In the oil production industry, natural gas streams often contain varying levels of natural gas liquids (NGLs), which can hold significant value for operators, sometimes outweighing the value of the methane to be recovered. Gas streams containing NGLs are a byproduct of oil and gas production that need to be burned through natural gas flaring —the practice of burning off the natural gas in an open flame during oil production.
Because various governments are imposing tighter regulations and oversight on flaring, oil and gas operators are turning to NGL recovery methods to comply while extracting more value from their operations. Recovering, rather than flaring, natural gas resources from oil and gas production can help reduce wasteful practices that can be used to support a country’s economic growth. Natural gas has the lowest carbon intensity of all fossil fuels and can, for example, serve as a cost-effective source of electricity supply for grid-based systems with fluctuating supply and demand.
Previously, if the goal was to generate a separate NGL stream or simply exclude NGL from contaminating a process, a large-scale, high cost cryogenic, refrigeration or other low-temperature separation unit was needed. These separation technologies require a significant capital investment and have a substantial electricity penalty.
To affordably remove contaminants from gas, companies are beginning to offer operators low cost, value-added NGL adsorbents, particularly for small-scale gas treatment. This highly selective system of gas treatment is designed to allow water, CO2 and light NGLs to slip through the bed, removing and capturing only targeted NGLs. Such NGL adsorbents are often tailored for removal of heavier NGLs at varying gas inlet conditions. Adsorbents need minimal operator intervention and offer a small footprint, a low-pressure drop across the system (< 5 psig), and low capital and operating expense at a minimal electrical demand.
Some of today’s NGL Adsorbents were developed using polymeric beads with high surface area to adsorb NGL compounds, removing C3+ hydrocarbons from gas streams. As an example, Dow Chemical successfully tested UCARSORB™ NGL Adsorbents, which uses polymeric beads, in the field in 2016. Dow offers technical service with UCARSORB simulation capabilities to model an operator’s present and future gas treating needs. To ensure adsorbent technology starts up and operates as designed, Dow provides access to a state-of-the-art pilot plant that can mimic unsteady state adsorption behavior, advanced design simulation capability, regional ongoing analytical support from a global footprint of analytical equipment, along with experienced onsite technical service engineers for consultation.
Many oil and gas operators are seeking to extract the maximum value from their operations and are evaluating NGL recovery options. A focus on broad operating windows, simple startup procedures, and selective removal of components have allowed operators to reach efficient extraction in a cost-effective manner. Certain advanced simulation capabilities even allow operators to accurately predict the performance of NGL adsorbent systems, including material balances, NGL production and system sizing. Looking ahead, the industry is poised to produce cleaner and more efficient NGL extraction technologies over time. Ultimately the industry and the planet will benefit by implementing modular systems to reduce the environmental footprint of operations in addition to reducing waste and recovering product for value.
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