECC), and turboexpander-generators (EG)
single stage or multistage integrally geared types.
Typical design limitations are as follows:
Power up to 35 MW
Wheel diameter up to 1800mm
Design temperature from 270oC to +315oC
Mechanical design in accordance with API 617 Chapter 4
Lube oil system in accordance with API 614 Chapters 1, 2, and 4
Turbine operability in accordance with IEC45 or API 612 Chapter 12
As with most turbomachinery designs, there are standard comments and
exceptions to all of the industry specifications listed above.
The design temperatures typically set the materials of construction for the
components. For cryogenic applications the turboexpander casing is typically
stainless steel, but if warm enough low temperature carbon steel can be used. The
compressor casing and bearing housing are typically carbon steel due to the
warmer temperatures. Other components are also affected mechanically. For
example, by using a fixed nozzle instead of a variable nozzle, the design
temperature limitations can exceed the values given above.
While there are no size limitations for turboexpander-generators and
turboexpander-compressors with traditional oil bearings, the active magnetic

bearing (AMB) units need to be checked versus the standard bearing size from
AMB suppliers.
GE Oil & Gas has additional experience with special canned type magnetic
bearings that are suitable for aggressive and sour gases typically not tolerated by
standard electrical devices. This design encapsulates traditional electrical
components of the AMB within a metal can made of Inconel material that
prevents any contact with process gas. This design, mainly used in natural gas
applications, allows the AMB to operate without being contaminated or harmed by
the aggressive gas. Photo-1 shows a machine currently installed with this
technology.

Photo-3: Turboexpander-Compressor with Canned Active Magnetic


Bearing
The GE Oil & Gas product line offers a fabricated casing design, as shown in
Figure-1, in addition to the traditional Rotoflow cast casing design. This recently
applied technology is able to ensure the highest quality pressure-containing
components while also minimizing any potential defects during the manufacturing
of the unit.
Moreover, the use of a fabricated casing ensures the flexibility to design for a
wide range of applications, ratings, and nozzle loads. The internal parts made by
castings can now be aerodynamically shaped for the best efficiency. In particular,
the re-compressor discharge volute can be manufactured with a variable section
scroll and a tangential nozzle to provide the best efficiency and range.

Figure-1: Turboexpander-Compressor Cross-Sectional Drawing


The control of the turboexpander is primarily accomplished by means of
adjustable guide vanes (nozzles). GE Oil & Gas can provide patented solutions with
a traditional Rotoflow slot and pin mechanism, shown in Figure-2, which is very
effective on turboexpander-compressors. Also available is a newly patented
multilink mechanism, shown in Figure-3, which adjusts the guide vanes using a
progressive opening law for precision flow control and minimal actuating forces.

Figure-2: Slot and Pin Inlet Guide Vane (Nozzle) Assembly

Precise flow regulation is useful in turboexpander-generators in order to


minimize the speed fluctuations at low load and synchronize the generator to the
grid without using an external control valve.
The improved mechanical design of the nozzle mechanism is associated with
increased aerodynamic performance design. Antifriction and anti-wear coatings on
the nozzle segments minimize the losses during the first isenthalpic expansion.
Nozzle segments are subjected to severe working conditions as shown in the
Finite Element Analysis of Figure-3. These conditions are due to the high velocities
of the gas at this location (similar to the wheel tip speed) and because of the
presence of solid particles and liquid droplets passing through the turboexpander.
For this reason, tungsten carbide coatings or surface induction hardening are
typically applied to the nozzles to minimize erosion problems.
Another key component of the turboexpander-compressor is the wheel. To
ensure the reliability of the machine, the turboexpander and compressor wheels
need to be carefully designed in order to avoid excessive stresses, harmful
resonances, and erosion by liquid droplets. The wheel and wheel attachment has a
strong influence on the rotor dynamics of the machine.
As shown in Figure-4, GE Oil & Gas designs and manufactures open and
closed wheel designs up to 1800 mm diameters in various materials.

In general, the most common material in ethylene plants is 7050 Aluminum.


This material has a very good weight to strength ratio, which is required to reach
very high tip speeds. Titanium with superior properties is not typically used when
there is hydrogen in the tail gas, but is commonly used in many other
turboexpander applications.
Each wheel is analyzed by means of a finite element analysis (FEA) tool to
assess the stress and modal behavior. The modal behavior is assessed to avoid
possible resonances between the stimuli from the nozzle segments and natural
modes of the wheel.

Figure-5: Finite Element Analysis of a Compressor Wheel


In ethylene plants, where the compressor head requirements are very severe
(Figure-5), the maximum head is determined by a compromise between the
mechanical aspects (tip speed) and aero design (blade loading). GE Oil & Gas uses
hirth serration (Figure-6), a splined fit, to attach the wheel to the shaft. This
solution minimizes the centrifugal stresses on the wheel and, therefore, improves
the maximum tip speed and head capability.

TIE ROD
KEYS

Figure-6: Hirth Serration

HIRT

Turboexpander Performance
Turboexpander Selection
The turboexpander performance is computed as a function of a nondimensional factor called specific speed (Ns) defined as:
N Q2
Ns
3/ 4
his
where Q2 is volumetric flow at the discharge, his is the isentropic enthalpy drop
through the turboexpander, and N is the rotating speed of the machine selected.
The specific speed is the key parameter for the assessment of the efficiency of a
radial turbine at the design point. The optimal range of specific speed for
turboexpander design, as shown in Figure-7, is from ~1800 to ~2000.

Figure-7: Normalized Efficiency vs. Turboexpander Specific Speed


The specific speed is related to the maximum enthalpy drop that one stage
can handle. Typical numbers for the maximum enthalpy drop are:
Low Specific Speed (500 < Ns < 1000): 350 kJ/kg (148.2 BTU/lbm)
High Specific Speed (2000 < Ns < 2500): 180 kJ/kg (76.2 BTU/lb m)
A second important parameter to consider is the u 1/Co factor. This is a nondimensional parameter where u1 is the tip speed of the wheel and C o is the
spouting velocity. The spouting velocity is the fluid speed that would be achieved if
the entire isentropic enthalpy drop were to be converted into speed. In other
words, it is the speed that is created from putting work into the system. This is
similar to converting the potential energy in a water tower into a velocity at the
exit of the tower. Figure-8 further explains this idea pictorially, with H being the
potential energy and w being the speed at the water tower exit.
SPOUTING VELOCITY:

Co hts ,is

Figure-8: Spouting Velocity Pictorially Represented


The u1/Co factor determines the degree of reaction of the turboexpander
stage and is selected during the design phase (Figure-9). The optimum u 1/Co is
around 0.7, corresponding to approximately a 50% degree of reaction. In this
configuration, the inlet of the turboexpander wheel is radial, improving the ability
to withstand liquid at the inlet.

The u1/Co factor becomes important during the testing of a turboexpander.


Current API 617 practices call for it to be one of the measured values in the
machine final testing.
In an ethylene plant, the gas conditions are never constant. It is important to
predict the behavior of the turboexpander in off-design conditions. The
turboexpander efficiency is affected by the change in two main parameters: u1/Co
and Q2/N (the flow coefficient).
The efficiency of the machine in off-design conditions considers the effect of
variation of flow rate and u 1/Co ratio. After the calculations have been completed,
formula correction factors are provided in correlation curves, based on experience
(Figure-10).

Figure-10: Sample Correlation Curves for Efficiency Correction Factors

The overall plant control and machine selection should take into account the
turboexpander behavior during off-design conditions. Here is a typical range for
u1/Co and Q2/N turboexpander off design conditions:
% Q2/N: 30 to 140% of design case
% u1/Co: from 30 to 135% of design case
Compressor Selection
The compressor is used as a brake for the turboexpander. The absorbed
power determines the operating speed of the turboexpander-compressor. The
compressor selection is very important in ethylene applications, where very often
the compressor is required to produce very high head. Recent developments in
ethylene plant design also impose more importance on the re-compressor
performance. The compressor is no longer seen as a by product, but rather an
important plant component that is required to operate with good polytropic
efficiency, turndown, and head rise.
The compressor load influences the turboexpander efficiency. Compressors
with controllable power absorption characteristics can be supplied to provide more
flexibility to the turboexpander.
The compressor selection is made using three main parameters:
4Q1
Flow coefficient:
D22u 2
u2
Compressor Peripheral Mach Number: Mu
a 0t
h
Work Coefficient: 2
u2
where Q1 is the volumetric flow at the inlet, D 2 is the impeller diameter and u 2 is
the wheel peripheral speed.
The capability for a given wheel to produce power depends on both and u2
squared and the mass flow rate that is handled by the compressor wheel.
The Work Coefficient is limited by the aerodynamic design of the wheel and
the peripheral speed affects the static stress on the impeller. In ethylene
applications, the Mach number is normally not an issue because of the low
molecular weight gas.
Typical numbers for the maximum enthalpy change on the compressor wheel
are as follows:

Low flow coefficient (0.025 < <


0.100): 150 kJ/kg (63.5 BTU/lbm)

High flow coefficient (0.180 < < 0.280): 120 kJ/kg (50.8 BTU/lbm)
A well-balanced turboexpander and compressor wheel depends on the
process design. The turboexpander wheel power (including mechanical losses)
should be the same as the compressor absorbed power.
Gexp his is Gcomp his

It should be noted that the capability for the compressor to act as a load for
the turboexpander does not depend on the polytropic efficiency. For this reason, an

optional hot bypass around the compressors can be used to artificially increase the
absorbed power, also reducing the turboexpander speed. As a consequence, the
efficiency of the compressor will drop because of the internal recirculation.
Turboexpander and Compressor Interaction
As seen earlier, the specific speed (Ns) is one of the main parameters to
determine the efficiency of the expander. The efficiency vs. Ns curve has a flat
peak portion ranging from ~1800 to ~2000 (Graph-2).
Targeting a minimum value of Ns (i.e. Ns > 800), it is possible to determine
the minimum rotational speed of the machine. This is important in order to stay
within an acceptable efficiency range as a function of the ratio h to the expander
volumetric flow at the outlet (Figure-11).

Figure-11: Minimum Rotational Speed of Turboexpander


(Assuming Similar Mass Flow Rate Between Turboexpander
Compressor)
On the other hand, the rotational speed affects the compressor flow
coefficient. The rotational speed must be limited below a given value in order to
limit the compressor flow coefficient and also to increase the capability to produce
head and power. This behavior is exactly the opposite of the turboexpander.
The following graph (Figure-12) represents the change of compressor flow
coefficient as a function of the rotational speed for two density ratios. This ratio is
between the density at the expander outlet and the density at the compressor
inlet. The warmer gas at lower density on the compressor side tends to increase
the flow coefficient. This needs to be kept under a given value by reducing the
speed, which has an impact on the expander efficiency as seen in Figure-11.

Figure-12: Compressor Rotational Speed vs. Flow Coefficient


In summary, the turboexpander and the compressor selection have to be
balanced. In order to do so, the turboexpander efficiency may be negatively
affected. This could occur for several reasons, but the major issue that affects this
balance is the density ratio imbalance between the turboexpander discharge and
the compressor suction.
Case Studies
Two case studies where analyzed, to provide examples of the trends in
todays ethylene plants: a naphtha cracker producing a methane-rich residue gas
and a typical ethane or ethane/propane (EP) cracker producing a light hydrogenrich residue gas were analyzed. The focus was on the turboexpander-compressor
configuration since this is more complex than a turboexpander-generator in
conjunction with a stand-alone re-compressor.
Liquid Cracker
The liquid cracker evaluation was made considering the following scenarios:
Base Case: high percentage of hydrogen recovery.
Lower Hydrogen Recovery: reduced rate of hydrogen recovery and,
therefore, a larger percentage of ethylene recovery. This case reduces
the C2 and C3 refrigeration to a certain extent.
Higher Hydrogen Recovery: increased rate of hydrogen recovery
with decreased flow. With the margins available in cold boxes, this
increased rate of hydrogen does not affect the ethylene recovery or
the refrigeration.
The machine selection for this service does not have any issues related to
specific speed at the higher range of efficiencies. The turboexpander-compressor
is at the lower end of GE Oil & Gas production capabilities, corresponding to a
Frame 20 (EC201). This service can be satisfied either with oil bearings or active
magnetic bearings.
The selection based on compressor efficiency can be further optimized to
improve the efficiency. However, based on all parameters, the initial selection fits

into a very standard unit, and both the mechanical and aerodynamic
characteristics are well within proven experience.
The same case study was analyzed by increasing the flow rate by 25%. Since
the gas conditions remain unchanged, the machine selection resulted in a similar
unit design, scaled up to the Frame 25 (EC251).
Table-2 provides a summary of the machinery sizing for the Liquid Cracker
case to highlight the important turboexpander factors, such as specific speed (Ns).
Table-2: Liquid Cracker Turboexpander-Compressor Sizing at 100% Flow
Case
Description
UNIT
Condition
RPM
Ns
Diameter
Efficiency
Wheel Power
Weight Liquid
Frame size

BASE H2 RECOVERY

Exp
Comp
Design
35,000
35,000
1,500
3,200
(mm)
200
230
(%) 84-88% 72-76%
(hp)
1039
1035
(%)
15.3
EC0201

LOWER H2
RECOVERY

HIGHER H2
RECOVERY

Exp
Comp
Off-Design
33,800
33,800

Exp
Comp
Off-Design
36,630
36,630

84-88%
936
14.7

82-86%
1223
15.7

72-76%
933

71-74%
1219

GAS CRACKER
Gas crackers produce a very large residue gas stream with high
concentrations of hydrogen. The gas does not vary with hydrogen product
demand. In fact, the demand of hydrogen product is very low. Variation occurs due
to co-cracking of propane or other feedstock.
This reference is based on 100% ethane cracking (the base case) with the
option of 50/50 Ethane/Propane cracking.
From a machinery design point-of-view, this service is considered to be more
difficult due to the high enthalpy change involved. A first selection was made with
a 2-stage expander compressor, a standard configuration for the 100% and 111%
flows. Both units are sized into a Frame 40 (EC401) with good efficiencies and with
well-referenced mechanical and aerodynamic parameters. Table-3 shows an
overview of the machine performance.

Table-3: Gas Cracker Turboexpander-Compressor Sizing at 100% Flow


Case
Description
UNIT
Condition
RPM
Ns
Diameter
Efficiency
Wheel Power
Weight Liquid
Frame size

100% Ethane BASE 100% Ethane BASE

50/50
Ethane/Propane

50/50
Ethane/Propane

Exp_HP Comp_HP Exp_LP Comp_LP Exp_HP Comp_HP Exp_LP Comp_LP


Design
Design
Off-Design
Off-Design
20,000 20,000 20,000 20,000 16,270 16,270 16,360 16,360
1,100
3,000
1,400
3,200
(mm) 325
425
350
425
83868384(%) 87%
73-77%
89%
72-76%
87%
70-74%
88%
70-74%
(hp) 1629
1626
1630
1627
1509
1507
1528
1526
(%)
0.6
4.8
4.9
5.5
EC0401
EC0401

If the flow is increased by 11%, the design remains basically the same.
However, the selected wheels are larger in terms of flow capability (larger flow
coefficient). The flow capacity of a turboexpander can be increased by either using
a wheel design with a higher flow coefficient/specific speed, or by increasing the
diameter and reducing the rotational speed to keep the same peripheral speed.
The second option is required to handle the different enthalpy change.
With the intent of simplifying the plant layout and reducing cost, GE Oil &
Gas has selected for this service a single Frame 40 (ECC401) machine, with twostage compressors directly coupled to a single expander wheel. This type of unit is
referenced with oil bearings and can also be developed with AMB.
Table-4: Gas Cracker Turboexpander-Multistage Compressor Sizing at
100% Flow
Case
Description
UNIT
Condition
RPM
Ns
Diameter
Efficiency
Wheel Power
Weight Liquid
Frame size

100% Ethane BASE

Exp

(mm)
(%)
(hp)
(%)

23,000
1,000
350
78-82%
2396
0.6

50/50 Ethane/Propane

Comp_LP Comp_HP
Exp
Comp_LP
Comp_HP
Design
Off-Design
23,000
23,000
18,890
18,890
18,890
3,900
3,700
350
350
74-78%
74-78%
77-81%
71-75%
71-75%
1466
1466
27244
1386
1386
4.9
ECC401

Due to the very high enthalpy drop across the expander stage, the efficiency
is highly penalized with respect to the traditional design at nearly the same
specific speed.
The turboexpander-compressor-compressor solution (Figure-13) could be
considered as a low cost alternative solution. This arrangement would also be
considered if the turboexpander enthalpy drop per stage were lower.
The rotor dynamics of this arrangement needs to be analyzed carefully to
ensure a robust design without harmful expander wheel-overhung modes
throughout the operating range.

BRG

Expander
Compressor

Figure-13: Turboexpander-Compressor-Compressor (ECC) Arrangement


Conclusions
This paper presents an overview of current turboexpander technology to
provide information for the selection of the best machine configuration and
thermodynamic design for ethylene plant applications. GE Oil & Gas has analyzed
potential selections for turboexpander-compressors for large ethylene plants. The
results show that there are no issues with increasing the machine capacity, due to
the scalability of the unit frame sizes. However, large enthalpy drops per stage and
optimization trade-offs between the expander and compressor wheels need to be
carefully evaluated to find the best compromise between cost and performance.