AP P L I C A T I O N NOTE

Turboexpander
and
Process Valving
Atlas Copco Mafi-Trench Company LLC
AN-01-013
August 2009
Rev. 2

The efficiency and reliability of a hydrocarbon turboexpander system can be strongly influenced by the expander
control scheme and the implementation of the process valving around the expander. The following presentation
discusses a typical expander application with the objective of illustrating several key points that must be
considered when integrating the expander into the process.
Expander Valving

Compressor Valving

A normal expander valve arrangement is attached.
A Joule – Thomson (J-T) valve (V1) is installed in
parallel with the expander for use during start-up,
normal shutdown, and off-design operation. A
quick closing (less than 0.5 seconds) expander trip
valve (V2) is installed within about ten pipe
diameters of the expander inlet. This double-offset
butterfly valve is used only for starting and stopping
the expander. An expander inlet block valve (V3) is
installed upstream of the trip valve for positive
sealing in the event the trip valve or expander needs
servicing. Atlas Copco recommends that this block
valve (typically a gate, ball or triple-offset butterfly
type) be automated to close within 10 to 20 seconds
anytime the trip valve closes. This provides low
cost additional assurance that the gas flow to the
expander will be stopped whenever required, even
in the event of damage to the trip valve. A manual
expander outlet block valve (V4) is installed at the
expander discharge. This valve is normally open
and is only closed if the expander is to be
depressurized for service.

For plant operation with the expander trip valve
closed and the J-T open, it is possible to have
sufficient flow through the compressor to cause
slow rotation. This is called windmilling. In order
to prevent the slow rotation, Atlas Copco
recommends automating one of the two compressor
block valves, in this case, the discharge block valve
(V5). This valve is closed only when a close limit
switch on valve V2 and/or V3 confirms that the
flow to the expander is stopped. This arrangement
prevents producing expander shaft power due to
either flow through the expander or compressor
whenever the expander is shut down. A manual
block valve (V6) is provided at the compressor
inlet. This valve is only closed when the expander
is to be depressurized for service. Expander start up
is not permitted unless both of the compressor block
valves are confirmed to be open by open limit
switches. A compressor recycle (surge) valve (V7),
typically a butterfly or globe type, is provided to
prevent compressor surge at low flow process
conditions.

Expander Controls

Compressor Controls

The J-T valve is normally controlled in split range
with the expander inlet guide vanes in response to a
process flow or pressure. This arrangement allows
full flow to be processed through the expander
unless the flow is above the expander flow capacity.
It is also possible to use an expander speed override
that will limit the opening of the guide vanes by
using a low signal select. This scheme will prevent
an expander overspeed trip signal which would
occur if the process control signal were to call for
excessive expander flow.

The only control required for the compressor is a
surge controller. By monitoring the compressor
flow and pressure rise, it is possible to determine
proximity to surge and therefore control compressor
recycle to the proper value. This simple and reliable
control algorithm is very effective and can be
implemented with standard instrumentation.

AN-01-013, Rev. 2

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