Prize-winning Invention from Finland Could Help End Offshore Gas-flaring

18 Mar

The newly patented GasReformer device can recycle waste gas emitted in oil production, and reuse it to power oil rigs. Wärtsilä claims that by using the GasReformer, and a dual-fuel engine which alternates between oil and associated gas, operators can cut the need for bunkered fuel oil by about 35–39 tons per day; so as well as drastically reducing CO2 emissions, it increases operational efficiency.

The device is aimed principally at offshore oil rigs, which have little capability of storing the associated (petroleum) gas produced from crude oil, when it is heated to make it less viscous, and easier to pump and handle. This associated gas is, if untreated, too volatile for use as fuel because it contains a lot of heavier hydrocarbons. Many oil production facilities burn off this waste gas, as the cheapest and easiest way of getting rid of it. This practice is known as gas flaring, and is not without negative environmental and social effects.

The Problem of Gas Flaring

Gas flaring is most prevalent in Russia, with Nigeria the second most culpable. It seems almost a criminal waste in Nigeria, where gas and electricity supplies are well below that necessary to meet demand. South Africa, which has a third of the population of Nigeria, generates more than 10 times as much as power. This being said, in September 2014 Nigeria publicly committed to tripling its natural gas production from 4 billion cubic feet (1.2 billion cubic metres, bcm) a day, to 11 billion cubic feet (3.45 bcm) a day. Gas treatment facilities will form part of the expensive, comprehensive new infrastructure.

Figures for gas flaring volume in 2013, derived from satellite data, are still a work in progress by the World Bank. But the Global Gas Flaring Reduction (GGFR) public-private partnership, led by the World Bank, has reported that global volumes fell by by 20% between 2005 and 2011, from 172 bcm to 140 bcm. In 2011 Russia still burnt off 37.4bcm of ‘waste’ gas, which could have been reused with the necessary infrastructure. At the 2011 GGFR forum, Rachel Kyte of the World Bank claimed that in sub-Saharan Africa, purely for lack of equipment to store and treat it, the gas then flared was equivalent to half the total energy consumption.

Perhaps the most significant step taken to combat the practice is in Iraq, where a combined venture between Shell, Mitsubishi and Iraq’s South Gas Company, the special purpose venture ‘Basrah Gas Company’ launched in 2013 claimed to be “the world’s largest flares reduction project”. Compressors were leased to capture and process gas flared from three major oil fields in southern Iraq – Rumaila, West Qurna 1 and Zubair.

How does it Work Again?

The GasReformer reduces emissions by stabilizing gas rich in heavy hydrocarbons, converting it to a methane-rich product that can be reused in dual-fuel engines. The equipment ensures the methane number of any fuel gas is improved to 100 ± 5 by converting the heavier hydrocarbons to synthesis gas (H2 + CO), and finally to methane (CH4).This process is based on the established practice of “steam reforming,” which is performed in refineries and petrochemical plants: in this context, of deriving hydrogen from hydrocarbons. The GasReformer using the same catalytic process but different conditions (of heat and pressure).

The company Wärtsilä Gas Systems, Helsinki, has won the Offshore Technology Conference’s 2013 Spotlight on New Technology for its invention. The demanding selection criteria for the award, which state that a winning invention must be “original, groundbreaking, and capable of revolutionizing the offshore E&P industry”, reflects the product’s proven and significant benefits for offshore exploration and production.

See a list of the Offshore Technology Conference’s 2013 Spotlight on New Technology’s other winners here…

Director Wärtsilä Oil & Gas Systems Tore Lunde said: “The uniqueness of the GasReformer is in its ability to convert unwanted heavier fractions from the gas into methane. By turning otherwise waste gas into fuel, the system significantly lowers operating costs while notably enhancing environmental sustainability. In locations where flaring is prohibited, this is especially important.”

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