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NATURAL GAS SPECIFIC COURSE

3
CRYOGENIC PROCESS
(EXPANSION &TURBOEXPANER)
2009

Eng./ ALy Nassr

1. INTRODUCTION

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The use of turbo-expanders in gas processing plants began in the early sixties. By
1970, most new gas processing plants for ethane or propane recovery were being
designed to incorporate the particular advantages characteristic of an expander
producing usable work. The trend in the gas processing industry continues toward
increased use of the turboexpander.

The first turboexpander application for natural gas processing was accomplished
using Rotoflow technology in Texas in the early 1960s. It dramatically
demonstrated how efficiently the expansion turbine could condense heavier
components of the gas stream, while at the same time providing power to re-
compress the leaner gas. The current range of Rotoflow Turboexpander-
Generators grew from that original application. Forty years later, close to 4,000
units are in operation around the world, and Rotoflow has proven, many times
over, its ability to engineer machinery that delivers higher power levels, functions
at extreme operating temperatures, and achieves greater pressure ratios. Our
turboexpander experience and technology have become invaluable resources for
every segment of the natural gas and hydrocarbon industries. The rapid growth of
Rotoflow turboexpander technology has been a story of continuous improvement
in expander design, rotor and bearing design, efficiency optimization, and control
systems. This growth has been driven by the needs of the industry to increase
capacity, reduce costs, and maximize reliability. By adopting an internal business
structure that parallels the structure of the oil and gas industry, GE Energy is able
to address those needs directly, as an active partner in the search for more
effective solutions. Four of GE Energys Oil & Gas Business Units are closely
involved in the application of Turboexpander-Generator solutions for natural gas
and related processes.

The extraction of NGL is generally preceded by treatment of the gas to remove


water, sulphur compounds and other contaminants. CO2 removal and nitrogen
rejection may also be carried out depending on composition of the inlet gas.
Method for the separation of NGL can generally be divided into cryogenic and
non-cryogenic systems. Early attempts at recovery of these liquids were made
using lean oil absorption (non-cryogenic) and mechanical refrigeration. The
absorption process was later developed into refrigerated absorption process and in
recent years, enhanced absorption processes involving both refrigeration and pre-
saturation have been developed. The introduction of Joule Thompson valves and
turbo expanders in 1960s made significant contributions to the achievement of
cryogenic conditions. The schemes using these technology were initially designed
with minimal heat integration and no or little column reflux. These were later
developed into schemes that generated column reflux and maximize the heat
integration for high NGL recoveries and optimize the plant profitability.

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2.NGL RECOVERY :
Several technologies have been evaluated as the main process to separate
methane from the NGL, such as, lean oil absorption, refrigeration, and turbo
expander technologies.

Absorption Plants or Lean Oil Plant

The most efficient lean oil absorption plants recover only about 40 percent of the
ethane, 90 percent of the propane, and 100 percent of the butane and heavier
hydrocarbons from the gas. Additional heat is required to separate the products
from the lean oil, and additional cooling is required in order to re-liquefy.

the raw products before fractionation. Lean oil absorption plants usually have
higher operating costs than refrigeration plants or turbo expander plants.
Therefore, this old type process was dropped from selection.

Refrigeration Plants

If the major purpose of a plant is to condition rich gas to meet certain pipeline
specifications, the mechanical refrigeration plant may be the proper selection.
Refrigeration is used to condition produced gas to meet pipeline hydrocarbon dew
point specification, Btu specification, limited liquid recovery of heavier
hydrocarbons such as C5+ or a combination of these objectives. The straight
refrigeration plant is limited to chilling the gas stream to the range of -34C to
-40C. This limits product recovery to about 60 percent of the propane and much
less ethane at typical plant operating pressure. As the intention of the project is to
recover heavier components starting from Ethane, this technology was skipped.

Cryogenic Turbo Expander Plants

Cryogenic turbo expander plants is capable to recover from 60 to 90 percent of the


ethane, 90-98 percent of the propane, and 100 percent of the butane and heavier
hydrocarbon components from the rich gas. A turbo expander plant is compact and
relatively simple to install and operate. The inlet gas to a turbo expander plant
must have essentially all of the water and CO2 removed to prevent hydrate & dry
ice formation to the level of respectively 1 ppm and 100 ppm for H2O depending
on the cryogenic temperature achieved. Turbo expander plants have less process
equipment (towers and external heating) than lean oil absorption plants, but they
have more mechanical equipment (gas heat exchangers and recompressors). If
ethane recovery is the objective, the expander process is the most economical
means for recovering a high percentage of ethane and heavier hydrocarbons from a
gas stream. A turbo expander plant is the first design considered because it is
comparable in cost to a refrigeration plant, but it is more efficient and achieves
greater liquid recovery.

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3. CRYOGENIC GAS PLANTS:

First of all , NGL recovery is also called ethane recovery ,C2 + recovery or
cryogenic gas plants.

The word, cryogenics, defined as being "the science that deals with the production
of very low temperatures and their effects on the properties of matter." The
cryogenic gas plant is built around a process that produces very low temperatures
in order to affect the properties of natural gas, namely to cause certain of the gas's
components to condense to liquid. The gas components which condense form a
liquid hydrocarbon mixture known as Natural Gas Liquids or NGL. The NGL
mixture contains a number of valuable hydrocarbons that can subsequently be
separated into individual products, such as propane, gasoline and petrochemical
feedstock.

The cryogenic process has application as the most economical means for
recovering a high percentage of all hydrocarbons heavier than methane.
Specifically, the cryogenic process aims to recover ethane and heavier
hydrocarbons, such as propane, butane and gasoline components. Different
variations of this process are capable of removing more than 85% of the ethane
and essentially all of the heavier hydrocarbons found in produced natural gas. By
contrast, other processes may be more appropriate when the goal is to recover just
propane and heavier components. The main advantage of the cryogenic plant, in
terms of recovered product, is therefore its ability to recover ethane or high
propane recoveries.

When we chill a gas to condense NGL, we hope to extract or recover the


maximum amount of valuable NGL. However, a substantial amount of methane
will also condense to liquid and become part of the mixture. The methane is
undesirable for two reasons:
1. The methane has zero value as an NGL component .
2. Methane elevates the vapor pressure of the NGL mix and may cause
difficulties in liquids transportation.
Therefore, almost all of the methane is removed from the NGL in the
demethanizer tower. There are costs associated with operating a demethanizer;
these include the capital cost of the equipment and its operating cost, which
includes several factors. Since methane must be rejected from the NGL, it stands
to reason that the cost of demethanizing will be less if the amount of methane
condensed is less. Thus, one criteria in the design and operation of the
turboexpander plant is to minimize the amount of methane that liquefies while still
maximizing the recovery of ethane and heavier hydrocarbons. The quantity of
methane that can be removed in the demethanizer depends upon its design. It will

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have been designed for some maximum case, where the maximum amount of
methane condensed and rejected corresponds to the maximum recovery of ethane.
Turboexpander plants can usually recover 98+% of the propane and 100% of the
butane and heavier hydrocarbons from the feed gas stream. NGL recoveries vary
according to the design of the plant and its operational objectives, but one thing is
certain: as ethane recovery targets go higher, so does the difficulty in preventing
excessive methane condensation.

There are three general methods which can be used to achieve the conditions
necessary to attain high ethane recovery levels.
1. J-T Expansion
2. Turboexpander
3. Mechanical refrigeration
Each of these processes has been used successfully, with the turboexpander being
the predominant process of choice for ethane recovery facilities. In the following
context both J.T. expansion & Turboexpander will be fully discussed in details.

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4.Theory of Gas Expansion

We have seen how turboexpander plants remove both sensible and latent
heat from a feed gas stream to condense hydrocarbon liquids. Any gas will
possess both sensible heat and its latent heat of vaporization. Heat is a form
of energy, so a gas contains heat energy. A gas may contain other forms of
energy as well, such as pressure energy and velocity. The total energy, of all
kinds, possessed by a gas is called its "internal energy". Another name for
this internal energy is enthalpy.

In gas processing, the enthalpy of a gas, or a mixture of gases, is primarily


dependent on the pressure and temperature of the gas. (The velocity (or
kinetic) energy of a gas changes little as the gas moves through the plant, so
it is considered to be negligible and therefore can be ignored in the
discussion which follows.) Different gases will have different enthalpies at
the same temperature and pressure (because the different gases have
differing latent heats of vaporization and specific heats), so the enthalpy of a
gas mixture is also, therefore, composition-dependent.

5. VALVE EXPANSION: JT PLANTS

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5.1 The JouleThomson effect :

In thermodynamics, the JouleThomson effect or JouleKelvin effect or Kelvin


Joule effect describes the temperature change of a gas or liquid when it is forced
through a valve or porous plug while kept insulated so that no heat is exchanged
with the environment. This procedure is called a throttling process or Joule
Thomson process. At room temperature, all gases except hydrogen, helium and
neon cool upon expansion by the JouleThomson process .

Fig(1): Professor William Thomson

The effect is named for James Prescott Joule and William Thomson (fig.1), 1st
Baron Kelvin who discovered it in 1852 following earlier work by Joule on Joule
expansion, in which a gas undergoes free expansion in a vacuum.

In practice, the JouleThomson effect is achieved by allowing the gas to expand


through a throttling device (usually a valve-Fig.2) which must be very well
insulated to prevent any heat transfer to or from the gas. No external work is
extracted from the gas during the expansion.

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5.2 Mechanism of expansion :
The adiabatic (no heat exchanged) expansion of a gas may be carried out in a
number of ways. The change in temperature experienced by the gas during
expansion depends not only on the initial and final pressure, but also on the
manner in which the expansion is carried out.
i. If the expansion process is reversible, meaning that the gas is in
thermodynamic equilibrium at all times, it is called an isentropic expansion.
In this scenario, the gas does positive work during the expansion, and its
temperature decreases.
ii. In a free expansion, on the other hand, the gas does no work and absorbs no
heat, so the internal energy is conserved. Expanded in this manner, the
temperature of an ideal gas would remain constant, but the temperature of a
real gas may either increase or decrease, depending on the initial
temperature and pressure.
iii. The method of expansion discussed in this article, in which a gas or liquid
at pressure P1 flows into a region of lower pressure P2 via a valve or
porous plug under steady state conditions and without change in kinetic
energy, is called the JouleThomson process. During this process, enthalpy
remains unchanged

Temperature change of either sign can occur during the JouleThomson process.
Each real gas has a JouleThomson (Kelvin) inversion temperature above which
expansion at constant enthalpy causes the temperature to rise, and below which
such expansion causes cooling. This inversion temperature depends on pressure;
for most gases at atmospheric pressure, the inversion temperature is above room
temperature, so most gases can be cooled from room temperature by isenthalpic
expansion.
As a gas expands, the average distance between molecules grows. Because of
intermolecular attractive forces (see Van der Waals force), expansion causes an
increase in the potential energy of the gas. If no external work is extracted in the
process and no heat is transferred, the total energy of the gas remains the same
because of the conservation of energy. The increase in potential energy thus
implies a decrease in kinetic energy and therefore in temperature.

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FIG.(2): J.T.VALVE.

Joule-Thomson Valves The principal function of a J-T valve is to obtain


isenthalpic cooling of the gas flowing through the valve. These valves generally
are needle-type valves modified for cryogenic operation. They are an important
component in most refrigeration systems, particularly in the last stage of the
liquefaction process. Joule-Thomson valves also offer an attractive alternative to
turboexpanders for small-scale gas-recovery applications.

5.3 J.T. Expansion Process :


The use of the Joule-Thomson (J-T) effect to recover liquids is an attractive
alternative in many applications. The general concept is to chill the gas by
expanding the gas across a J-T valve. With appropriate heat exchange and large
pressure differential across the J-T valve, cryogenic temperatures can be achieved
resulting in high extraction efficiencies. The main difference between the J-T
design and turboexpanders is that the gas expansion is adiabatic across the valve.
Processes which use the cooling effect of the expansion of a gas across a valve or
choke are sometimes called LTS (Low Temperature Separation) or LTX (Low
Temperature Extraction) units.(fig.3)

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Fig.(3) J.T. expansion process

5.4. Applications of J-T valve operation:


1. Plant startup operations,

2. Handling gas flows in excess of expander capacity, and

3. For continued operation during those times when the expander is down for
maintenance.

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6. The Turboexpander Process

A turboexpander, also referred to as a turbo-expander or an expansion turbine, is a


centrifugal or axial flow turbine through which a high pressure gas is expanded to
produce work that is often used to drive a compressor. Because work is extracted from
the expanding high pressure gas, the expansion is an isentropic process (i.e., a constant
entropy process)

6.1. History
The possible use of an expansion machine for isentropically creating low temperatures
was suggested by Carl Wilhelm Siemens (Siemens cycle), a German engineer in 1857.
About three decades later, in 1885, Ernest Solvay of Belgium attempted to use a
reciprocating expander machine but could not attain any temperatures lower than 98 C
because of problems with lubrication of the machine at such temperatures.

In 1902, Georges Claude, a French engineer, successfully used a reciprocating expansion


machine to liquefy air. He used a degreased, burnt leather packing as a piston seal
without any lubrication. With an air pressure of only 40 bar, Claude achieved an almost
isentropic expansion resulting in a lower temperature than had before been possible.

The first turboexpanders seem to have been designed in about 1934 or 1935 by Guido
Zerkowitz, an Italian engineer working for the German firm of Linde AG.

In 1939, the Russian physicist Pyotr Kapitsa (fig.4) perfected the design of centrifugal
turboexpanders. His first practical prototype was made of Monel metal, had an outside
diameter of only 8 cm , operated at 40,000 revolutions per minute and expanded 1,000
cubic meters of air per hour. It used a water pump as a brake and had an efficiency of 79
to 83 percent. Most turboexpanders in industrial use since then have been based on
Kapitsa's design and centrifugal turboexpanders have taken over almost 100 percent of
the industrial gas liquefaction and low temperature process requirements. In 1978, Pyotr
Kapitsa was awarded a Nobel physics prize for his body of work in the area of low-
temperature physics

Fig.(4) . Pyotr Kapitsa (Nobel prize 1978)

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6.2 Turboexpander Process :

Many hydrocarbon turboexpanders, or expanders for short, are employed in processes for
the purpose of extracting heavier hydrocarbons from the gas stream. Fig.(5) is a
simplified schematic for such a process. The high-pressure gas mixture enters the process
at condition (1)and is cooled in a gas-to-gas heat exchanger. Usually some liquids are
condensed at (2) and are separated out in the high-pressure separator. The overheads from
this separator, (3) , are then expanded nearly isentropically in the expander and additional
liquids are condensed at (4) . These liquids are removed in the low pressure separator and
the overheads, (5) , are used for precooling the incoming gas in the gas-to-gas exchanger.
The warmed gas at (6) is sent to the booster compressor driven by the expander where the
gas pressure is increased to conditions at (7) .

For a natural gas dew point control process, the gas at 1 is to be conditioned for pipeline
transmission. The pressure drop between (3) and (4) is usually relatively small because
the required temperature drop between (3) and (4) is low. This is because only limited
quantities of hydrocarbon liquids need to be removed to make the hydrocarbon dew point
acceptable. For a natural gas ethane extraction process, the gas at 1 is being processed to
remove essentially all of the C2+ hydrocarbons from the stream. In this case, the pressure
drop between (3) and (4) is relatively large and the resulting low temperature at (4)
facilitates proper condensation in the demethanizer tower. In this process, relatively large
quantities of liquid are often extracted.

Fig.(5) . Typical expander process

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6.3. Expander Main Components :
A typical expander (fig.6) is containing the following :

Fig.(6) . Typical cross section of expander

6.3.1 Variable Expander Inlet Guide Vanes :


Variable inlet guide vanes (IGV)(fig 7) are used to regulate mass flow to the
expander (Figure 7). This design provides precise control and high efficiency over
a broad operating range. The inlet guide vanes achieve these design benefits by
using a unique proprietary mechanism that incorporates a pressure actuated sealing
ring. An internally mounted mechanism translates the linear motion of the
pneumatic IGV actuator into the rotational movement of the adjusting ring.

Fig(7) : Inlet guide Vanes

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6.3.2 Expander and Compressor Wheels :

The radial inflow expander, utilizing variable inlet guide vanes, produces high
efficiencies over a broad operating range. Careful design of the wheel blade angles
and contour optimizes aerodynamic performance without compromising the
mechanical design integrity of the wheel. A typical expander wheel is shown
below. (fig.8)

Fig(8) : expander wheel

6.3.3 Expander and Compressor Shaft :


expander/compressor shafts(fig.9) are of rigid design and operate below the first
bending critical speed and torsional resonance. On certain applications wheels are
attached to the shaft on a special tapered profile, with cylindrical keys and
keyways

Fig(9) : expander/compressor shaft

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6.4. Expander Auxiliaries:
6.4.1 Lubrication System

The expander-compressor has a bearing on each end of the shaft. These bearings
must be continuously lubricated with clean lubricating oil(fig.10) of the approved
type at the proper temperature. Lubrication failure for a short-period of time may
result in a bearing failure which may seriously damage the machine .
The lube oil system is shown in the drawing below. Pressures shown are typical
for a plant in which the expander outlet pressure is 2070 kPa [300 psi]. Flow is as
follows:
Oil from the reservoir enters one of the pumps which is able to raise its pressure
several thousand kPa [several hundred psi]. A control valve in the pump discharge
line releases excess pressure through a spillover line that returns to the reservoir.
Oil from the pump enters a temperature control valve, which is positioned by a
temperature controller that allows some of the oil to by-pass the cooler to maintain
a constant temperature. The oil then flows through one of two filters to remove
solid particles and enters the bearings on each end of the shaft. The oil flows out of
the bearings(fig. 11) and drops to the bottom of the housing and flows by gravity
into the reservoir, and the cycle is repeated.

Fig.(10) : Typical Lube oil system

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Fig.(11) : Typical journal bearing

6.4.2 Magnetic Bearing(fig.12) :

A significant technological advance occurred in 1989 when MTC first


incorporated magnetic bearings into a hydrocarbon turboexpander as an
alternative for the conventional bearing. Since that initial success, this
technology has further matured so that turboexpanders with magnetic
bearings

are now considered standard practice for certain applications. The application
of magnetic bearing technology to hydrocarbon turboexpanders has
important advantages over traditional oil bearing designs.
Some of the advantages of magnetic bearing technology are:
Eliminates Risk of Process Contamination: Since the lube oil is
completely removed from the system, there is no risk of oil migrating into the
process.
Bearing Losses: The frictional losses of magnetic bearings are usually lower
than conventional oil bearings. This additional power is not lost but recovered
as useful energy for compression or power generation.
Eliminates the Risk of Oil Dilution: In oil bearing systems, the mixing of
heavier seal gas and oil can result in a measurable dilution of the lube oil. If
not properly controlled,
this may cause insufficient oil viscosity, reduced load capacity, and increased
vibration. This potential problem is eliminated with magnetic bearings.
Lower Utility And Maintenance Costs: By eliminating the lube oil
system, the electric power and other utility requirements are reduced.
Maintenance requirements on pumps,
filters, coolers, and other maintained components are also reduced or
eliminated.
Reduced Weight And Space: Elimination of the lube oil system reduces
the overall weight and dimensions of the support skid. This makes magnetic
bearings ideally suited
for offshore applications, or wherever space is limited.

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Environmental Impact: As the magnetic bearing system does not require
lube oil, plant storage requirements, cleanup, and disposal is eliminated.
Safety: Elimination of oil from the system results in cleaner machinery
decks, with reduced risk of fire and personal injury.

Fig.(12) : Typical journal bearing

6.4.3 Seal Gas(fig.13) : Use a suitable gas stream with filtering and pressure
control to maintain proper gas pressure at the shaft seals. The seal gas
should be introduced before the lube oil system is started because there
might be a pressure upset which
would put enough oil into the process to cause a problem.
Each of the main rotating components (radial bearings, thrust bearings, and
shaft seals) can be damaged or eroded by improper oil filtration, lack of oil
flow, improper gas dehydration, and improper seal gas filtration.

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Fig.(13) : Gas Seal

Thrust Control

In any type of centrifugal device, thrust forces develop which tend to move the
shaft toward one end or the other. If it were to move laterally along its axis, the
impellers would touch the casing and quickly wear out.
In an expander-compressor, thrust bearings on each end of the shaft prevent
lateral movement. However, the thrust forces against the bearings must be
controlled at a moderate level to prevent bearing failure and serious damage to the
machine.
The thrust force is due to a difference in suction and discharge pressure acting on
the front and rear face of an impeller. Look at the expander impeller in the
following drawing. High pressure inlet gas enters at the tip of the impeller, and
leaks around the labyrinth impeller seal to the rear face and exerts a force to the
left. Low pressure outlet gas pressure is imposed on the front or left side of the
impeller. In order to neutralize the thrust in the expander impeller, gas which leaks
around the labyrinth seal on the rear face is slightly above outlet pressure.(fig.14)

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Fig.(14) : Thrust Balancing system

C02 Freeze-up in Turboexpander Processes :

C02 can be expected to freeze (form a solid phase) if the temperature of the process is
less than -80F, the triple point of C02. In the typical turboexpander process,
temperatures lower than the triple point are usually necessary to achieve the desired
levels of ethane and propane recovery. Carbon dioxide has a limited solubility in both the
liquid and vapor hydrocarbon phases at typical turboexpander plant process conditions.
Thus, the concentration of C02 in both the liquid and vapor phase must be considered
along with the temperature-pressure levels in the turboexpander plant demethanizer.
White et al. have presented a generalized correlation for predicting the conditions under
which CO2 freezeup can occur. Bergman and Yarborough have performed a series of
CO2 freeze out experiments on light hydrocarbon systems. Their work resulted in
correlations similar to the one given by White. The liquid freezeup curves from these two
correlations are essentially identical except at the high temperature end (-100F).

The possibility of CO2 freezeup should be checked at the outlet of the turboexpander and
in the top section of the demethanizer column. C02 freezeup can be avoided by: (1)

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removing the CO2 from the gas before processing; (2) increasing the pressure of the
demethanizer (to increase temperatures in the column). Certainly CO2 removal is the
most positive and direct approach to controlling CO2 freezeup. In those cases where CO2
removal is not economically feasible, either higher than normal demethanizer column
pressures will have to be maintained and/or the process conditions adjusted to remove the
CO2 from the very low temperature part of the process. Process condition adjustment to
remove CO2 early in the process (at temperatures above about - 100F) will be very
tricky and is probably not feasible.

If the expander liquid is fed to the top tray of a demethanizer, the CO2 will concentrate in
the top equilibrium stages. This means that the most probable condition for solid CO2
formation may be several trays below the top of the tower rather than at expander outlet
conditions.

Turboexpander Efficiency Estimation

As with compression efficiencies, there are two levels of turboexpander efficiency


estimation procedures. The first level of efficiency estimation is a blind estimation
procedure. The second level of efficiency estimation is based on selected turboexpander
machine parameters and the results of the first level of turboexpander efficiency. All
turboexpander efficiencies and efficiency estimation procedures are based on the
adiabatic reversible assumption. This assumption is usually valid. However, if there is
significant heat leak into the turboexpander, unrealistic values for the efficiency will
result. The observed efficiencies would probably be lower than expected.

Turboexpander efficiencies typically range from about 60% to about 85%. Lower
efficiencies have been observed in some cases. A best first guess for turboexpander
efficiency would be in the range of 70-75%. After preliminary calculations have been
performed, this initial assumption can be adjusted using a procedure to be outlined later.

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The predicted performance/liquid recovery of a turboexpander plant are fairly sensitive to
the estimated {and actual) turboexpander efficiencies. As a general rule, we find that on
the average a 1 % change in the turboexpander efficiency causes a 3-4,F change in the
predicted outlet temperature. There are three problems associated with poor estimation of
the turboexpander efficiency:

1. Any errors in the efficiency are directly reflected in the recompression power
requirements. Admittedly, these effects may be small, but on very large plants, they can
become more significant.

2. The errors in the predicted liquid formation directly affect the C2+ liquid recovery
and the heat balance on the demethanizer. Errors here are probably more significant than
the errors in the recompression load.

3. False C02 freezeup problems may be predicted if too high efficiency is used.
Conversely, a potential CO2 freezeup may not be properly predicted if the efficiency is
too low. This issue will be discussed in a later section.
The efficiency of a compressor driven by a turboexpander appears to be about 5% lower
than the turboexpander efficiency. This observation is completely empirical but seems to
match the performance of several operating plants.

Design parameters of a turboexpander :

There are two factors affecting performance characteristic of turboexpander :

1. Mass percent liquid in the expander outlet

2. Expansion ratio across the machine

Some feel that about 20 mass percent liquid in the expander outlet is the maximum liquid
formation that can be tolerated in the expander. is not formed in the area of the wheel, but
that liquid is formed in the outlet nozzle of the expander. Residence times in the area of
the wheel are on the order of nanoseconds (10" seconds). This is too short a time for big
(micron size) drops to form. Further, the ability of some specially adapted
turboexpanders to handle liquids tends to refute this limitation.

In compression systems, maximum compression ratios of three to four are routinely used.
The major reason for this limitation is the discharge temperature of the gas; a secondary
reason is the loading on the thrust bearings in the machine. Thrust bearing loading

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problems have also been advanced as reason for limiting expansion ratios to three or four
in turboexpanders. If the turboexpander is driving a compressor, the thrust bearing
loading problems may be eased somewhat and higher expansion ratios may be
permissible. Some plants are operating with expansion ratios greater than four with no
apparent difficulty. In spite of this, we normally would not recommend an expansion ratio
greater than about four without careful consideration of the potential problems involved.

A Joule Thomson valve is normally installed in parallel with the turboexpander. This
installation is made for several reasons: (1) startup; (2) continued operation if the
turboexpander fails; (3) permit operation at flow rates above the turboexpander limits.
So-called constant entropy nozzles have been used in. the space industry for years. The
Joule Thomson control system might be replaced with one of these constant entropy
nozzles to maintain turboexpander performance of the plant at high through puts or if the
turboexpander is out of service.

Among the factors that must be considered in the purchase of a turboexpander plant is the
high speed of the turboexpander (rpm >8000). Because of this high speed,
maintenance/part replacement problems can crop up particularly in remote installations.
Unit noise levels are high, special precautions must be taken to protect the operator from
this noise.

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Comparison of the Joule-Thomson and Turboexpander Processes

How much, if any, difference in the liquids recovery and temperature level should
be expected between the turboexpander and Joule Thomson processes? This
question cannot be answered specifically for every system, the results will be
contingent on the temperature-pressure-compositions encountered in the specific
case. However, one can say that if the operating pressure levels are identical, the
turboexpander process will generally produce lower temperatures and more liquids
than the Joule Thomson process. For these conditions, the turboexpander process
will require less recompression horsepower to recompress to the residue gas to
pipeline pressure.
Clearly the turboexpander process has a far better capacity for recovering liquids;
essentially 100% of the C4+ are recovered in the liquid stream, while only 61% of
the C4+ are recovered in the liquid for the Joule Thomson process. This
incremental liquid recovery is due simply to the much lower temperature achieved
in the turboexpander process (about 75F lower).

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References
1. R. N. MADDOX , H. ERBAR , GAS CONDITIONING AND
PROCESSING , Campbell Petroleum Series (Jan. 1982).
2. Turboexpander Handbook , Mafi-Trench Corporation.
3. "GPSA Engineering Data Book" Eleventh Edition.
4. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joule-Thomson_effect.
5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turboexpander.

Expansion & Turboexpander Natural gas processing course Page 24


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Expansion & Turboexpander Natural gas processing course Page 25