Online Feature: Modular LNG: Why is it advantageous? Q & A with Bryan Glover, President Honeywell UOP

Hydrocarbon Processing’s Technical Editor, Sumedha Sharma sat down with Bryan Glover, President of Honeywell UOP, the hydrocarbon technology licensing and products business within Honeywell to discuss LNG and its role in the energy mix. Bryan also offered his insights on the advantages of modular LNG, its advantages and the role of LNG in bridging the gap in the current geopolitical scenario.

SS: How do you see LNG contributing to energy security on a regional and global scale?

BG:  In the midterm, LNG has a significant role to play in energy security for many countries. Countries that were relying on pipeline gas from Russia are faced with a “do all of the above” scenario (use all possible means) and we’ll be seeing accelerated production of renewable electricity through wind and solar, reactivation of coal-fired power plants which is probably less than ideal from a sustainability perspective and increased imports of LNG. All of those have a role to play and for LNG it will take some time to build out the additional capacity that is required to meet the energy needs of Europe and other countries. But I think that will happen and LNG will help offset some of the supply needs that Europe and other regions were getting. One of the complexities here is that any new construction of energy products from fossil sources will require some long-term off-take commitments from the countries that need the energy right now. But once such commitments are finalized and final investment decisions made, we can see LNG grow significantly in the coming times.

SS: LNG is not popular in some parts of the world –what does it take to improve the uptake in those areas? What is the role of LNG in the energy transition?

BG: Right now, with the relatively high price of energy – LNG is an expensive proposition in some regions. Ultimately it will be a drive for improved sustainability and reduction of coal as an energy source that will drive LNG growth in those regions. Also, with basic economic growth, energy needs will grow, and the growing energy needs will need to be provided by natural gas and/or renewable energy from wind and solar. As economies grow, countries will decide whether fully renewable sources can keep up with their growth or whether they are willing to grow in consumption of coal, or whether they are looking at LNG as a transitional fuel bridging the transition from coal and other fossil fuel towards renewable. Certainly, we see LNG as a relatively long-term transition fuel. If fossil fuels are being burnt, then LNG is the preferable one due to its lower CO2 impact.

SS: Could you provide a techno-economic viewpoint on modular LNG and elaborate on what makes modular LNG advantageous?

BG: There are two key elements to LNG production – gas pretreatment and liquefaction. The gas pre-treatment stage (that we specialize in) requires a broad spectrum of NG purification technologies required such as – recovery of natural gas liquids (NGL), removal of acid gas, removal of contaminants, mercury and gas drying among others. The gas treatment required typically depends on the location and source of the natural gas and depending on those considerations, the treatment processes can be customized. For regions where gas is supplied to an LNG facility directly from a field, the first required step is to recover the NGL – typically through cryogenic recovery and additional fractionation and separation as needed. In regions where the gas is naturally dry or when the gas is delivered through pipelines and the liquids have already been recovered the separation step is not required. The gas then goes through a treatment unit for removal of the trace amounts of mercury followed by an acid-gas removal unit and finally, a dehydration unit to achieve low moisture specifications required before entering the liquefaction stage. LNG facilities are massive projects requiring large manpower and time investments. Although pre-treatment is not the largest part of an LNG facility, it is one of the easiest to modularize and build offsite. With the current and growing interest in accelerating LNG projects in the US and elsewhere, building everything onsite requires considerable time and labor thus limiting the pace of the projects. Modular LNG units can help by moving part of this construction offsite and reducing the overall labor and time investment that is needed for complete onsite construction. Moreover, construction in dedicated offsite shops ensures higher quality and reproducibility and provides the flexibility to be used or scaled on an as-needed basis. Modular LNG has been successfully used in the midstream segment for a long time and we have experience with employing multiple pre-treatment trains which can be used for LNG plants. The most important benefit is that modular LNG has the potential to truly accelerate overall LNG project deployment.

SS: Are modular systems suited for regions with low or modest natural gas production?

BG: If a country has modest gas production of natural gas that they want to liquefy then modular systems are probably the way to go especially since the amount of gas produced is smaller, the ability to modularize the liquefaction without having multiple trains is easier as the pretreatment section is only easier as you get smaller and provides the ability to pull together the project relatively quickly. We have seen interest in modular pretreat for projects at the scale of Venture Global, but we have also seen significant interest in pretreatment for much smaller projects and in that case, modular deployment with repeatable designs can bring significant cost-effectiveness. This ability to potentially have a standard design, in general, is one of the advantages of modular units. Every location and every situation are relatively unique but the ability to preserve general layouts and to develop modified designs relatively quickly and use similar designs for multiple applications for modular systems is definitely advantageous. Certainly, we’ve seen this with our UOP Russel business in the US midstream where we provide cryogenic systems for NGL recovery as well as other clean-up technologies. Over the years we’ve been able to provide those as standard units and reproduce them at a reasonable scale and that represents significant savings in terms of both cost and time to get projects up and running.

SS: With growing emphasis on decarbonization and with a focus on the transport sector -- what are the prospects of LNG in the long and short term, as a fuel for heavy-duty road and marine transport? How does LNG as a fuel compare to emerging clean tech such as hydrogen?

BG: In the short term, I think we’ll see that LNG is the more practical option for maritime transport. There is a reasonable number of ships that are built for LNG and LNG carriers themselves are fueled by LNG. Moreover, the transportability of LNG is much simpler than hydrogen. There is significant potential for LNG growth globally both as a fuel source and also as a fuel for transport because the technology is mature and the ability to produce is there. From the emissions standpoint -- there is still a significant amount of coal consumption in the world. Until that is really offset by NG or by renewable power (wind, solar) LNG will remain a good way to continue to decarbonize. Once renewable electricity production starts to increase beyond the level required to offset coal then we will start to see H2 or derivatives of H2 begin to compete directly with LNG as a transportation fuel.  But in the short term, there are a lot of other applications for decarbonized H2 to be met with the volumes of H2 produced right now. I think 60-70 MT of the H2 produced today is used for chemical purposes and there are a lot of opportunities to use H2 in the chemical industry before looking at H2 as a general source of fuel.  

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