Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Water Removal

In addition to separating oil and some condensate from the wet gas stream, it is necessary to remove most of the associated water. Most of the liquid, free water associated with extracted natural gas is removed by simple separation methods at or near the wellhead. However, the removal of the water vapor that exists in solution in natural gas requires a more complex treatment. This treatment consists of 'dehydrating' the natural gas, which usually involves one of two processes: either absorption, or adsorption.
Absorption occurs when the water vapor is taken out by a dehydrating agent. Adsorption occurs when the water vapor is condensed and collected on the surface.
Glycol Dehydration.
An example of absorption dehydration is known as Glycol Dehydration. In this process, a liquid desiccant dehydrator serves to absorb water vapor from the gas stream. Glycol, the principal agent in this process, has a chemical affinity for water. This means that, when in contact with a stream of natural gas that contains water, glycol will serve to 'steal' the water out of the gas stream. Essentially, glycol dehydration involves using a glycol solution, usually either diethylene glycol (DEG) or triethylene glycol (TEG), which is brought into contact with the wet gas stream in what is called the 'contactor'. The glycol solution will absorb water from the wet gas. Once absorbed, the glycol particles become heavier and sink to the bottom of the contactor where they are removed. The natural gas, having been stripped of most of its water content, is then transported out of the dehydrator. The glycol solution, bearing all of the water stripped from the natural gas, is put through a specialized boiler designed to vaporize only the water out of the solution. While water has a boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, glycol does not boil until 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This boiling point differential makes it relatively easy to remove water from the glycol solution, allowing it be reused in the dehydration process.
A new innovation in this process has been the addition of flash tank separator-condensers. As well as absorbing water from the wet gas stream, the glycol solution occasionally carries with it small amounts of methane and other compounds found in the wet gas. In the past, this methane was simply vented out of the boiler. In addition to losing a portion of the natural gas that was extracted, this venting contributes to air pollution and the greenhouse effect. In order to decrease the amount of methane and other compounds that are lost, flash tank separator-condensers work to remove these compounds before the glycol solution reaches the boiler. Essentially, a flash tank separator consists of a device that reduces the pressure of the glycol solution stream, allowing the methane and other hydrocarbons to vaporize ('flash'). The glycol solution then travels to the boiler, which may also be fitted with air or water cooled condensers, which serve to capture any remaining organic compounds that may remain in the glycol solution. In practice, according to the Department of Energy's Office of Fossil Energy, these systems have been shown to recover 90 to 99 percent of methane that would otherwise be flared into the atmosphere.

Solid-Desiccant Dehydration.
Solid-desiccant dehydration is the primary form of dehydrating natural gas using adsorption, and usually consists of two or more adsorption towers, which are filled with a solid desiccant. Typical desiccants include activated alumina or a granular silica gel material. Wet natural gas is passed through these towers, from top to bottom. As the wet gas passes around the particles of desiccant material, water is retained on the surface of these desiccant particles. Passing through the entire desiccant bed, almost all of the water is adsorbed onto the desiccant material, leaving the dry gas to exit the bottom of the tower.

Solid-desiccant dehydrators are typically more effective than glycol dehydrators, and are usually installed as a type of straddle system along natural gas pipelines. These types of dehydration systems are best suited for large volumes of gas under very high pressure, and are thus usually located on a pipeline downstream of a compressor station. Two or more towers are required due to the fact that after a certain period of use, the desiccant in a particular tower becomes saturated with water. To 'regenerate' the desiccant, a high-temperature heater is used to heat gas to a very high temperature. Passing this heated gas through a saturated desiccant bed vaporizes the water in the desiccant tower, leaving it dry and allowing for further natural gas dehydration.

No comments: