Natural Gas and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) markets are expected to expand now and in years to come. Analysts from McKinsey & Company expect the demand for natural gas to increase by more than 3 percent per year through 2035. Natural gas is an especially attractive fuel for power generation. Burning natural gas produces fewer emissions than many other fossil fuels while generating an equal amount of energy. Facilities powered by natural gas are often very cost-effective to build and operate.
As many power-generation facilities convert from coal to gas and demand from other areas increases, we will need infrastructure to support natural gas processing, storage, and transportation. The effective process plant design will help support the industry as it continues to expand. Owners and operators will rely on these important assets to deliver gas to the market with safety, speed, and efficiency.
Processing facilities are one of the most critical components of the natural gas supply chain. These facilities also vary widely in their design and complexity. Next, we will examine some of the design parameters that influence the process of plant design. A skilled engineering team, like Matrix PDM, can design and build a custom solution that operates within your feed and export constraints.
Composition of Feed Gas Leads Process Plant Design
The composition of the feed gas is the first parameter in process plant design. Contaminants such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and water determine what is needed for the plant’s preprocessing section. Feedstock with heavy hydrocarbon content will influence the choice of the NGL recovery section, fractionation technology and gas receiving section. The slug catcher, stabilization process and other components are chosen or designed based on the feed composition. For example, when heavy hydrocarbon content is high, the NGL recovery section will consume more energy to process the higher flow of liquid hydrocarbons and to extract products to specification. These types of considerations are why each processing plant must be designed based on the specifications and parameters specific to your project.
Proper contamination separation at the front end of the plant is important to ensure the process facility meets the proper quality specifications. Feed gas slipstream testing is often used to characterize and quantify the contaminants in the feed gas. This information can help determine what contaminant removal technology is needed.
Once the contaminants in the feed stream have been quantified and a product specification is determined, engineers will design each system for proper contamination removal. Systems such as amine units and glycol dehydration can be used to remove water and hydrogen sulfides. To ensure proper removal, facilities must have the capability to monitor the gas compositions before and after contamination removal. Gas chromatographs, dew point monitors, H2S monitors are all key instruments to measure how effective the systems are working and ensure that a safe product is being delivered downstream.
Process Plants are Designed with the Export Market in Mind
Every country has its own specifications for the heating value and composition of the gas it purchases. In North America, the plant will need to be designed to meet DOT and EPA regulations. Plants that plan to market their gas to other countries will need a flexible NGL recovery unit to accommodate the market’s specifications.
In addition to meeting regulatory requirements, processed natural gas will need to meet the product specifications dictated by the market. Delivering a product that matches the specifications is a complex process but it can be broken down into three main components: refrigeration, fractionation, and contamination removal. The functions of these three components combine to ensure the processing facility produces a product that meets the heating value and composition for the market.
Automation & Technology in Process Plant Design
Electrical systems, Distributed Control Systems (DCS), and plant automation systems are essential features of modern processing facilities. Well-designed and implemented electrical and control systems can greatly improve operating efficiency. Technology can be used to reduce utility consumption and operate with optimum efficiency.
Technology has also made it possible to monitor equipment remotely. Operators can make adjustments to plant operations or respond to control alarms. Logic-based software can also make adjustments based on set parameters. It is also possible to monitor the “wear and tear” of equipment with automation. These systems provide data that can help guide maintenance programs. There are tremendous benefits to proactive maintenance as components reach the end of their lifespan. Automation systems can be integrated into business systems to help monitor production, inventory, and other metrics.
Operating Environment & Availability of Water Impact Process Plant Design
The operating environment and proximity to water will dictate some elements of the process plant design. For example, in hot climates, turbine efficiency decreases as the temperature increases. Different turbines also perform better than others in warm conditions. Generally speaking, cooler temperatures are favorable for operations. However, plants located in areas that experience very harsh winters will have to make some adjustments in their design.
Safety is also an important consideration in process plant design. Areas that are at risk for seismic events, flooding and other natural disasters will need to make contingencies. Experienced engineering teams will take the operating environment into account and design a facility that will work well with the facility’s climate.
Matrix PDM for Process Plant Design
Although a process plant design is bound to the engineering principles that make the process feasible, there are still endless permutations within the electrical and control systems, equipment choices and design layout. The experienced team at Matrix PDM can sift through the endless choices to deliver a design that will perform efficiently for years to come.
Schedule is a big driver in many industries, but especially in Natural Gas. We understand that time to market is critical to your operations. We are proud to report we managed the simultaneous execution of $700 million (TIC) gas processing projects. We lead these projects from design initiation to full operations working in tandem with our sister subsidiary, Matrix Service. We are confident we can meet your high standards for quality, safety and schedule.
Natural gas processing facilities are just one example of our work on processing plants. Matrix PDM engineers have a variety of experience ranging from a project for a Coffee Production Facility to a Landfill Gas Recycling Facility to a Gas Cleaning Plant. Learn more about our projects or submit an invitation to bid today.