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Unleashing LNG – the Yamal megaproject

09th January 2013

The USD 27bn Yamal LNG megaproject is beset by some of the harshest conditions and technological challenges in the oil and gas industry. Oil & Gas Technology reports exclusively from London’s GasTech 2012

Unleashing LNG – the Yamal megaproject
The project is expected to yield around 16.5 million tonnes per year of LNG for the next 21 years, which amounts to half of South Korea’s gas needs

The Yamal LNG project, also known as the Yamal megaproject, is an ambitious USD 27bn long term plan for the exploration, treatment and liquefaction of the vast natural gas reserves in Russia’s remote Yamal Peninsula in Northern Siberia, and its subsequent transportation and shipping to the markets.

It is being implemented by operator Yamal LNG, owned by Russia’s largest independent gas producer and second largest gas producer, Novatek (80 per cent share) and French energy firm Total (20 per cent share).

After its development period scheduled from 2012 to 2018, the project is expected to yield around 16.5 million tonnes per year of LNG for the next 21 years, experts say. This production will be based on three LNG trains with a capacity of 5.5 million tonnes per year of LNG each. In total, this amounts to half of South Korea’s annual gas needs. LNG shipments are expected to commence in 2016.

Energy infrastructure project developer Chicago Bridge & Iron Company N.V. (CB&I) in early 2011 was selected by Yamal LNG to provide front end engineering & design (FEED) services for the Yamal LNG project. CB&I’s project scope includes FEED development for the LNG liquefaction plant, including LNG storage and loading facilities.

The project poses several challenges to CB&I, as the area’s remoteness, extreme weather, and low population make its high energy potential a difficult nut to crack, CB&I’s director of LNG technology Martin Mayer said at GasTech 2012 in London. The very name “Yamal,” Mayer said, means “the end of the world” in the language of the local inhabitants.

“Clearly one of the unique things about the Yamal LNG project is location,” Don Hill, senior vice president of LNG technical operations at CB&I told OGT on the sidelines of the event. “Yamal is in harsher conditions. But from a different perspective, it is actually a brilliant location – it’s onshore,” Hill added. “The gas is right there. It’s a fantastic discovery, but it’s in a very challenging environment.”

Liquefying natural gas

With approximately 2,000 inhabitants in the whole Yamal peninsula and besieged by harsh conditions and challenging winters which make it difficult to have a large workforce at the site, CB&I made what Hill described as the most cost-effective and economic choice in terms of gas liquefaction technologies. CB&I opted for the propane precooled mixed-refrigerant (C3-MR) process, which is considered as the workhorse of the LNG industry.

“The C3-MR liquefaction process is used because more plants have been built in the industry using that technology than any other process. It’s a good fit. It is possible to design plants of three trains with that size in modules that can be built elsewhere and transported to Yamal. It’s an economic and cost-effective choice,” Hill said.

US-based gases and technology provider Air Products & Chemicals Inc. is well-known for its gas liquefaction processes, particularly for its multi-component refrigerant (MCR) processes applied in natural gas liquefaction plants. Through the use of multicomponent refrigerant streams in compression refrigeration systems and a mixture of gases, MCR provides cooling at a continuum of temperature levels to liquefy the natural gas feed stream.

“You need to carefully weight your options, your considerations, your constraints, in order to make sure that you get the right process,” William Schmidt, technology manager, LNG Process Engineering at Air Products told OGT. “And we are one of the few companies to provide all liquefaction processes.”

One of the more successful MCR processes supplied by Air Products is the C3-MR process, and Hill told OGT that the company has been selected to provide CB&I with its C3-MR liquefaction cycle. Air Products’ C3-MR has been applied in LNG plants producing 1-5 million tonnes per annum of LNG per train, using steam and gas turbine drivers, seawater and air cooling, rich and lean feeds containing varying levels of nitrogen, with and without LPG extraction.

According to Air Products’ William Schmidt, the firm’s C3-MR process could significantly boost the Yamal LNG project. “The Yamal LNG project can benefit from the C3-MR process as it is a large scale baseload project geared towards high LNG production. And absolutely we do provide that technology,” Schmidt said.

Mercury removal

Also crucial for a successful gas/LNG plant is the implementation of mercury removal units (MRUs). Mercury is present in many of the world’s gas fields causing harmful emissions and damage to human health via exposure.

While Hill told OGT that CB&I has not yet selected a partner to provide mercury removal processes, this technology has been provided and progressively upgraded by Johnson Matthey Catalysts (JMC) for the past two decades. JMC could become a possible partner in Yamal LNG in the long term, according to Vince Atma Row, gas processing industry manager at Johnson Matthey.

“At the end of the day, Yamal LNG might be running for the next 30 years. If it is, when you decommission that plant, it is mercury-laiden. What do you do with the equipment which is mercury-laiden? That metal is lost,” Row told OGT.

One of JMC’s process technologies is PURASPEC, a technology designed to remove low levels of inorganic impurities from liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon streams. The process is based on fixed beds of catalysts and chemical absorbents which remove traces of contaminants from hydrocarbon gases and liquids. Aside from mercury, these also include hydrogen sulphide (H2S), carbonyl sulphide (COS) and chlorides.

“In the mercury guard, a mixed metal sulphide is provided to the energy mix, and that material will then irreversibly react with mercury and remove it from the gas,” he said, adding that the mixed metal sulphide can be reprocessed. “The mixed metal sulphide removes the mercury to form an amalgam, and that’s locked into the matrix of the absorbent.”

Row said JMC’s mercury guard technology has been optimized to work on wet gas. “So for LNG plants, for example, you can now situate or locate the MRU as far upstream, soon after the slugcatcher on the floor sheet, which ensures the prevention of any mercury contamination downstream of the slugcatcher, of the helium recovery unit or of the dehydration.”

Row added: “There are not simply environmental and people issues associated with mercury contamination. The key question for me is the issues associated with the mercury contamination of equipment and of the pipework.”

Throughout its development period, the megaproject at the end of the world has faced and will continue to face specific challenges, from site selection, use of adequate and efficient technologies, through to the impact of climatic conditions on the operation of the facility. Total expects a final investment decision (FID) on Russia’s Yamal LNG project to be made this year.

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