Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Sulfur and Carbon Dioxide Removal

In addition to water, oil, and NGL removal, one of the most important parts of gas processing involves the removal of sulfur and carbon dioxide. Natural gas from some wells contains significant amounts of sulfur and carbon dioxide. This natural gas, because of the rotten smell provided by its sulfur content, is commonly called 'sour gas'. Sour gas is undesirable because the sulfur compounds it contains can be extremely harmful, even lethal, to breathe. Sour gas can also be extremely corrosive. In addition, the sulfur that exists in the natural gas stream can be extracted and marketed on its own.

Gas Sweetening Plant
Sulfur exists in natural gas as hydrogen sulfide (H2S), and the gas is usually considered sour if the hydrogen sulfide content exceeds 5.7 milligrams of H2S per cubic meter of natural gas. The process for removing hydrogen sulfide from sour gas is commonly referred to as 'sweetening' the gas.
The primary process for sweetening sour natural gas is quite similar to the processes of glycol dehydration and NGL absorption. In this case, however, amine solutions are used to remove the hydrogen sulfide. This process is known simply as the 'amine process', or alternatively as the Girdler process, and is used in 95 percent of U.S. gas sweetening operations. The sour gas is run through a tower, which contains the amine solution. This solution has an affinity for sulfur, and absorbs it much like glycol absorbing water. There are two principle amine solutions used, monoethanolamine (MEA) and diethanolamine (DEA). Either of these compounds, in liquid form, will absorb sulfur compounds from natural gas as it passes through. The effluent gas is virtually free of sulfur compounds, and thus loses its sour gas status. Like the process for NGL extraction and glycol dehydration, the amine solution used can be regenerated (that is, the absorbed sulfur is removed), allowing it to be reused to treat more sour gas.
Although most sour gas sweetening involves the amine absorption process, it is also possible to use solid desiccants like iron sponges to remove the sulfide and carbon dioxide.
Sulfur can be sold and used if reduced to its elemental form. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow powder like material, and can often be seen in large piles near gas treatment plants, as is shown. In order to recover elemental sulfur from the gas processing plant, the sulfur containing discharge from a gas sweetening process must be further treated. The process used to recover sulfur is known as the Claus process, and involves using thermal and catalytic reactions to extract the elemental sulfur from the hydrogen sulfide solution.

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