KM First To Transport Commercial Batches Of Ethanol Via Pipeline In U.S.

July 2009 Vol. 236 No. 7

Mike Outlaw, Vice President, Engineering/Operations, Kinder Morgan Products Pipelines, Houston, TX

Slightly more than six months ago, Kinder Morgan became the first company in the United States to transport commercial batches of denatured ethanol via pipeline.

The milestone was made possible after 18 months of research to evaluate and test the viability of moving the renewable fuel through the company’s 16-inch Central Florida Pipeline (CFPL) which runs 106 miles between Tampa and Orlando, FL.

Overcoming Logistical Challenges

There is no question that ethanol’s hydrophilic composition and its corrosive nature can hinder pipelines from moving the product. To tackle the issue, Kinder Morgan performed extensive laboratory testing to identify measures that would need to be made to prevent the ethanol from damaging its pipe’s steel.

Through the testing, Kinder Morgan identified a proprietary additive that prevents the ethanol from damaging the steel. The company also documented all non-steel parts of the pipeline during the lab evaluation and investigated these parts to assure their compatibility with ethanol. Incompatible parts the company replaced included seals, gaskets and other components.

Finding compatible parts to move ethanol in the pipeline was only one step in prepping CFPL for a test batch. The company also needed to clean the pipeline thoroughly. To do this, Kinder Morgan utilized pigs and special cleaning agents to scrub it clean.

Acing The Test

In October 2008, Kinder Morgan successfully transported a test batch of 5,000 barrels of ethanol from its Tampa terminal via the CFPL. Test analysis on the product after it arrived at the Orlando terminal showed the product met all blend specifications.

Following the test, the company moved forward with additional modifications to the line. Through the entire process, Kinder Morgan worked closely with officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to share with them lab test results and update them on the company’s pipeline modification progress. Kinder Morgan also kept the local emergency response organizations updated on the ethanol shipments.

Commercial Ethanol Shipment Begins

Since the company began transporting commercial batches of ethanol in December 2008, ethanol volumes have steadily increased and Kinder Morgan is successfully able to meet requirements for an additional mode of transportation for ethanol. Today, Kinder Morgan provides more than 40% of the total Orlando ethanol market demand via pipeline and additional capital projects are under way to enable CFPL to handle 100% of its customers’ Orlando ethanol demand by year end.

Using the information learned from its CFPL ethanol transportation study, Kinder Morgan is now evaluating the possibility of sending ethanol through individual segments of the Plantation Pipe Line system. Along with its transportation work, the company also is working to add ethanol storage at its Southeast terminals.

For more information on Kinder Morgan’s work with biofuels, visit www.kindermorgan.com.

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