Archive for July 2014

Gas and Oil Processing Using a Thermal Fluid Heating System

The U.S. has recently loosened an almost four-decade ban on oil exports, allowing companies to begin selling U.S. manufactured oil overseas. Although the delivery of American-made oil probably won’t begin until August, now is a great time to familiarize yourself with thermal-fluid heating systems and their use in the conventional energy sector.

Many natural gas processing plants utilize thermal-fluid heating systems to provide precise, uniform heating and temperature control in the amine sweetening process, which is the stage in the purification of natural gas where the odorous sulfur is removed.

In downstream petroleum processing, hot-oil systems are also used to heat processes and control temperatures in applications such as liquid terminals, fractionation, recycling, and finished lubricant blending. Further upstream, the technology finds uses in well testing and down-hole heat dissipation, as well as heating for soil remediation.

Whether for purifying gas streams or heating and blending liquids, thermal fluid can be an attractive alternative to high-pressure steam and other heating methods. Compared to steam for instance, here are a few of the advantages:

  • Minimal corrosion
  • Unpressurized closed-loop operation
  • No flash losses, trap losses, or blow-down losses
  • Low maintenance
  • Environmental safety

Reducing inspection, oversight, and operator involvement has a minor side effect however; a system that requires so little attention can sometimes drift out of spec and create unwanted surprises down the road.

The answer:  Be proactive.

To ensure the safe and productive operation of a thermal fluid system, specific steps should be taken such as educating system operators and understanding how fluid degrades over time through overheating and oxidation. Additionally, routine maintenance plays a vital role in the safety and productive uptime of thermal fluid heating units. Thus monitoring and analyzing the hot oil on a consistent basis is important to the safety and success in petroleum and energy applications like natural gas and lubricants processing.

In order to maximize the effectiveness of thermal fluids as a heating medium, fluid selection is also very important. Thermal fluids can either be highly refined petroleum based oils, synthetic hydrocarbons, or silicon oils. When choosing an oil to use, factors such as temperature limitations, thermal efficiency, operating demands, safety and environmental circumstances should be considered

Thermal fluid systems will continue to play an important role in the conventional as well as alternative energy processes. Additionally, because we are such an energy-rich country and so many industries have developed their previously “tight” reserves, gas and petroleum processing will continue to boom in America. Furthermore, chemicals, processing, and other downstream manufacturing industries using these feedstocks will see future growth opportunities due to increasing natural gas and tight-oil production and exportation.

Related Article: Thermal Fluid Systems in Gas Processing Hydrocarbon Engineering Magazine Feb. 2013

Did Our Harsh Winter Set Up A Boom In Summer Paving Projects?

“The weather was relentless.”

As 2014 proceeds, when a person makes a statement like that anywhere in North America, the reaction is usually an agreeing nod.

But that nod might mean something completely different depending on where you are.

In the Dakotas, Great Lakes, and New England, they might be thinking about record cold spells.

In the great Mid-West, it was rain, flooding, and freak late-winter thunderstorms.

Prolonged drought in Texas, Oklahoma, California and Nevada.  The whole southwest, really.

But if you’re in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Ontario or Illinois—or New York, Maryland, Virginia or Delaware, what are you thinking?  Relentless cold, snow, ice, freezing rain.  In other words, a little bit of everything (except the drought part).

Atlanta?  Forget about it!

And now, it’s summer, and we’re all driving around, commuting to work, going on vacation, wondering what the *~!# happened to our highways!

Ice Storm

Severe winter weather is a triple whammy that crumbles a lot of asphalt and concrete.  And the way that we cope with that weather wreaks havoc with the budgets allocated to repair the damage and maintain the condition of the surfaces.

Here’s how it works:  The last couple of years, we may not have invested enough in maintaining the infrastructure.  Going into the winter season, many surfaces had cracks and pits that didn’t get filled or repaved before the snows.  Winter came, and repeatedly snow, ice, and water filled the cracks, infiltrated, froze, thawed, contracted, expanded, and drove deeper into the substructure.   Everything loosened up.  Salt and scraping plow blades may have done their parts too.  The roads are in ruins.

Some would assume that this means a booming—perhaps record breaking—asphalt paving industry this summer.

Not so fast.  Early reports actually show nonbuilding (public works) construction contracts down 13% this year, compared to the same period in 2013.

Some areas seem to have found the funds to properly repair and maintain their highways after the devastation caused by recent severe weather.   Governor Cuomo up in New York State recently announced major funding for road projects for this paving season, with the intention of preventing a vicious cycle of continuing and accelerating deterioration.

But many states reported spending double, even triple on salt and snow removal in the winter of 2014.  They went way, way over budget for their annual highway expenditures, and have nothing left—less than nothing—for the summer/fall  paving season.

So maybe there’s no funding left to fix these roads, no money.  But there are still a lot of cracks, holes, and long washboard stretches where your tires rumble and your teeth rattle.

For those who don’t drive or don’t pay much attention to the day to day of the asphalt industry, the following numbers may be of interest. According to this article in TIME, a report was released that estimates that 27% of major urban roads need repair. That is a high enough percentage to cost drivers $80 billion per year. On top of that, the average driver eats $277 per year for repairs on their cars due to driving on pothole ridden roads.

If they’re not fixed, and we have another hard winter in 2015,  this time next year we may be driving on rubble.