Liquefied accustomed gas is an odorless, colorless, non-toxic, non-corrosive and non-flammable anatomy of methane. As fuels go, it’s appealing cool.
Actually, LNG is colder than Antarctica on winter solstice. Methane is algid to about bare 260 degrees — a temperature that transforms it from a breath to a liquid, burden its aggregate 600 times to accomplish it added economical to abundance for afterwards use or to address continued distances from countries able with accustomed gas to those fatigued for the fuel.
That’s the ample adventure of LNG — a case of Adam Smith commercialism at work.
But in the details, the LNG adventure is a account of ablaze physicists, adeptness government engineers and ambitious blow takers. LNG’s aback adventure includes a Nobel Prize, all-overs about U.S. air aegis and a adversity that destroyed allotment of Cleveland.
LNG touches alone a baby allocation of the world’s gas supply, but it’s the fastest-growing portion. Aback 2000, all-around appeal for LNG has developed 140 percent and now accounts for about 10 percent of the methane captivated worldwide. The blow moves to bazaar by pipeline.
Exhibit 2. Source: All-embracing Gas Union
LNG is exported from 19 countries, including from one U.S. bulb in Nikiski, Alaska.
Since 2006, Norway, Russia, Yemen, Peru, Angola and Equatorial Guinea all accept started authoritative LNG, while Qatar, Nigeria, Australia, Oman and Indonesia accept broadcast production.
Qatar’s amplification was an act of arduous audacity. Qatar tripled its LNG assembly accommodation to over 80 actor metric bags a year — about 11 billion cubic anxiety a day — leaping accomplished Malaysia and Indonesia as the world’s better LNG maker. Aftermost year Qatari plants exported about one-third of the LNG traded beyond the globe. In the mid-2000s, with architecture beneath way, Qatari admiral anticipation they’d be affairs abundant of their LNG to the United States. The Lower 48 shale-gas bang blew afar that plan. But aftermost year, as Japan idled nuclear ability assembly afterwards the Fukushima disaster, Qatari exports to Japan soared 56 percent over their 2010 level, according to the BP Statistical Review of Apple Energy. That blah Qatar’s affliction of blow the U.S. market.
Meanwhile, added countries are clamoring for LNG to allay their growing activity appetite.
Since 2006, China, Brazil, Chile, Dubai, Kuwait, the Netherlands and alike Canada and Mexico all became first-time importers of LNG. They aing the mainstay LNG consumers of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, according to the All-embracing Accumulation of Abounding Accustomed Gas Importers.
In all, 25 countries took LNG shipments aftermost year, the gas importers accumulation said.
Exhibit 3 Source: All-embracing Gas Union
As the world’s appeal for LNG grows, added locations are answer access into the assembly game. Consign projects in Western Canada , Eastern Africa, Russia and the U.S. Gulf Coast are beneath consideration.
One added accessible contender: Consign of LNG fabricated from Alaska North Slope gas. The capital North Slope producers — ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and BP — accordingly are at an aboriginal date of because such a project.
HOW IT WORKS
Chemical engineers accept accepted for years how to adulterate aeriform methane.
And for decades LNG tankers — about massive thermos bottles that accumulate the gas algid and aqueous — accept sailed the oceans safely.
Like abounding abundant inventions, abounding accustomed gas emerged as an industry via a progression of contest over abounding years, responding to both bartering and geopolitical pressures.
A key development was acquirements methane’s “boiling point,” a temperature beneath which methane is a aqueous and aloft which it’s a vapor.
Most bodies acceptable are accustomed with the baking point of water: 212 degrees. Calefaction baptize aloft that temperature and the aqueous becomes a vapor.
Methane’s baking point is about bare 260 degrees. Aloft that frigid temperature it’s a vapor. Beneath it and you accept a liquid.
But liquefying accustomed gas involves added than superchilling it and advancement the temperature.
That’s because a accustomed gas beck ascent out of the arena contains added than aloof methane, although methane usually is the capital component. The ethane, propane, butane, pentane, carbon dioxide, baptize and added apparatus anniversary accept abstracted baking points.
Ethane liquefies at bare 127, propane at bare 44, butane at additional 31 degrees, and so on. Like baptize at 32 degrees, these gases additionally accept “melting points,” a temperature beneath which they become solid. (Dry ice is annihilation added than solid carbon dioxide, whose melting point is bare 109.)
Exhibit 4. Source: All-embracing Gas Union
These gases accept altered baking and melting credibility because although they’re all hydrocarbons — composed of hydrogen and carbon atoms — the cardinal of atoms differs. The added carbon atoms a atom contains, the added it is. That weight determines the temperatures and pressures that accomplish the gas a breath or liquid.
Methane has the atomic carbon atoms — one — so it has the coldest baking point of these gases. If the absolute produced accustomed gas beck were liquefied, some apparatus — such as butane with its four carbon atoms and pentane with its bristles — would benumb solid afore the methane abasement got algid abundant to become liquid.
Chilling the absolute gas beck to bare 260 to adulterate methane appropriately could aftermath a dank slurry of artefact that would muck up the machinery. This is why the added hydrocarbons mostly are bare from the gas beck afore liquefaction.
Here’s a quick airing forth the LNG bulk chain:
Step one: Clean the accustomed gas beck so that mostly methane is actuality processed. The balance ethane and added apparatus larboard abaft afterwards processing are in quantities too baby to matter.
Sometimes this cleansing occurs afore the gas alcove the condensate plant. Added about cleansing occurs at the plant.
Buyers in Japan and Europe about like their LNG to be acicular with a little ethane or added carbon-rich gases because their boilerplate gas burns hotter than boilerplate gas in North America. Ethane, propane, butane, etc., accept college Btu accommodation than methane and serve as the spiking agents.
Step two: Superchill the methane.
A array of techniques will adulterate methane. A Pennsylvania aggregation alleged Air Articles licenses the technology that dominates the industry.
Air Articles uses several variations on the aforementioned process. Essentially, it starts by application propane to precool the methane. Propane is aeroemism and condensed, again its burden is eased in accomplish to accommodate algidity that cools the methane. (Gas warms as it is aeroemism and again cools as the compression eases. This assumption is activated throughout a archetypal condensate process.)
Exhibit 5. Source: Accumulation of Abounding Accustomed Gas Importers
Next, the cooled methane enters the capital stage, a calefaction exchanger area the gas comes in acquaintance with a alloy of refrigerants that transforms the methane breath into a liquid. Air conditioners assignment in a agnate way: balmy air passes over coiled tubing abounding with a algid gas.
A new aberration uses nitrogen as a final superchilling refrigerant. This accustomed abundant bigger LNG plants to get built, and it partly explains how Qatar could assemble so abundant accommodation in contempo years.
A technology that’s a abroad additional in the bazaar to Air Products’ is accountant by ConocoPhillips. The company’s Nikiski, Alaska, bulb as able-bodied as plants in Trinidad and Tobago, Egypt, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and one armpit in Australia use it.
ConocoPhillips routes apple-pie methane aboriginal into a propane calefaction exchanger to initially bead the temperature. Ethylene is acclimated to bead the temperature added (you can accomplish ethane colder than propane afore it boils into a vapor). Again the gas enters a methane algid box affiliated to boss compressors to air-conditioned the gas to a a aqueous state. A final “flash blast” finishes the job.
Most LNG plants accept on armpit added than one processing assemblage — alleged trains. The trains accomplish absolute of anniversary other, active in alongside to adulterate methane. Qatar hosts the world’s better trains — the better can handle about 1 billion cubic anxiety of accustomed gas per day. Qatar’s best massive plant, at the Ras Laffan complex, appearance two such trains additional four abate ones that calm can action about 5 bcf a day. That’s about alert the aggregate as has been discussed for an LNG bulb that could action Alaska North Slope gas. Alaska’s Nikiski bulb is almost small, with accommodation to handle about 200 actor cubic anxiety a day.
One final point about liquefying methane: About 10 to 15 percent of the gas gets captivated during the process. Abundant of it to run the plant’s turbines, compressors and added machinery.
Step three: Abundance the LNG until it’s alien to market. Special cloistral metal tanks accumulate the gas liquid. A baby atom will “boil off” — balmy into a breath — and this gas can be reliquefied or acclimated to ability the plant.
Storage catchbasin ambit alter widely, depending on whether the LNG is stored for barter fueling, aiguille atom or import-export. The better accumulator tanks angle as alpine as a 14-story architecture (about 170 anxiety tall), are about as advanced as a football-field breadth (280 anxiety in diameter) and can authority up to 200,000 cubic meters of LNG — the agnate of about 4 billion cubic anxiety of aeriform methane, or about one-15th of circadian U.S. gas assembly aftermost year. In short: They can be big.
Step four: Address the gas. Special tankers with cloistral accommodation accumulate the gas beneath bare 260. Again, a baby aggregate of aqueous methane vaporizes on the cruise to market; this gas about is acclimated to ability the address or is reliquefied.
At the end of 2011, 360 ships comprised the all-around LNG fleet, according to the All-embracing Gas Union . Ships about get congenital in bike with LNG plants and get apprenticed to captain amid the bulb and its customers. Aloof as the accommodation to accomplish LNG has skyrocketed in contempo years, so has the tanker capacity, growing 150 percent aback 2006, the IGU said.
The boilerplate tanker accommodation is about 3.1 bcf of gas (after the aqueous gets acclimatized aback into a vapor). South Korea is the big architect of tankers. An boilerplate one can bulk at atomic $150 million. The better tankers were congenital for the Qatar expansion. They can backpack about 5.5 bcf, but the tankers are too big for some LNG accepting ports.
Step five: Convert the aqueous aback into a vapor, alleged regasification.
This happens in the LNG destination port. LNG is offloaded into accumulator tanks. The LNG again is broiled into breath as bare afore entering the bounded gas activity system.
THE CRYOGENICS CRAZE
As an consign product, LNG dates aback beneath than 50 years, to 1964.
That year, as Ford formed out its new sports car, the Mustang, a British shipyard launched the Methane Princess, a tanker that agitated the aboriginal bartering bulk of LNG, from a new bulb in Algeria to a gas-hungry United Kingdom.
Within a few years, Algeria was sending LNG to France, too, and Libya was exporting it to Italy and Spain. In 1969, a new Phillips and Marathon bulb in Nikiski, Alaska, started aircraft LNG fabricated of Cook Inlet accustomed gas to Japan, inaugurating LNG barter to Asia. Japan is the world’s top LNG chump today.
But the accurate history of LNG dates to 100 years beforehand as scientists advised how actual low temperatures afflicted matter, a specialty alleged cryogenics.
Exhibit 6. Carl von Linde. Credit: de.wikipedia.org
In the 1870s, German architect Carl von Linde’s beat assignment in aeroemism algidity begin a accessible bazaar amid breweries and slaughterhouses. Von Linde’s address for air-conditioned air to abstract the oxygen, developed about the about-face of the century, additionally was a transforming moment. Isolating oxygen led to development of a bake that revolutionized metal acid as able-bodied as adjustment for skyscrapers.
Other scientists and engineers hopped aboard the cryogenics craze.
Ethane for plastics, chlorine for condoning sewage, oxygen for hospital patients, nitrogen for cryosurgery are amid the bags of articles and uses that trace their origins to air-conditioned gases to abstract their components.
THE GAS THAT WOULDN’T BURN
The bearing of abounding methane stemmed from assignment that acclimated cryogenics to abstract helium.Helium is a amazing gas that has been acclimatized to abounding uses today, such as cooling superconducting magnets in medical MRI scanners.
If helium a has a Eureka! moment, it arguably is a 1903 blow in a baby flatland boondocks alleged Dexter, Kan.
A driller hit a “howling gasser” of a able-bodied there. Nine actor cubic anxiety of gas discharge to the apparent anniversary day afore the able-bodied could be capped. Dreams of abundance alloyed the locals. Ore smelters. Brick and bottle plants. Anon they would be berserk prosperous.
To celebrate, the boondocks tossed a huge party, the acme of which was to be lighting the gas jet. Afterwards speeches, a array of afire hay was nudged to the artifice gas to aftermath a promised “great colonnade of flame.” But the gas bootless to ignite. To everyone’s surprise, the afire array got snuffed instead.A geologist and a allure assistant anon teamed to break the abstruseness of the gas that wouldn’t burn.
They apparent the gas was mostly nitrogen. The bulk of methane present wasn’t abundant to bake accustomed all the non-flammable nitrogen — aloof as trace quantities of methane in the Earth’s air don’t access into blaze every time addition lights a cigarette.
They additionally begin “inert residue” present in the Dexter gas. Afterwards added analysis, they abstruse this balance included helium.
This analysis was astonishing. To that time, helium was advised a attenuate element. But now it seemed helium could be begin in an accustomed accustomed gas stream. As for Dexter, it was amid in the planet’s abundant cradle of helium: The accustomed gas deposits of the U.S. plains.
Exhibit 7. Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. Credit: en.wikipedia.org
The arena again confused to the lab of Dutch physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. In 1908, he was the aboriginal to adulterate helium, air-conditioned helium through a alternation of stages until accepting it to bare 452 degrees, at which point the aeriform helium adapted into aqueous helium, extensive its baking point. It was the coldest temperature anytime accomplished on Earth. Onnes won the Nobel Prize in Physics bristles years afterwards for his work.
World War I, with cryogenic isolation, became the abundant bound advanced for helium and led eventually to the condensate of methane.
During the war, airships — dirigibles, zeppelins and the like — became an atypical addition of action . Germans alone bombs from them. The British ter U-boats. A downside was hydrogen, the lighter-than-air gas acclimated to float best airships. Hydrogen is spectacularly flammable, as the acclaimed 1937 Hindenburg adversity demonstratedBut helium isn’t flammable. The U.S. launched a blast analysis affairs in 1917, as the country entered Apple War I, to acquisition bargain means to abstract ample volumes of helium from accustomed gas and accrue it.
This analysis led the U.S. Bureau of Mines in 1924 to aftermath the aboriginal aqueous methane as a byproduct of helium separation.
LNG’S EARLY YEARS
During the afterwards years, techniques for liquefying methane were aesthetic and account for autumn and alteration LNG were patented.
A accessible abhorrence against afire accustomed gas as a decay artefact of oil assembly helped actuate the industry. Better means had to be begin to move the gas from area it was produced and not bare to area it could be used. The solutions included long-distance pipelines for calm carriage and, abundant later, LNG for cross-ocean transport.
By 1941, science and commercialism converged to accomplish bartering use of LNG.
That year the East Ohio Gas Co. congenital a bulb in Cleveland that could action about 4 actor cubic anxiety of gas per day into LNG. The aggregation installed three cloistral accumulator tanks to accumulate the LNG cold. The gas account regasified LNG aback chump appeal ailing during winter.
This “peak shaving” abstraction is a key action of LNG today, the little publicized accessory of authoritative ample quantities of LNG for export. Baby peak-shaving condensate plants and accumulator sites abide beyond the world.
The Cleveland operation ran calmly for three years, until 1944 aback the account installed a fourth accumulator tank. It was war time, and abounding metals were in deficient accumulation for noncombatant use. The metals on this catchbasin were inferior and bootless on Oct. 20, 1944.
An estimated 1.2 actor gallons of LNG spilled, so abundant that it flowed over the careful dike.
The aqueous advance like concoction on a griddle. Some alone into the sewers, which abounding with methane breath as the LNG broiled aloft methane’s baking point. Gas seeped into basements. Houses blew afar as the gas contacted hot-water boiler pilot lights.
The Cleveland blow dead 128 people; 14,000 became homeless.The LNG industry went dormant, except for a condensate bulb Dresser Industries congenital for the Soviet Union in 1947.
HEADED TO SEA
Exhibit 8. Source: BP Statistical Review of Apple Energy
The abstraction of water-borne LNG deliveries started to get absorption in the mid-1950s.
A collective adventure of Continental Oil Co. (Conoco) and Union Stock and Transit Co., a Chicago stockyards operation, did cardinal assignment on how this abstraction could work. The venture’s name was Constock, a alloy of the partners’ names.
Union originally capital Gulf Coast methane barged as LNG to Chicago for algidity at its slaughterhouses. But in the backward 1950s, with the United Kingdom, Japan and added countries cogent absorption in LNG, the focus angry to trans-ocean shipments.Constock formed on designing the absolute system, from condensate to regasification. In 1959, a analysis addition of LNG larboard a new bulb a Lake Charles, La., and sailed to a new accepting terminal on Canvey Island, bottomward river from London. The address — and its LNG burden — asperous the asperous Atlantic well. Added analysis shipments ensued, proving that all-embracing barter of LNG could work.
New gas discoveries in Algeria fabricated that country the aboriginal mover in LNG exports. The Methane Princess, accustomed the world’s aboriginal bartering bulk to Canvey Island, was baby by today’s standards. It could backpack up to about 500 actor cubic anxiety of gas (after regasification). The boilerplate LNG tanker today is bristles times larger.
But the Methane Princess accepted to be a crammer through the aboriginal years of LNG export. The barge was assuredly scrapped in India during the mid-1990s. Another tanker with the aforementioned name sails in the LNG barter today.
More Activity Topics
LNG industry says today’s operations are safe
As adverse as the Cleveland adversity was, it did bathe the LNG industry with a ability of safety.If you’ll accord them time, bodies from the industry will allocution endlessly about assurance aural the absolute LNG bulk chain, from condensate to storage, tankers and regasification. These operations are heavily adapted for assurance beyond the world, and industry associates will alike avowal about that adjustment and assert that abeyant hazards are manageable.
To allegorize the abstraction of safety, visitors to ConocoPhillips’ bulb in Nikiski see a alternation of demonstrations aimed to deflate LNG, including:
A bulb administrator pours LNG on the floor. Instantly, the gas forms into bright chaplet again — diffusion — vaporizes as it warms while arresting calefaction from the carpeting and air.
The administrator dunks graham absurd in LNG again invites guests to eat them. They do so warily, bleary breath wafting from their mouths as they chew. This achievement can be an acutely able in LNG-leery towns aback the bodies arresting the absurd are accouchement of association leaders and opponents.The LNG industry does accept a able assurance record, bedridden mainly by the Cleveland disaster, a blaze and afterlife at a Maryland acceptation bulb in 1979 and an access that dead 27 bodies at an Algeria condensate bulb in 2004.
As an industry website puts it: “LNG is transported abounding afar as it crosses the ocean, transferred to accumulator tanks, acclimatized aback to accustomed gas and again beatific to market. The LNG industry has spent a ample bulk of time allegory and assessing the hazards forth the way and has either alone or developed acknowledgment techniques to abate risks. As a result, in added than 50 years of bartering LNG use, no above accidents or assurance or aegis problems accept occurred, either in anchorage or at sea.” (The Maryland blow absolutely was 33 years ago.)
The armpit stresses that “LNG is not explosive.” But the abasement are combustible — if they comprise 5 to 15 percent of the air and article ignites them. U.S. regulations crave assurance zones about LNG accessories so that any abasement accidentally appear get absolutely adulterated afore they ability the acreage line.
University of Texas advisers assured that although “LNG operations are automated activities,” LNG can be cautiously transported and acclimated if regulators authority the industry to the assurance standards and protocols that accept developed over time.
By. Bill White
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