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

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