№ 9 (September 2006)
Gas and Chemical Engineering is a Synonym for Innovation
Many companies striving to reach high market standing give special attention to research, selection and promotion of advanced solutions that enable them offering their clients new opportunities to reduce costs and increase core business efficiency.
By Kirill Liats, general director of Methanol and Nitrogen Processes Inc.
People say that all the new stuff is the old stuff well forgotten. We also think that everything small emerged out of something that was made big once upon a time. Both postulates are directly referred to mini-units for processing of gas into methanol and synthetic oil. Yet, these units are carriers of ideas and solutions that make a product – unit – a major breakthrough in gas and chemical engineering. Till now, there were no other mini-units of that kind produced anywhere in the world. Metaprocess Inc. became the first company entrusted with designing of such a unit. Advantages of this approach, when a gas company mounts a unit practically on a well hole, are obvious: reduction of transportation costs that in case of impassability etc., result in doubling of the methanol price. If the ex-works price of methanol in Perm or Tomsk amounted to $250 per ton, after transportation to a well it increased up to $500 per ton. Mini-units offered by our company allow getting methanol by its net cost of $185 per ton that is even lower than the purchase price. The payback time of such a unit makes about three years. Only a few business-projects have equal capital investment efficiency.
Synthetic oil production also is not a completely new solution, even though it looks like the latest one in the gas and chemistry world. Everybody speaks about it, many try to put it into practice. Russia does not lag behind in this sphere – a GTL-unit operated successfully in Novocherkassk from 1950s till 1993 – but it is not in the forefront either. At the same time, Russian engineers even now are ready to design small and medium plants for synthetic oil production, and as far as the inventive idea is concerned, our country is overwhelmed with it so that leading foreign GTL-companies use it efficiently since 1970s. Recently Metaprocess Inc. has started building up a pilot unit and the equipment is being manufactured. As for the unit itself, it will be put into operation before the end of this year.
A dual-purpose reactor is our company’s patented solution that helps reducing financial risks by making it possible to switch from production of synthetic oil to production of methanol on service, changing only the reactor catalyst. Certainly, one unique reactor is not a complete solution for a task of double-acting – the system should be ready for that as a whole.
All the advanced engineering companies, specializing in gas and chemistry, are now involved into development of new methods of synthesis gas production. The challenge is to reduce overall dimensions, metal consumption, capital input-output ratio and energy consumption of an aggregate for synthesis gas production. Engineering idea progresses in several directions: use of oxygen in reactions, increase of tubes amount in the reactor combined with uniform preheating of the annular space, use of membranous technologies that could help achieving ideal hydrogen to carbonic oxide ratio while completely eliminating unnecessary gas impurities. The last on the list is the direct oxidation of methane using original engines – rocket or diesel from either the “Belarus” tractor or the Kolomna diesel locomotive. Such studies advance optimization of the process of synthesis gas production that makes a factory less bulky and, accordingly, less expensive. Metaprocess Inc. keeps up thoroughly with developments in this field all over the world, realizing that such solutions will demand significant alterations in general equipment design, which are also some kind of innovation of the process.
The idea of building up a methanol or GTL-units on an offshore platform occurred to Methanol and Nitrogen Processes Inc. a long time ago. It may be said that the company’s gas and chemical business started from a visit of our specialists to a small town of Vungtau in Vietnam, the seat of headquarters of JV Vietsovpetro – a company producing oil at the shelf of the South-China Sea. At that time, space limits did not allow them solving the task of casing-head gas utilization by installing a mini-GTL-unit at one of the platforms. But this idea is obviously the one to be developed. If dimensions of synthesis gas production unit could be reduced, it would be possible to go back to the Vietnamese platform. As far as building up of new platforms is concerned, such solutions sould be considered already at the stage of oil and gas producing platforms’ design. As for oil producers, a solution should provide for conversion of casing-head gas into synthetic oil and its subsequent transportation together with crude. In turn, gas producers can make a unit for methanol production at a producing platform. It will allow avoiding huge expenditures for shore-to-platform transportation of commercial methanol, which serves as inhibitor for hydrates binding and which is an irreplaceable component for gas production. For example, if one provided for a methanol unit in Shtockman project, the cost of it would be cut significantly.