September 2021, Vol. 236, No. 9

Features

Advances in Compression Technology Keep Clean Energy Flowing

By Suzanne Ogle, President, Gas Machinery Research Council  

We stand on the brink of an energy revolution that will fundamentally alter our world’s energy systems. It’s a revolution moving at an exponential pace, driven by an environmental imperative to reduce CO2 emissions, policy mandates and stakeholder expectations, punctuated by investors using their influence.   

The forces of disruption are powerful, and the determination of evolutionary fitness for natural gas compression and infrastructure will be its ability to respond to market, social and environmental changes effectively.    

The Gas Machinery Research Council (GMRC) moves the industry forward in an environment, where standing still means drifting backward. A successful evolution will comprehend the energy system of the future while optimizing existing resources and new technologies.   

To that end, the GMRC is driving innovation via investments in research focusing on interlacing conventional and emerging fuels and technology to maximize infrastructure. This infrastructure will ultimately solve the critical issues of the energy revolution: energy security, environmental stewardship, affordability, sustainability and reducing energy poverty.  

GMRC showcases leadership by working toward the best of many potential futures. Compressors are an essential technology employed throughout production and distribution chains to increase natural gas pressure by reducing its volume from natural gas extraction to pipeline transmission.   

To date, reciprocating compressors have mainly been used to transport and process fossil fuels and manufacture their derivates.  However, gaseous forms of energy that can be stored over long periods and the underlying natural gas infrastructure can play a critical balancing role in delivering renewable and low-carbon fuels reliably and cost-effectively.   

Therefore, staying true to their groundbreaking history, in 2021, the GMRC Board facilitated a research mandate to address strategic initiatives such as alternative fuels (including hydrogen and renewable natural gas) and research focused on emission reduction, carbon capture, and underground storage.  

Research Proposals  

The Project Supervisory Committee (PSC), under the leadership of Christine Scrivner of Kinder Morgan, serves to advise and consult the Board of Directors concerning research proposals.   

Once selected and approved, the PSC becomes a champion for the projects, providing technical content and execution oversight. For example, two of the six proposed projects for 2021-2022 include:  

There is a current and quickly growing interest to investigate the blending of hydrogen (up to 20% by volume) into existing natural gas pipeline systems. The hydrogen produced from rapidly expanding renewable energy sources will help to enable decarbonization and energy storage.   

However, before blending hydrogen into existing natural gas pipelines, many potential issues need to be considered. From safety to pulsation, to emissions, other operational considerations, and finally, economic impact.   

This project will analyze the compression system changes with H2 blending, including capabilities of current architecture, technology gaps, and retrofit/buildup possibilities, including the qualifications of existing architecture, technology gaps, and retrofit/buildup possibilities.   

The continuous operation of engines generates significant waste heat. Waste heat to cooling technology will provide additional gas cooling as well as enhanced compression efficiency. In addition, waste heat can treat produced water, meeting the objectives of a closed cycle system, fundamental in our Sustainable Development Goals.  

Engine Reliability   

The Engine Analyzer & Reliability (EAR) Workshop committee, led by Mary Savalle, has been continuous to see growth year after year with a 20% increase in content over the past two years. More speakers, sessions, committee members shows that this committee is not slowing down any time soon.   

This year there are 22 sessions at the EAR workshop with presenters from different countries and new case studies. Some highlights of this year’s EAR workshop include:  

  • Introduction to engines/compressors  
  • Emission reduction/Antero VOC issues  
  • CP valve efficiency   
  • Multiple case studies  

During the October workshop in Charlotte, N.C. the EAR committee invited a guest speaker, Dr. Kelly Senecal, who is a co-founder and owner of Convergent Science and an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.    

He is one of the original developers of Converge, an industry leading computational fluid dynamics (CFD) solver.  Behind the scenes, Converge is utilized at engine research facilities and manufacturers globally to model, simulate and optimize natural gas combustion.   

Senecal is a Fellow of the Society of Automotive Engineers, a member of the executive committee of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and is the 2019 recipient of the ASME Internal Combustion Engine Award. He speaks to audiences around the globe on how with proper design and education, we can create cleaner and more efficient propulsion systems.  

Investing in Workforce  

In addition to research, the Gas Machinery Research Council has doubled down on technical training and leadership education. Energy production and delivery is an ever-changing field complicated by the impact of lockdowns during 2020 and the first half of 2021.   

Our 80-plus member companies benefit from and rely on the educational opportunities provided by GMRC, which we continued to provide throughout the lockdown of 2020.    

In late 2020, the Board of Directors, chaired by Marlan Jarzombek of Atmos Energy and vice-chaired by Eric Amundsen of Energy Transfer, made the groundbreaking decision to hold a virtual conference. As a result of their Leadership prudence, GMC was the only compression conference held in 2020 (in-person or virtual). The virtual meeting was attended by 1,896 professionals  who benefited from the training and technical papers.  

GMC 2021, held Oct. 3-7 in Louisville, Kentucky, is the only compression conference held face-to-face since 2019. The GMC Planning Committee, chaired by Marybeth McBain, of Kinder Morgan, has diligently crafted a compression conference that delivers relevant information.   

From a keynote on the reliability of natural gas and the industry’s strength and versatility to support renewables to a panel focusing on ESG and what operators are doing to meet stakeholder demands, the 2021 conference delivers impactful information.    

The agenda includes 40 tech papers and 10-15 short courses or mini shorts on topics from reducing fugitive emissions and compression requirements and technology for blended pipelines, not to mention 24 tech updates. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to accelerate your know-how and leadership.  

This visionary leadership results from a board comprised of leaders from member companies who know their workforce needs. In 2021, GMRC renewed its focus on education by assigning a powerhouse team to provide lift: Drake Miller of Atoms Energy, chair of the GMRC Training Committee, Allen Voss, director of Education for SGA/GMRC, and Jordan Anderson (EIT) of Southern Gas Association and GMRC Training Liaison provided a training line-up to address the four most common issues impacting members: An aging workforce, advanced technologies, reluctant millennials, and coronavirus’s aftereffects.  

Training Offered 2021  

  • Basic Thermodynamics of Reciprocating Compression  
  • Basic Vibrations Analysis  
  • Combustion Stabilization in Reciprocating Engines  
  • Compressor Field Performance Testing  
  • Emissions Overview  
  • Introduction to ESG  
  • Ethical Decision Making  
  • Factors of Compressor Station Design  
  • Intro to Gas Turbines/Intro to Centrifugal Compressors    
  • Introduction to Combustion Engines  
  • Innovation Workshop  
  • Sustainability: Future-Proofing Your Energy Business  
  • Unconscious Bias-Bias Busters  

Like the revolutions that preceded it, the changes of the Energy Revolution are so profound that there has never been a time of greater promise or potential peril from the perspective of human flourishing. Our stakes could not be higher. To ensure an energy revolution that is good for everyone, we must harness energy sources and infrastructure to maintain affordability, reliability, and reduced emissions.  

Today, American natural gas is powering cars, electric grids, and heating homes- a revolution but not the end of the story. One of the most exciting things about the technological advances in natural gas compression is that they provide an excellent opportunity to produce cleaner fuels. Incorporating enhanced flexibility, efficiency, reliability, and reduced emissions to deliver natural gas, is essential in sustainable development.    

Through research and collaboration, the Gas Machinery Research Council will help innovate and repurpose the gas networks to transport low-carbon fuels, including renewable natural gas (RNG), hydrogen, and synthetic natural gas. These collective efforts will help to ensure that existing infrastructure, as well as the workforce to maintain it, will reliably and safely play a long-term role in enabling a carbon-neutral economy.   

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

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