Micro is the new macro! Easy to integrate! And easy to meet requirements from clients! Requirements to bring methane-to-markets! Markets which exists today and grow by tomorrow!
Micro can fuel motor vehicles and power remote residential and industrial locations.
Micro-LNG plants are available in the range of 5’000 to 20’000 metric tons of LNG per year. Micro-LNG facilities primarily aim at local markets.
As for today LNG is more environmental friendly compared to diesel in heavy-duty vehicle cargo transportation. The power market for remote locations can also easily substitute diesel or fuel oil with LNG.
The road movie continues, transporting fuels to remote locations. The production and distribution score is changing, where constant micro productions meet constant micro demands.
The famous Isaac Newton, and many influential people before him, stated the aphorism that dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants are able to see even further than giants themselves. After decades of giant’s domination within the LNG market, mid, small-scale and even micro-LNG plants are turning into the hope of a generation – to maintain security of supply, investment and innovation. And all locally produced, in the reach to the markets.
Methane gas is easy
Methane rich gas in liquefied form is easy. Easy to produce. Easy to transport. Easy to store. Easy to convert (back into its gaseous form). And – at last – easy to produce electricity from it. No wondrous things involved.
Unfortunately, methane gas, whenever exploited or produced as biogas or even landfill gas, is seldom alone. It has company – hitchhikers, and to carry them along is not pleasant, nor recommendable.
Normally, methane gas is a simple combination of one carbon and four hydrogen atoms. An easy catch! Once unleashed from their original source the wanted-quintet – together with unpleasant hitchhikers (CO2 and water to be named) – is passing through several engineering-traps, or pre-treatment facilities to unload the unwanted guests. Finally, the quintet approaches the finely-crafted metal gates – the heat exchangers. Methane enters and cold is everywhere, a grim cold, turning the quintet into liquid form. It is stored at site and ready for further use. The world of creating the tools to convert methane gas-to-liquids – the world of engineering – is less poetic due to constant focus on reliability, robustness, mitigating environmental footprints, overall energy consumption, and not to mention price. What are the costs to make the quintet cold?
Then again, cold is good, because the carbon-hydrogen alliance gets chilly, then liquid, and, more importantly, ready for transport to us – today. And to others – tomorrow! We all need energy – today, tomorrow and the day after!
Back to the giants
And the giants do what exactly again? They provide “the cold”.
The market is dominated by giants, super-sized LNG plants in the range of up to 10 million tons per year (in 2010), which can easily be increased to an enormous 20 million tons per year – there are virtually no limits for giants these days. Their planed and outlined sizes are in the sheer mega-range. Often, the attempt to describe such plants as somewhat bigger fridges, is utterly misleading. No fridge is that big nor complicated to use. Again, these things are giants – designed with cutting-edge technology in terms of engineering, planning, manufacturing, construction and operating. Does liquefaction of methane gas on a micro, small and mid-scale level follow the same challenges, difficulties and complexity as giant’s performances and security of supply (bigger is better) do?
Particularly small and micro-scale LNG technologies are dwarfs compared to their carrying hosts – the giants. But in recent years cheaper yet robust and reliable technologies are easily available. And the demand for methane gas is growing.
Mature giants and growing-up dwarfs
Even giants started small. Every new technology upheaval or breakthrough lead to another generation and the race continued towards more powerful and complicated machinery to produce LNG. Today we are facing the latest generation of base-load LNG plants.
In 2008 some 20 base-load LNG plants in 16 countries can be identified worldwide. In 2020, it’s firmly believed that almost 30% of Western Europe’s natural gas consumption will be supplied by LNG, mainly produced by base-load LNG plants. If so, another 70% of Europe’s natural gas consumption must be supplied otherwise. Major natural gas pipelines are distributing natural gas from Eastern-Europe and thus contributing substantially towards keeping the supply secured. Is this enough? Possible not. Methane-to-liquids-applications on small or even micro-scale may help to cover energy supply in time of great demand with methane gas supply from biogas, landfill gas or flare gas. An integrated industry where giants will peacefully coexist with dwarfs all around them.
Around the corner
Natural gas infrastructures and strategies are shifting towards an “integrated or total-solutions-market”, strongly focusing on bringing methane-to-markets. And the market is just around the corner! More importantly, long-time neglected candidates for methane-to-liquids-applications are recruited from local biogas, landfill gas, or even flare gas sources.
Volume is measured in cubic meters. Weight – of course – in kilograms. Investment and profit are being measured in a variety of currencies all over the world. But how do you measure the simplicity and flexibility of industrial liquefaction plants?
Keep it simple
Simplicity and flexibility power your investment. And they both power your LNG production in a very simple way – today more than ever.
The 19th century was the birthmark for the Brayton cycle, developed by George Brayton, a pioneer in the development of turbine engines. There are many forms of Brayton cycles: ranging from single open cycles used in gas turbines and jet engines to the closed thermodynamic cycles. More importantly, the reversed Brayton cycle is used to provide cooling.
Among other refrigerant cycles, the reversed Brayton cycle appeared between 1850 and 1880. Based on its principles, First and Second-Generation Brayton cycles had been established, and ultimately the Third as well as the Fourth-Generation cycles for small- and mid-scale in industrial process plants had been developed.
Can liquefaction of gases based on this simple technology, in the range of up to 1 million tons per year, become easier? More flexible? And what’s most important to you: Can it become more cost-effective compared to mixed-refrigerant-based liquefaction processes?
The reversed Nitrogen Brayton cycle, or Nitrogen Expansion cycle, strictly follows the tradition of simplicity and robustness. The prime liquefaction medium – Nitrogen – is always kept in the gaseous phase. Also, nitrogen is found in abundance; simple and cheap to produce from the surrounding air by separation. Consequently, no extra hold-up system is required to store several hydrocarbons, i.e. pentane, butane, propane, ethylene to obtain the proper mix (Mixed Refrigerants).
Speaking in liquefaction terms, and in a nutshell: nitrogen is being compressed and subsequently expanded – which provides the necessary low temperature to liquefy gases, i.e. converting natural gas to LNG. All liquefaction plants based on the principles of the reversed Brayton cycle comply with the following:
- fast start-up / shut-down procedures
- flexible turn-down rates in minutes without affecting process stability
- superb specific power consumption, i.e. Third and Fourth-Generation
The reversed First and Second-Generation Brayton cycles are fully established within industrial liquefaction processes. Worldwide, several small-scale LNG plants are based on both generations. From 2011 onwards, the fully developed Third and Fourth-Generation Brayton cycles will be introduced into the market.
In comparison, the graph also visualizes industrial small-, mid-scale and base-load MR cycles.
The extension of the fridge
As the wheel is another extension of the foot, clothing is another extension of the skin. Very simple things – yet necessities in daily life. When industrial liquefaction technology is brushed against liquefaction technology, today’s and upcoming industrial liquefaction plants, based on the principles of the reversed Brayton cycle, are the extension of the fridge – only bigger. Simple in design yet highly efficient. Flexible in terms of storing products. Based on an ubiquitous and all-time safe cooling medium (Nitrogen). Easy to start. Easy to turn off. Easy to regulate. Compact and – of course – fast in delivery.
There is an increasing demand world wide by the United Nations and other global organizations and fora, local governments, environmental organizations and the oil and gas industry itself for better use of natural gas resources and to combat greenhouse gas emissions resulting from flaring or venting of natural gas; and of coal bed methane (CBM) and coal mine methane (CCM) emissions.
If oil or coal is produced in areas of the world which lack natural gas infrastructure or a nearby gas market, a significant portion of this associated gas may be released into the atmosphere, un-ignited (vented) or ignited (flared). The gas is alternatively re-injected into the reservoir to help maintain pressure. Flaring and venting of natural gas from oil wells and coal mining represents a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Flaring alone contributes to more than 1% to global emissions of CO2 .This represent about 13% of committed emission reductions by developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol for the period 2008-2012. The World Bank estimates that over 150 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas are being flared and vented annually. That is the equivalent of the combined annual natural gas consumption of Germany and France. And the 40 billion cubic meters of gas flared in Africa is equivalent to half of the continent’s power consumption.
Many places there are also reserves of stranded natural gas-resources that are abandoned because currently there is no economical way to get it to the markets. With natural gas becoming such an important and marketable commodity, producers would like to recover and get some value out of these resources which to a certain degree already are partly processed.
As a way to meet these demands there is a growing interest in small scale LNG process and plant solutions to help solve the challenges mentioned above from a number of countries on almost all continents. Production capacities of small scale LNG plants vary in the range from 2000 up to 1 million tons of LNG per year. By comparison, a typical large scale plant has a production capacity of between 2.5 and 15 million tons of LNG per year. As already pointed out in Small is beautiful – LNG your life small-scale LNG applications had been successfully introduced as industrial applications in mid-90ies, pioneered by Norway.
As for today – and started since the new millennium – size matters even more and small-scale LNG plant became even smaller; now called mini-LNG, creating and carving new markets with a plethora of possibilities to think about. New gas sources, i.e. biogas, landfill gas, even coal bed methane gas became interesting for liquefaction, energy storage and distribution. Shortcuts like liquefied biogas (LBG) and liquefied methane gas (LMG) were introduced and became pending slogans in the industry and among customers.
LNG, another general-purpose-fuel
On the supply side, stranded gas reserves, flare gas, landfill, coal bed methane, or biogas are abundant but had not been economical viable in recent years. Turning these reserves of gas into value-added general-purpose-fuel seem to be both economically feasible and very attractive for an environmental stand point. What is a general-purpose-fuel? Regarding today’s infrastructure, and due to inter-dependencies between producers and customers gasoline, diesel and natural gas are considered general-purpose-fuels, enabling a non-disruptive mobility market, constant heat and electricity production and – above all – energy storage. Many business venture are spinning around general-purpose-fuels. The major disadvantage of natural gas, compared to gasoline and diesel, is its inherent low energy density, which, in fact, is simply implied by its gaseous character. LNG on the other side, turned into liquid state is comparable to gasoline or diesel, regarding energy density.
Small-scale LNG or, to bluntly spoken, small-scale LMG applications may become everybody’s darling in the industry, simply because the proof is in the pudding, which, in fact, is response time. Business is strongly related to response time, as already pointed out in the article Another day before the energy crisis? and short response time in the market is the key to satisfy customers and secure further investments. In short, small-scale LNG applications require upstream, midstream and, of course, downstream players. Methane gas will be pre-treated, liquefied, stored and distributed and, as it reaches its final destination, regasified. Most interestingly, the appeal of LNG is the use of the existing infrastructure for the before mentioned general-purpose-fuels, today’s gasoline stations to secure mobility and, decentralized energy productions applications in form of gas-turbines, gas motors or, even fuel cells, to constantly provide electricity and heat, where it is locally required. As we reexamine the scope of LNG it can be noticed, that LNG may help markets to undergoes a more moderate shift away from oil, coal and nuclear power, prior to entering renewable energies.
For decades LNG is being used as fuel and energy storage for small-scale industrial “onshore” applications, e.g. steam boiler and power plants, successfully replacing heavy fuel oils, which contribute majorly to increasing CO2, NOx and SOx emissions. LNG, which ultimately will be regasified (warmed up) to natural gas, contains only methane, which will be completely burned to CO2, yet emitting less CO2 compared to heavy fuel oil.
Also, LNG and its substitutes, i.e. LBG (Liquefied Biogas) and LMG (Liquefied Methane Gas, retrieved from stranded gas sources such as flare gas) are entering the mobility market, powering engines for heavy-duty trucks and buses in public transportation.
The use of LNG in sea- and ocean-going vessels had been neglected, so far. From 2010 onwards, and with respect to the introduction to national bonus-malus systems (incentive programs), particularly in Scandinavia, LNG will be become interesting as fuel in marine transportation. Key drivers are NOx emission figures, which, in fact, must be reduced by 20 in 2011, and by 80% from 2016 onwards; favouring substantially the use of clean LNG. Also, sulfur in marine fuels must be reduced from 2020 onwards to 0.1% for near shore going vessels, and to 0.5% for ocean-going vessels. On the contrary, heavy fuel oils can contain up to 4.5% sulfur, which will be converted to SOx.
Interestingly, ferries operating at the Baltic Sea will be firstly converted towards to alternative use of LNG as fuel, favouring new “onshore” based small-scale LNG production sites. Again, LNG, the general-purpose-fuel, finds another downstream player: ferries – sounds pretty fair to me.