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Purpose-built performer
Atlas Copco’s High-Pressure Boil Off Gas Compressor is a purpose-built innovation for the booming industry in liquefied natural gas, helping to make this more sustainable fuel a cheaper, more efficient bet than oil as the world transitions from fossil-free fuels.
The global trade in liquefied natural gas (LNG) is booming. As the world slowly weans itself off its oil habit, Natural Gas has emerged over the past decade as the cheaper and cleaner cousin in the transition to a fossil-free future. According to Forbes, natural gas now accounts for nearly 25% of the world’s primary energy consumption. In recent years, countries which were previously natural gas importers, such as Australia and the United States, have become major energy exporters of LNG.
However, as Tushar Patel, Marketing and Sales Manager for Atlas Copco Gas & Process in the Americas, explains, the LNG industry faces some hurdles to cost-efficient, sustainable growth.
“It’s a hugely competitive market, with new players entering the field all the time. And the price is fixed by the market dynamics, so the only way for producers to maintain their margins is by making their production processes more efficient or by shipping LNG as cheaply as possible. For suppliers such as the US that are geographically far away from their key markets, shipping costs are high, so the only way they can make savings is in their initial outlay and running costs,” he explains.
LNG plants are therefore constantly looking to minimize the cost and maximize the efficiency of the equipment they’re installing. One of the most important processes is compression of “boil off” gases.
LNG is basically methane gas that is liquefied so that it can be transported safely overseas and in other places where there are no pipelines available. The problem is the insulation of the piping and tank where LNG is stored post liquefaction. The insulation is not perfect to maintain -155 to -165-degrees Celsius temperature at atmospheric pressure and hence the liquid starts to boil and converts back to gas. To keep the pressure at a safe and steady level, the boiled-off gas needs to be taken care of. This is where Atlas Copco’s expertise comes in.
“LNG plants are hazardous operating environments, and they don’t want to take any chances installing unknown technologies of which the operator has less knowledge. And lack of knowledge also affects cost-efficiency. If a machine stops working the plant can’t process their product, which is 100% of their bottom line. It’s fair to say that the industry is understandably risk-averse when it comes to both the safety and cost aspects,” says Tushar Patel.
One of Atlas Copco’s key solutions to this problem is the High-Pressure Boil Off Gas Compressor, launched in 2019. It is the first process machine to combine two cryogenic and four warm stages on a single gearbox and skid. This turbo machine allows for a smaller, more efficient operating machine, with the six stages meeting the industry’s highest processing capability levels.
The team behind this innovation drew from its vast experience of developing integrally geared turbo-compressors for the LNG market, adapting this established technology to handle cryogenic high-pressure boil off gas processing. The compressor offers over 98% reliability and availability, and provides significant savings compared with conventional technologies. This is good news for an industry with very tight margins.
More often than not it’s about finding a better way to do things – more efficient power, reducing mechanical losses, reducing oil consumption. This is what Atlas Copco does. We work with customers to find solutions that help them have a better day than the day before.”
Mike Andrews VP Research and Development, Gas & Process division
“We started developing this compressor in 2017,” says Mike Andrews, Vice President of Research and Development for Gas & Process solutions. “Tushar and his marketing team did a good job in defining the industry’s pain points and needs, and once we framed the application, we started talking with the engineers to see how we could adapt the technology to meet specific customers’ needs, as well as help them overcome their apprehensions over the risks of new technology.”
So far, customers have reacted very well to this new solution.
“It makes their lives much easier because these machines are less maintenance-prone than traditional machines,” says Tushar. “The cost of spares and labor time is half that of the previous solution.”
“It’s a big market because traditionally LNG is cyclical,” says Tushar. “Every five years new plants come along. People invest and set up the plant and it takes between three and five years to build and commission before production and shipping can start. Then the next cycle starts for new customers. At the moment there are around 15 plants being built around the world.”
And, Tushar adds, the High-Pressure Boil Off Gas Compressor is not only suitable for LNG producers. It can be used by LNG importers, too.
“Once the importing terminals receive the liquefied natural gas they have to re-boil it to convert it back into the gas and put it into an onshore pipeline because that’s the best and cheapest way to transport the natural gas over land. That’s also a big application for this compressor.”
For Mike Andrews and his development team of engineers in the US and Germany, the main challenge was building a machine of smaller size with specific pressure ratios while upholding Atlas Copco’s reputation for reliability. But he enjoys the challenge.
“What I like about this job is that it’s a series of challenges,” he says. “More often than not it’s about finding a better way to do things – more efficient power, reducing mechanical losses, reducing oil consumption. This is what Atlas Copco does. We work with customers to find solutions that help them have a better day than the day before.”
“Our focus is always on how we can make the world better,” adds Tushar. “In this case, the world needs affordable gas, and we are helping to make that possible.”
High-Pressure Boil Off Gas Compressor
Main feature: Combines two cryogenic and four warm stages on a single gearbox and skid. This allows for a smaller and more efficient machine, which in turn benefits the environment.
Super power: Takes care of boiled-off gases to keep pressure at a safe and steady level.
Used at: Liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants all around the world.
Meet our innovators
Mike Andrews
Divisional Vice President of Research and Development, Gas & Process
Describe the High-Pressure BOG in three words. Reliable customer solution.
What motivates you in your work? I started with Atlas Copco 26 years ago when I was in college and from the get-go I loved this place because there were so many aspects to what we do. It’s a constantly changing challenge in the Gas & Process division because we aren’t building the same product a thousand times. We’re taking technology that we have and adding value to that. We’re a solutions company and that’s very appealing to me, as an engineer.
Tushar Patel
Marketing and Sales Manager for Atlas Copco Gas & Process in the Americas.
Why did you join Atlas Copco? What attracted me first was the very strong brand presence. Joining was good, but the key is why you choose to stay. I love engineering products and I love to solve the customer’s problems with the solutions that we have. That’s my passion. I rarely sell any product that we have already built, most of my adventures are ‘reference orders’. Resolving a customer’s pains and come up with a design idea that gives them that ‘aha!’ moment. That’s the most fun for me.