September 2020, Vol. 247, No. 9


GMRC Report: Rotating to the Future – Relevance Today and a Revolutionary Tomorrow

By Suzanne Ogle, President, Gas Machinery Research Council (GMRC)

The year is 1952. The Today show premieres on NBC, Elizabeth II becomes Queen of England, Mr. Potato Head makes his debut and Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower defeats Democratic Gov. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois in the election.

Also that year, the Pulsation Research Council, later known as the Gas Machinery Research Council (GMRC), is established to remedy the pulsation and resulting vibration challenges inherent in the rapid expansion of natural gas pipeline facilities in the United States. 

The Pulsation Research Council was the brainchild of the Transmission Section of the Southern Gas Association. The Section recommended the creation of the council to further the development of technology and devices designed to eliminate or lessen pulsation problems encountered in gas pipeline compressor stations without loss of compressor efficiency. Procedures existing at that time for minimizing vibration substantially decreased the operating efficiency of the compressor station engines and compressors.

This article is more than a history lesson; it is a story of disruption. The Southern Gas Association’s formation of the GMRC advanced compression pulsation reduction and vibration mitigation and other technology that, in turn, facilitated U.S. industrialization after World War II. 

But industrialization is just one part of the more extensive process of modernization during which the United States significantly changed its social order, attitudes, values and government to promote and accommodate further change. As a result, U.S. corporations assumed leading positions in many industries.

Here we are, nearly seven decades later, circa 2020, and change abounds. We are not done with disruption, or perhaps more accurately, it’s not done with us. PwC identifies five prescient signals of pending industry change: regulation, customer behavior, competitors, technology and distribution. A quick scan of the signals reveals that the natural gas industry is in the midst of radical change.

Decarbonization initiatives (changing customer behavior), increasing stringency on environmental requirements (regulation) and the improving economics of renewable electricity generation technologies (competitors) are outside of our control. 

The climate conversation has intensified, creating giant fissures and widening the gap between advocates of natural gas and fossil fuel opponents. Societal needs of personal mobility, comfort, connectivity and clean air are expected to be delivered by decarbonization initiatives and emission policies that have far-ranging repercussions. As the natural gas industry works to stretch our horizon, advanced technology will be at the heart of our relevance.

Jack Welch famously said, “when the rate of change inside an institution becomes slower than the rate of change out, the end is in sight. The only question is when.”

GMRC research and training are working to keep the industry ahead of the accelerated pace of change. Utilizing our research and training, GMRC is moving natural gas compression forward, making it cleaner and more efficient for our industry and the world.

Developing an economy based on a reduction in the use of fossil fuels in power generation and transport leads to an increased interest in liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG), syngas and hydrogen as an energy carrier. Development of advanced biofuels enhanced by carbon capture and storage and gas-to-power all have implications for natural gas compression; compression that is essential in meeting the challenges to sustainability.

Strategic shifts and emerging technologies can change the energy equation in disruptive ways, and this paradigm shift will require technical advancements. GMRC operating members are preparing for a net-zero future. In doing so, they are establishing carbon reduction goals. 

GMRC research can advance long-term viability, pivoting from an operational focus to target development of the next generation of reciprocating compressor technology that enhances efficiency, reliability and the integrity of pipeline operations through improved compression and, most importantly, emissions reduction. 

In 2020 GMRC will spend almost three-quarters of a million dollars on research focused on the core competencies of compression and helping operators create a competitive advantage through operational excellence. While historically much of GMRC’s research has focused on projects tactical in nature, the effects are far-reaching. For example, in 1953, SGA’s Pulsation Research Council (GMRC) commissioned a research project that developed a compressor station analog simulator (“analog”). The analog permitted the design of a gas compression system to reduce and control pulsation, mitigate pipe vibration and maximize compressor efficiency on a predictable basis. The invention was a spectacular success, and in 1990, it was designated a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Natural gas compression and the transportation and delivery infrastructure they support are mature industries, but we cannot continue to drive forward looking in the rear-view mirror. There are inflection points when strategy must change; recognizing this, the GMRC Board of Directors employs a continuous and iterative process when evaluating strategic research choices.

Moving forward with research selection in 2021 and beyond, the GMRC Board has adopted a spending strategy that will address the need for reliability today and revolutionary tomorrow. Allocation of research funding will be directed so that approximately 50% is dedicated to strategic research, including greenhouse gas (GHG) emission mitigation. 

It is a multiyear commitment to ensure compression alignment with negating the carbon footprint and 50% or so to funding that solves the tactical issues that provide operational proficiency. In considering strategic projects, research allocation will be ranked on industry (1) impact, (2) benefit and (3) knowledge transfer opportunities.

Along with the accelerated pace of change comes a unique opportunity to unlock big strategic moves in the pursuit of sustainable, reliable and cost-effective energy. Business imperatives range from energy security to energy sustainability and intelligent operations. These initiatives are well funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and GMRC will pursue co-funding that will exponentially scale the penetration and impact of research. 

In August of 2019, DOE announced $40 million in funding to advance H2@Scale. This year, in July, DOE announced an additional $64 million, funding 18 projects. H2@Scale is a multiyear initiative to fully realize hydrogen’s benefits across the economy. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), the hydrogen gaseous delivery pathway includes compression, storage and transport, with compression occurring at multiple points between the production facility and the user. 

Further, it notes that pipeline transmission appears to be the most economical means of transporting large quantities of hydrogen over great distances. However, cost can be a limiting factor. One of the ways to reduce the costs of hydrogen pipeline transportation is to mix it with natural gas.

Other disruptive opportunities for GMRC research and training include the convergence of the internet of things (IoT), data analytics and artificial intelligence that will create new opportunities and threats for embedded intelligence and diagnostics. 

Data analytics can identify and drive strategic emission reductions. The importance of managing the evolving risks of cyberattacks on physical assets and business-critical information was demonstrated this year in February. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) revealed a ransomware infection at a natural gas compression facility in the United States that resulted in a two-day operational shutdown of an entire pipeline asset. This incident highlights the importance of cybersecurity preparedness within the legacy environments of industrial and critical infrastructure. 

Needless to say, 2020 is an astounding year. With all the disruption in 2020, pivoting has to be one of the top words of the year, and its only August. For more than 20 years, GMRC has brought compression, transmission, distribution and other natural gas professionals together to get technology updates, technical training, gain knowledge from expert panel sessions, learn from research and best practices and network with industry peers at what is known simply as the GMC, or GMC Conference. 

We will continue this premier event in 2020 pivoting to a virtual format. Importantly, the GMC will be the only compression conference to be held in 2020. This in itself demonstrates GMRC’s commitment to leaning into and providing solutions for disruption.

The Gas Machinery Conference provides nearly two full weeks of technical training and presentations, provided by the industry’s leading subject matter experts. Educational sessions and virtual networking opportunities are valuable for design engineers, facility engineers, technicians and others, with an emphasis on the operation, maintenance and testing of gas compression machinery. 

There will be 25 technical papers (45 minutes), 9 short courses (3 hours) and 22 technology updates. This year GMC is adding a new feature – there will be 12 mini short courses (90 minutes). And, no matter what area a professional needs training in, there are multiple tracks, including Vibration, Emissions, Centrifugal Compression, Reciprocating Compressors, Reciprocating Engines, Gas Turbines and Auxiliary Systems. 

Plus, there are courses for Career Enhancement such as Ethics. A thorough and competitive vetting process assures that you will get the benefit of only the most relevant content and the best presenters. Of the more than 100 submittals, the GMRC planning committee selected 50 authors and topics from industry-leading research and top industry companies. The conference will take place over a two-week period, Oct. 5-8 and Oct. 12-14. 

To provide a cost-effective training opportunity in this unusual year, GMC has lowered the price for registration and will offer an all-access corporate pass that allows all company employees to attend for one price. That will be especially valuable since all training will be recorded and made available to registrants if they can’t attend certain sessions.

To augment the training provided at the GMC Conference, GMRC typically offers targeted workshops delivered at a company facility or at a convenient conference location. GMRC has been evaluating new offerings and delivery mechanisms. 

A training committee was formed in 2019 and has been focused in 2020 on training that can be delivered in a virtual setting. An Introduction to Internal Combustion Engines was offered in May and was so successful that an Advanced Internal Combustion Engine course was held in June. The very popular Engine Analyzer and Reliability (EAR) course has also been converted to a virtual format and was held Aug. 11-12. 

There were 19 virtual sessions by 17 authors, and about 50 attendees were exposed to papers, case studies and panel discussions on the latest knowledge in the industry. Additional courses will be offered this year on emission analysis, ethics and unconscious bias.

While change is happening at an accelerated pace, GMRC is thriving by embracing flexibility, adaptability and facilitating learning in action.

Author: Suzanne Ogle serves as chief executive officer of SGA and president of GMRC. She received a master’s degree in educational psychology and a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from California Lutheran University.

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