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Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry 20(2011)471476

Comparison of three methods for natural gas dehydration


Michal Netusil , Pavel Ditl
Department of Process Engineering, Czech Technical University, Prague 6, 166 07, Czech Republic
[ Manuscript received April 6, 2011; revised May 23, 2011 ]

Abstract
This paper compares three methods for natural gas dehydration that are widely applied in industry: (1) absorption by triethylene glycol, (2)
adsorption on solid desiccants and (3) condensation. A comparison is made according to their energy demand and suitability for use. The
energy calculations are performed on a model where 105 Nm3 /h water saturated natural gas is processed at 30 C. The pressure of the gas
varies from 7 to 20 MPa. The required outlet concentration of water in natural gas is equivalent to the dew point temperature of 10 C at gas
pressure of 4 MPa.
Key words
gas reservoir; underground gas storage; natural gas; gas dehydration

1. Introduction UGSs, vapors of higher hydrocarbons also contaminate the


stored gas. The distribution specification sets the allowable
The theme of natural gas (NG) dehydration is closely con- water concentration in NG by specifying a dew point temper-
nected with the storage of NG. There are two basic reasons ature (Tdew ) of NG. Tdew is usually taken to be 7 C for NG
why storing NG is an interesting idea. First, it can decrease the at 4 MPa [2]. This value is equivalent to roughly 5 gH2 O /m3
dependency on supply. Second, it can exploit the maximum NG at 4 MPa. The water content in NG at saturation is depen-
capacity of distribution lines. NG is stored in summer periods dent on the temperature and pressure within the UGS. This is
when there is lower demand for it, and is withdrawn in winter well presented in Figure No.20, Chapter 20, in the GPSA Data
periods when significant amounts of NG are used for heating. Book (12th Edition). The average value of H2 O in NG is five
Underground Gas Storages (UGSs) are the most advantageous times higher than that of required. A dehydration step of NG
option for storing large volumes of gas. Nowadays there are from UGS is therefore essential before the gas is distributed.
approximately 130 UGSs inside the European Union. Their This paper compares industrially applied dehydration meth-
total maximum technical storage capacity is around 95 bcm. ods according to their energy demand and suitability for use.
According to the latest update, over 70 bcm of additional stor-
age capacity will come on stream in Europe till 2020 [1]. 2. Dehydration methods
There are three types of UGSs: (1) aquifers, (2) depleted
oil/gas fields and (3) salt cavern reservoirs. Each of these
types possesses its own physical characteristics. Generally, 2.1. Absorption
the allowable pressure of stored gas inside a UGS is up to
20 MPa. The inside pressure increases as the gas is injected First dehydration method is absorption of H2 O. Absorp-
and decreases when there is a withdrawal. The output gas tion is usually performed using triethylene glycol (TEG). Ab-
pressure depends on further pipeline distribution. Distribution sorption proceeds in a glycol contactor (a tray column or
sites normally begin at 7 MPa. The temperature of the gas packet bed) with countercurrent flows of wet NG and TEG.
usually ranges from 2035 C. The exact temperature varies During the contact, TEG is enriched by H2 O and flows out of
with the location of UGS and with the time of year. A disad- the bottom part of the contactor. Enriched TEG then continues
vantage of UGSs is that the gas becomes saturated by water flowing into the internal heat exchanger, which is incorporated
vapors during the storage. In the case of depleted oil field at the top of the still column. It then flows into the flash drum,

Corresponding author. Tel: +420-2243522714; Fax: +420-224310292; E-mail: netusil.michal@gmail.com


This work was supported by the Inovation and Optimalization of Technologies for Natural Gas Dehydration (No. FR-TI1/173).

Copyright2011, Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/S1003-9953(10)60218-6
472 Michal Netusil et al./ Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry Vol. 20 No. 5 2011

where the flash gases are released and separated from the temperature should not exceed 208 C based on the decompo-
stream. TEG then runs to the cold side of the TEG/TEG sition temperature of TEG. Regenerated TEG is then pumped
heat exchanger. Just afterwards, warmed TEG is filtered and back through the hot side of the TEG/TEG and NG/TEG heat
sprayed into the still column. From there, TEG runs into the exchanger into the top of the contactor. The entire process is
reboiler. In the reboiler, H2 O is boiled out of TEG. The inside depicted in Figure 1 [3].

Figure 1. Scheme of absorption dehydration

The purity of the regenerated TEG and the circulation aromatic hydrocarbons, 30% naphthenes and 10% paraffins.
rate (LTEG /kgH2 O ) limit the obtained output Tdew of NG. Water separator of the three-phase solvent is crucial for this
Gas stripping can be implemented to enhance TEG regener- method. The Coldfinger regeneration system employs a cool-
ation. Proprietary design DRIZO , licensed by Poser-NAT, ing coil (the coldfinger) in the vapor space of the surge tank.
COLDFINGER and Gas Conditioners International, have The cooling taking place there causes the condensation of a
been patented as an alternative to traditional stripping gas huge amount of vapors. The condensate is a water rich TEG
units. The Drizo regeneration system utilizes a recoverable mixture, which leads to a further separation process [4]. En-
solvent as the stripping medium. The patent operates with hanced regeneration systems are depicted in Figure 2.
isooctane solvent, but the typical composition is about 60%

Figure 2. Scheme of enhanced TEG regeneration systems


Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry Vol. 20 No. 5 2011 473

2.2. Adsorption specified by time borders A, B, C and D with appropriate bor-


der temperatures TA , TB , TC and TD . Regeneration starts at
The second dehydration method is adsorption of H2 O by point A. The inlet regeneration gas warms the column and the
a solid desiccant. In this method, H2 O is usually adsorbed on adsorbent. Around a temperature of 120 C (TB ), the sorbed
a molecular sieve, silica gel or alumina. A comparison of the humidity starts to evaporate from the pores. The adsorbent
physical properties of each desiccant is shown in Table 1 [5,6]. continues warming more slowly, because a considerable part
of the heat is consumed by water evaporation. From point C,
Table 1. Comparison of the physical properties of desiccants around the temperature of 140 C (TC ), it can be assumed that
used for NG dehydration
all water has been desorbed. Adsorbent is further heated to
Properties Silica gel Alumina Molecular sieve desorb C5+ and other contaminants till point D. The regenera-
Specific area (m2 /g) 750830 210 650800 tion is completed when the outlet temperature of the regener-
Pore volume (cm3 /g) 0.40.45 0.21 0.27 ation gas reaches 180190 C (TD ). Finally, cooling proceeds

Pore diameter (A) 22 26 45 from point D to E. The temperature of the cooling gas should
Design capacity 79 47 912 not decrease below 50 C, in order to prevent any water con-
(kgH2 O /100 kgdesiccant ) densation from the cooling gas [7]. Part of the processed NG
Density (kg/m3 ) 721 800880 690720 is sometimes used as the regeneration gas. Then it is cooled,
Heat capacity (Jkg1 K1 ) 920 240 200 and water condensed when it is separated. After H2 O sepa-
Regeneration temperature ( C) 230 240 290 ration, the regeneration gas is added back into the processed
Heat of desorption (J) 3256 4183 3718 stream.
Source: Tagliabue (2009), Gandhidasan (2001) So-called LBTSA (Layered Bed Temperature-Swing Ad-
sorption) processes are an upgrade of TSA method. Here, the
adsorption column is composed of several layers of different
The amount of adsorbed H2 O molecules increases with adsorbents. Hence, the properties of the separate adsorbents
the gas pressure and decreases with its temperature, which are combined in one column. For example, a combination of
are taken into account when the process parameters are de- silica gel with alumina is used in NG dehydration. Alumina
signed. Adsorption dehydration columns always work period- has better resistance to liquid water, so it is put in the first
ically. Minima of two bed systems are used. Typically, one place to contact the wet NG. This ordering prolongs the life-
bed dries the gas while the other is being regenerated. Regen- time of the silica gel, which is placed below the alumina layer.
eration is performed by preheated gas, as depicted in Figure 3.
2.3. Condensation

The third dehydration method employs gas cooling to turn


H2 O molecules into the liquid phase and then removes them
from the stream. Natural gas liquids (NGLs) and condensed
higher hydrocarbons can also be recovered from NG by cool-
ing. The condensation method is therefore usually applied
for simultaneous dehydration and NGL recovery. NG can be
advantageously cooled using the Joule-Thompson effect (JT
effect). The JT effect describes how the temperature of a gas
changes with pressure adjustment. For NG, owing to expan-
Figure 3. Scheme of the temperature swing adsorption dehydration process sion, the average distance between its molecules increases,
leading to an increase in their potential energy (Van der Waals
The heater for TSA can be realized as an ordinary burner forces). During expansion, there is no heat exchange with the
or as a shell and tube heat exchanger warmed by steam or hot environment or work creation. Therefore, according to the
oil. The regeneration gas flows through the adsorbent into a conservation law, the increase in potential energy leads to a
cooler (usually using cold air) and then further into the sep- decrease in kinetic energy and thus a temperature decrease of
arator. Most of the desorbed humidity from the adsorbent is NG. However, there is another phenomenon connected with
removed there. A downstream flow of wet NG through the the cooling of wet NG. Attention should be paid to the forma-
adsorption column is usually applied. In this way, floating tion of methane hydrate. Methane hydrate is a solid in which a
and channeling of an adsorbent is avoided. The regenera- large amount of methane is trapped within the crystal structure
tion is performed by countercurrent flow in order to provide of water, forming a solid similar to ice. The hydrate produc-
complete regeneration from the bottom of the column, where tion from a unit amount of water is higher than the ice forma-
the last contact of the dried NG with the adsorbent proceeds. tion. Hydrates formed by cooling may plug the flow. This is
The typical temperature course for regeneration of molecular usually prevented by injecting methanol or monoethylengly-
sieves is presented by Kumar (1987) [7]. The shape of the col (MEG) hydrate inhibitors before each cooling. Figure 4
curve representing the course of the outlet regeneration gas depicts a dehydration method utilizing the JT effect and hy-
temperature is typically composed of four regions. They are drate inhibition.
474 Michal Netusil et al./ Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry Vol. 20 No. 5 2011

The wet NG is throttled in two steps inside the flash tanks. defreeze any ice that may form. A condensation method is ap-
The lower temperature (due to the JT effect) of the gas stream plied when suitable conditions for the JT effect are available.
in the flash tanks leads to partial condensation of H2 O va- Each of the methods presented here has its advantages
pors. The droplets created are removed from the gas stream and disadvantages. Absorption by TEG is nowadays the most
by a demister inside the flashes. In cases when cooling by widely used method. Outlet Tdew around 10 C is usu-
the JT effect is insufficient (the usable pressure difference be- ally reached. Indeed, with improved reboiler design (Vac-
tween the UGS and the distribution network is insufficient), uum stripping, Drizo, Coldfinger), the outlet Tdew is even 23
the air precooler and the external cooler are turned on. Since times lower. However, TEG has a problem of sulfur or gas
dehydration is normally applied to large volume of NG, the contaminated with higher hydrocarbons. The TEG in the re-
external coolers need to have good performance, so this type boiler foams, and with time it degrades into a black mud.
of cooling is very energy expensive. However, if the usable BTEX emissions (the acronym for benzene, toluene, ethyl-
pressure difference is large, the JT effect inside the flashes benzene and xylenes) in the reboiler vent are a further disad-
is so strong that internal heating of the flashes is required to vantage.

Figure 4. Scheme of dehydration method utilizing the JT effect and hydrate inhibition

Adsorption dehydration can obtain very low outlet water 7 to 20 MPa, but in the case of the condensation method the
concentration of Tdew <50 C, and contaminated gases are pressure range started at 10 MPa. The required outlet concen-
not a problem. Even corrosion of the equipment proceeds at tration of H2 O in NG was equivalent to the dew point temper-
a slow rate. However, adsorption requires high capital invest- ature of 10 C at gas pressure of 4 MPa.
ment and has high space requirements. The adsorption pro- The calculation of TEG absorption was based on GPSA
cess runs with at least two columns (some lines use three, four (2004) [9]. The results were compared with the paper by
or as many as six). Adsorption columns are taller and heav- Gandhidasan (2003) [8] and with industrial data provided by
ier than absorption contactors. The allowed flow velocity for ATEKO a.s. The total energy demand was composed of heat
TEG contactors is approximately three times higher than that for TEG regeneration in the reboiler, energy for the pumps,
for adsorption. This results in an approximately 70% larger filtration and after-cooling the lean TEG before entering the
diameter of the adsorption column for the same amount of contactor. Enhanced regeneration was not considered. The
processed gas. Industrial experience indicates that the capital basic parameters for the calculation were: regeneration tem-
cost for an adsorption line is 23 times higher than that for an perature of 200 C, concentration of lean TEG of 98.5% and
absorption one [8]. circulation ratio of 35 LTEG /kgH2 O .
Expansion dehydration is the most suitable method in For calculating adsorption dehydration, molecular sieve
cases when a high pressure difference is available between 5A was considered to be the most suitable adsorbent. The to-
UGS and the distribution connection. However the difference tal energy demand was directly connected to the regeneration
decreases during the withdrawal period and becomes in- gas heater, and no other consumption was assumed. The cal-
sufficient, so that an external cooling cycle is needed. A cycle culations were again based on GPSA (2004). The results were
compared with the papers reported by Gandhidasan (2001)
for hydrate inhibitor regeneration from the condensate sepa-
and Kumar (1987) [7]. The calculation procedure for GPSA
rated inside the flashes is also required.
and Gandhidasan arose from the summation of the particular
heats, i.e. the heat for adsorbent warming, the heat for column
3. Experimental warming and the heat for water desorption. Kumars calcu-
lation procedure run differently. The regeneration step was
The energy demand for the methods presented here was divided into four regions reproted in Ref. [7]. Afterwards we
compared on the basis of a model, where a volume of determined what individual phenomena proceeded in each re-
105 Nm3 /h NG from UGS was processed. The NG was H2 O gion, what the border and average temperatures were, and how
saturated at 30 C. The pressure of the gas was varied from much energy was required to cover these phenomena. Finally,
Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry Vol. 20 No. 5 2011 475

the demands for each region were added. The basic parame- Under high pressures of NG (>16 MPa), the energy demand
ters for all procedures were: temperature of the regeneration of the condensation method was at its lowest, and it remained
gas of 300 C, time of adsorption/regeneration of 12 h and two nearly constant with an average value around 36 kW.
column designs. The courses of the energy demand for the adsorption and
The condensation method was calculated on the basis absorption methods were quite similar: with increasing pres-
of industrial data provided by TEBODIN s.r.o. and sup- sure of dehydrated NG, the energy demand slowly decreased.
plementary calculations of the JT effect. The key parame- The absorption method was less demanding on the whole
ter influencing energy demand was the pressure of NG from pressure scale, and began with consumption of 120 kW at
UGS. Because it was not feasible to apply this method under 7 MPa. The adsorption method started with 234 kW at 7 MPa,
low pressures, and the provided data start at 10 MPa, the pres- but the energy demand decreased slightly more as the pres-
sure range was adjusted. The total energy demand consisted sure of NG in UGS was risen. This led to a gradual decrease
of the air pre-cooling unit, the external cooling, the pumps in the difference between these two methods, and the energy
for MEG injection and condensate off take, the heat for MEG demand at the final pressure values of 20 MPa were equal to
regeneration, and flash heating. 54 kW for absorption and 103 kW for adsorption.

4. Results 5. Discussion

The results obtained by TEG absorption method were the By far the highest energy demand of the condensation
same for each of the calculation procedures, and good agree- method at low pressures of NG from UGS is due to the pres-
ment with industrial data was also obtained. However, the cal- sure being close to the distribution pressure, so that pressure
culation procedures by the adsorption method led to different cannot be used for the JT effect in flashes. Cooling is then
results. Hence, the average energy demand value was taken compensated by the air pre-cooler and the external cooling de-
as the reference. The maximum deviation from it was below vice, which are unsuitable for large volume of processed NG.
20% for all the calculation procedures. The source of the de- However, as the pressure difference between UGS and the dis-
viation lies in the loss factor and the non-steady state factor. tribution site increases, the space for expansion rises and the
In the case of the condensation method, the calculated values JT effect proceeds with increasing impact. This is projected
for the JT effect were in good agreement with the industrial into a linear decrease in the energy demand of the air pre-
data, but the amount of data was limited, resulting in limited cooler and the external cooling device. From the point where
representation of the condensation method. there is a pressure of NG >14 MPa, flash heating is gradu-
The final energy consumption results for each dehydra- ally turned on to prevent any freezing caused by the strong
tion method are summarized and shown in Figure 5. JT effect. The energy demand of flash heating is reflected
in the total energy consumption. Finally, at pressures of
NG>16 MPa, total cooling and subsequent condensation are
achieved by the JT effect. The total energy demand, which
consists of flash heating and inhibitor injection and regenera-
tion, remains constant.
For adsorption and absorption dehydration methods, the
similar falling courses of the energy demand with increasing
pressure of NG can be explained by the fact that with increas-
ing pressure within a UDG, the amount of H2 O present in the
NG decreases. Generally, the absorption method consumes
less energy, because the regeneration of TEG is less demand-
ing than adsorbent regeneration. The composition of the total
energy demand of the adsorption method can be divided into
three parts. The heat for H2 O desorption, warming the ad-
sorbent and the column is approximately 55%, 31% and 14%,
Figure 5. Final results of energy consumption for each dehydration method respectively. It also has to be assumed that just part of the heat
in the regeneration gas transfers to the adsorbent, the column
Under low pressures (pressure of NG from UGS and heat loss leave to the atmosphere, and the balance leaves
<13 MPa), the condensation method was the most demanding with the hot gas.
one. Its demand decreased linearly with pressure to a value of In brief, from the viewpoint of energy demand, the most
145 kW for 13 MPa. At this point, the energy demand for the appropriate dehydration method in cases of high pressures is
condensation method was roughly the same as that for the ad- the stored NG condensation method. This holds for NG from
sorption method. When NG pressure was further increased UGS with pressure >15 MPa and distribution pressure re-
from 13 MPa to 16 MPa, the energy demand for the conden- quirement of 7 MPa. Under lower pressures, the condensation
sation method still decreased, but with a lowering tendency. method is used if the objective is to recover NGL and remove
476 Michal Netusil et al./ Journal of Natural Gas Chemistry Vol. 20 No. 5 2011

water simultaneously. However, this is usually not the case BTEX benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes
when storing NG in a UGS. In cases when insufficient pres-
sure difference is available, the absorption method is therefore References
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