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Special Report: Global trends in sour hydrocarbon & sulphur management

by Guest on Feb 14, 2018

Dr Nick Coles, director, conference, Dome Exhibitions.
Dr Nick Coles, director, conference, Dome Exhibitions.

Sulphur management encompasses all aspects of sour hydrocarbon conditioning and dominates the current thinking and planning in the Middle East region, especially in the UAE, Dr Nick Coles, director, conference, Dome Exhibitions, the organiser of SOGAT.

Recently, FEED contracts have been awarded by ADNOC for the Hail, Ghasha and Dalma ultra-sour fields. Known collectively as the North-West Area, the three fields tap into Abu Dhabi’s the Arab Formation, which is estimated to hold multiple trillions of cubic feet of recoverable gas. The fields are expected to produce more than 1bn cubic feet of gas per day, about 20% of the UAE’s current demand, which is enough to provide electricity to two million homes.

Thus, this activity will enhance ADNOC plans to double production of sulphur in the coming decade on the back of growing sulphur demand in local and foreign markets and the company is targeting new markets in Africa, Asia, South America and Australia.

Sour oil and gas advanced technology

Historically, sulphur has been regarded as a by-product of sour hydrocarbon field development and was used in agriculture as a fertiliser, and also in the construction and industrial sectors. However, now the thinking has changed as ADNOC sees sulphur as a commercially viable commodity that offers the company opportunities to create added value from its resources and improve margins. In doing so, the increase in sulphur production will not only generate additional revenue, it will also contribute to the UAE’s strategic objective of diversifying the nation’s economy.

Sulphur production, however, has its pitfalls as witnessed by ADNOC Gas Processing HSE Department when studying the implications of sulphur dust which is an underrated risk component in sour operations. Since the commissioning of Etihad Rail as transportation mode for solid sulphur, a new phenomenon of increased sulphur dust generation was observed.

The phenomenon corresponds to transportation and handling of granulated sulphur to the shipping terminals from two of the ADNOC’s distantly located sulphur granulation plants. They undertook fire and explosion risk assessment studies to deal with this new challenge. In the light of sulphur dust incidents experienced, they were able to provide insights on the improvements that can facilitate the smooth operation and maintenance of sulphur handling units to improve and avoid these incidents. These insights will be presented at SOGAT 2018 – the event for Sour Oil and Gas Advanced Technology – slated for 29 April-3 May in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Khalifa University has been conducting research with the exploitation of sour reservoirs with high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide (H2S) in the raw well fluids that pose significant health, safety and environmental threats. Atmospheric gas dispersion modelling is a vital component of mandatory hazard assessment, which can provide critical input data to the design of hazardous gas sensor networks, development of emergency response plans to hazardous gas releases, and post-hazard investigations. Khalifa University will share their findings at SOGAT.

Sulphur recovery

Another vital component of sour hydrocarbon conditioning is the correct use of sulphur recovery units (SRUs). Kinetics Technology S.p.A. from Italy will demonstrate how to increase sulphur processing capacity of an existing plant. Environmental regulations all around the world are becoming more stringent imposing the production of fuels with lower sulphur content.

On the other hand, the trend shows that in the refineries, the crude treated is always more sour, increasing the quantity of sulphur that must be removed in the refinery processes. In addition, the emissions of SO2 from industrial complexes are now strictly monitored and limited to challenging values. These factors impose to treat higher quantities of H2S, recovering it into elemental sulphur. Kinetics Technology will show that the best solution for sulphur processing capacity is by employing their proprietary RAR technology which effectively and economically improve the gas sweetening and tail gas treatment aspects of the process.

Similarly, Sulfur Recovery Engineering Inc. from Canada will provide guidelines for operators to achieve their recovery efficiency licence requirements and to ensure that their SRUs are operating reliably and efficiently. In achieving this mandate, Sulfur Recovery Engineering conducts onsite sampling, analyses and operational recommendations for SRUs worldwide. The main service performed is an SRU performance evaluation and they will describe what benefits a performance evaluation can deliver to the operator. The advantages apply to all stakeholders of the SRU, including operations, maintenance, management and environmental personnel.

The industry is increasingly pursuing compact and low-weight processing technology to meet the technological and economic demands of offshore, onshore, remote, and challenged gas processing. ExxonMobil has developed the Compact Mass transfer and Inline Separation Technology (cMIST) gas treating system – a novel, compact and low-weight processing technology platform – to achieve process intensification in processing facilities. The incentives include lower size, weight, solvent circulation and cost, compared to a conventional amine system. For applications where H2S removal is integrated with sulphur recovery, the additional potential benefit of the cMIST system is the elimination of the acid gas enrichment unit due to high H2S purity in the acid gas.

The technology is highly modular to allow for simple transportation into remote, challenged, or offshore environments, and provide installation configuration flexibility. ExxonMobil will also demonstrate how it is also beneficial for debottlenecking and capacity enhancement applications.


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