Since 2006, when the FLNG sector began in earnest, the effort and focus on technical solutions for producing LNG on a floating platform has resulted in the majority of challenges being removed/dealt with in an acceptable manner. In reality few technical issues remain that present a significant degree of uncertainty. However, those that do remain should not be underestimated.
From KANFA Aragon’s experience as an FLNG engineering partner on projects utilising our own and other technologies we would identify the five current key technical challenges to be:
Although considered to be a marine rather than a topsides system, it is recognised consistently that for most projects that all of the “proven” options for offloading available currently have their weaknesses. Side by side offloading is the most proven but has severe limitations on wave height and tandem offloading can accept larger wave heights but is less proven and requires LNG carriers with dynamic positioning. However, significant effort in development, testing and verification for these methods and novel new methods such as the HiLoad LNG system means that improved schemes for FLNG offloading will be soon available on the market.
The approach for how to design an FLNG facility is a fundamental technical decision that is critical to any FLNG development. Many companies proposing FLNG topsides solutions are attempting to apply onshore solutions into a floating environment. We believe this to be wrong and doing so will negatively affect any project that uses such an approach. Although LNG experience is important, it will always be an error to attempt to apply onshore solutions to a floating environment as experience in traditional oil and gas has shown. It is important that any FLNG project is approached from a floating/offshore oil and gas stand point first and an LNG project second to ensure that the resulting design is fit for purpose and most importantly safe.
Linked to the previous point regarding technical approach, the ability to modularise is a key issue. LNG plants onshore have historically been stick built so it is important to utilise partners who have experience in modularising equipment and systems for floating production who also have LNG and FLNG experience. Modularising equipment is not a simple task and is often underestimated by those who do not have the necessary ability or experience. Such underestimation can result in significant difficulties in project execution and compromised design.
As of now there is no FLNG project in operation, and the danger is that operability is not given sufficient enough focus until lessons learned from FLNG facilities are available. Producing hydrocarbons on a floating platform and producing LNG are not new, and so so long as the correct partners are selected on a project who have experience of both of these aspects then it is possible to produce an FLNG facility that ensures ease of operability improving production uptime.
Safety is a technical challenge that will always be present when producing hydrocarbons. The ability and challenges to meet the required safety and risk levels that production in a floating environment requires depends highly on a few fundamental decisions for an FLNG development. Foremost is the selection of liquefaction technology. By selecting a nitrogen cycle based technology not only is the production availability and net present value optimised but the requirements for blast loading, safety gaps, blowdown volumes, steel reinforcement, hull size and operational complexity are reduced significantly while meeting required safety levels and giving lower CAPEX.
Do you agree with Tom? What are your views on key challenges for FLNG projects? Leave your comment below.
KANFA Aragon attended Gastech’s CoTEs programme last year. Gastech’s CoTEs programme (Centres of Technical Excellence) presents a series of free-to-attend seminars dedicated to deliver knowledge and awareness of technological innovations in the natural gas industry. To know more on Gastech’s CoTEs 2015, click here.
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