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Oil & Gas / Floating LNG 89


by Tim Eastwood and Jorge Arizmendi-Sánchez, Costain Energy and Process

LNG is an energy source THERE IS AN increasing demand for Liquefied gas fields with adequate reserves to support
Natural Gas (LNG) in many parts of the world, a FLNG facility with production capacity of
that can compete on yet recent expansion in import capacity, 1-2 mtpa for ten years or more. Plants of this
particularly in the USA, Western Europe, capacity can be easily accommodated within
both price and supply. India and China, has not been matched by the available deck space of a conventional
Due to constraints additional production capacity. hull. For higher LNG production capacities,
the size of the process topside modules could
associated with onshore Large, near shore gas reserves are required to lead to larger vessels than conventional today.
LNG facilities, floating make onshore LNG facilities economically
viable. Limited suitable locations, steel costs The major infrastructure required for
facilities are growing in and an unavailability of skilled personnel for onshore LNG plants, including gas pipeline
engineering and construction have escalated to shore, jetty, single or full containment
appeal, making stranded the cost of onshore LNG plants. Additionally, concrete LNG storage tanks and site
gas fields economically many of the locations under consideration preparation, is not needed for FLNG.
have been deemed too technically or This results in lower investment costs and
viable and giving politically challenging, leading to a shorter project schedule. An additional
operators a further postponement of final investment decisions. advantage of FLNG is the fact that the
units can be redeployed to a new field as
opportunity to redeploy Offshore floating LNG production (FLNG) production declines.
could overcome many of the difficulties
the facility to other associated with onshore LNG projects, MARINISATION OF LNG TECHNOLOGY
reserve bases. But with providing a feasible alternative for the Process technology for FLNG facilities
economical development of remote offshore needs to be highly efficient, proven and
this groundbreaking gas fields. Adapting onshore oil production reliable to minimise costs and technological
concept comes the technology for offshore operation has
already been demonstrated on well over a
risks. The process has to be robust to
changes in feed gas and ambient conditions,
challenges of putting hundred Floating Production, Storage and be extremely safe and meet stringent
Offloading (FPSO) units. environmental criteria. Allowable space is
LNG technology at sea a fraction of what is available onshore,
FLNG has a significant potential to exploit and optimal design will focus on minimising
and monetise stranded gas reserves and footprint and weight. Equipment needs to
Above: The FLEX LNG Producer. Picture courtesy natural gas found in association with oil. be robust to vessel movement and be aligned
of FLEX LNG and Samsung Heavy Industries. There are several hundred offshore natural with offshore specifications.
90 Oil & Gas / Floating LNG

A significant challenge in the design and GAS PRE-TREATMENT AND LIQUEFACTION PROCESS
construction of FLNG units is the successful
integration of the topsides (processing plant
and major utilities) with the hull and vessel
systems. Naval architects play a key role in
coordinating offshore design practice and
LNG plant design to ensure optimal
integration of the FLNG unit.

FLNG projects bring many opportunities for

skilled engineering companies and
technology suppliers to develop solutions
that meet these requirements.


Conventional process technologies can be
used for gas reception (including slug
catcher, liquids separation, filtration and
condensate stabilisation) and pre-treatment
(including acid gas removal, dehydration
and mercury removal), paying attention in
equipment design to account for ship motion.
For example, process performance of tall
columns in the acid gas removal system can
be analysed using tools such as Computational
Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to ensure appropriate Compared to other liquefaction processes opportunities for capital cost savings and
design of column internals. typically considered for larger onshore LNG high quality fabrication. Fabrication of the
facilities, for example, cascade or mixed vessel and the topside modules can be
LIQUEFACTION PROCESS refrigerant, turbo-expander technology is performed in parallel, reducing time to full
Turbo-expander technology is widely used for highly appropriate for FLNG, due to: LNG production by many months.
liquefaction of industrial gases and proven F Inherent safety, avoiding use and storage of
for liquefaction of natural gas in peak shave large amounts of hydrocarbon refrigerants LIQUEFACTION CYCLE MACHINERY
LNG plants. These refrigeration cycles F Insensitivity to vessel motion as the Refrigeration cycle compressors can either be
operate by compressing and work-expanding refrigerant is gaseous driven directly by gas turbines or by electric
a gaseous fluid, typically nitrogen, at high F Rapid start-up and shutdown in a safe motors. Technical challenges exist for both
isentropic efficiency to generate refrigeration. and controlled manner options, but direct drive is considered by
F Small number of equipment items with many as the preferred option as it eliminates
In FLNG evaluations in the late 1980s, a low footprint and weight electric generators, variable speed drives and
Costain advocated a dual turbo-expander F Flexibility to changes in feed gas conditions. electric motors, which add to footprint and
refrigeration cycle liquefaction process with weight and introduce losses in efficiency.
the second turbo-expander operating over a Furthermore, turbo-expander liquefaction
lower temperature range, giving improved technology lends itself to modular design As refrigeration cycle machinery is a major
efficiency. Today, there is consensus that the and fabrication due to the size of the contributor to footprint, weight and cost,
dual turbo-expander cycle is the technology equipment and the relatively low number of consideration of aero-derivative gas turbines
of choice for FLNG at capacities of 1-2 mtpa. equipment items. Modularisation provides can provide significant benefits in terms of
plant size and cost reductions for a given
plant capacity. Additionally, aero-derivative
gas turbines have a higher thermal efficiency,
are more reliable and require a reduced
maintenance downtime compared with their
industrial counterparts. Power output of gas
turbines in hot, tropical climates can be
increased by up to 30% by chilling the inlet
air with a mechanical refrigeration package
utilising ‘low ozone depletion’ refrigerants
or with absorption refrigeration based on
waste heat.

Radial inflow turbo-expanders used in the

refrigeration cycle exhibit high reliability
with minimal maintenance requirements.
FLNG uses conventional operating parameters,
and as frame sizes are at the higher end of
the manufacturer’s range, efficiencies are very
high. Active magnetic bearings are widely used
for turbo-expanders to minimise footprint and
weight compared with oil bearing systems.

A liquid expander can be used rather

than a valve to let down LNG product to
storage pressure. This increases production
capacity, with the extracted energy used
Turbo-expander with Active Magnetic Bearings Picture courtesy of Mafi-Trench Company to generate electricity.
Oil & Gas / Floating LNG 91


for 25 years, producing

3.6 mtpa LNG, 1.3 mtpa
condensate and 400,000 tpa
liquefied petroleum gas.
When fully ballasted, the
FLNG facility weighs around
600,000 tonnes. Capital cost
for the vessel is estimated at
around US$5.5 billion, while
the full life cycle project
costs are expected to hit

Shell is the operator and

100% equity holder of
the WA-371-P permit,
containing the Prelude and
Concerto fields. The Prelude
FLNG project is now
undergoing the FEED study,
which is being conducted by
with the Technip-Samsung
Heavy Industries consortium.
Shell also signed a master
agreement with the
consortium for the design,
Last October, Shell announced plans to develop its Prelude and construction and installation of multiple FLNG facilities over a
Concerto gas discoveries, located in the Browse Basin off the period of up to 15 years.
northwest coast of Western Australia, using a floating liquefied
natural gas (FLNG) platform. The final investment decision is expected in early 2011 and the
vessel is expected to be operational in 2016. In a draft environmental
FLNG technology has the potential to unlock some of Australia’s impact statement released last October (2009), Shell stated that a
‘stranded’ gas reserves that have previously been considered development drilling programme would begin in 2013 to drill
uneconomic to develop because of their small size or distance eight production wells, which will be tied back to manifolds and
from shore. Prelude, for example, is a relatively small field holding connected to the FLNG vessel through four flowlines.
2-3 tcf of gas. The FLNG vessel eliminates the need for an
offshore platform, a pipeline to shore, a jetty and dredging, Shell’s commitment to move forward at Prelude has intensified
thus reducing costs and environmental impact. the race to build the world’s first FLNG project. Companies including
Brazil’s Petrobras, Japan’s Inpex, Malaysia’s Petronas, PTTEP of
The double-hulled FLNG vessel, set to be the world’s biggest Thailand, France’s GDF Suez and Flex LNG are proposing FLNG
ship at 480 metres by about 75 metres, is intended to operate ventures, some aiming for start-up before 2016.

LIQUEFACTION HEAT EXCHANGERS A closed-loop cooling water circuit using actively developing stern loading systems
Aluminium plate-fin heat exchangers (PFHE) compact heat exchangers can provide that allow transfer in harsher environmental
are conventional in cryogenic natural gas efficient cooling at very small temperature conditions.
processing onshore and are ideal for floating driving forces. Such a system requires a
liquefaction, being light, compact and fraction of the space and weight SAFETY AND PLANT LAYOUT
highly efficient for multi-stream duties. requirements of conventional open-loop An excellent safety record has been enjoyed
Multiple PFHE cores can be accommodated systems with direct cooling against seawater both by onshore LNG plants and by the
in cold box modules providing insulation in shell and tube heat exchangers. LNG carrier fleet. FLNG introduces more
and weatherproofing. stringent requirements due to the congested
STORAGE AND OFFLOADING nature of the plant, storage and personnel
Spiral-wound heat exchangers, conventional Advances in offshore LNG storage and areas. Several classification societies have
and proven in large-scale onshore LNG transfer have been essential to the viability developed requirements for FLNG facilities
plants, can be considered as an alternative. of FLNG. Storage tanks on a FLNG facility and will act as a ‘design authority’ in
They are robust to thermal stresses, but their are filled over a number of days, so they developing safety assessments. No obstacles
application may be limited due to increased must be robust to sloshing loads when have been identified for the safe design of a
height, footprint and weight. partially filled. The main LNG storage system FLNG facility using nitrogen as refrigerant,
licensors now have designs qualified to with Quantitative Risk Assessments
PROCESS HEATING AND COOLING withstand sloshing effects, including showing lower risk than many onshore
Waste heat available from the gas turbines prismatic designs that minimise the impact LNG plants.
exceeds process requirements, so waste heat on the available deck area.
recovery is the most cost-effective and Offshore LNG production provides a
thermally efficient solution for process Systems for side-by-side LNG transfer using competitive alternative to onshore production
heating required for pre-treatment facilities. articulated loading arms and cryogenic at a time of LNG shortage. Equipment that
hoses are now commercially available. provides a safe, simple, flexible and robust
A FLNG unit needs significantly more As side-by-side loading is feasible only in solution, with low footprint and weight is
cooling water than an oil-processing FPSO. calm seas, technology suppliers are now best suited to a FLNG facility.