February 2023, Vol. 250, No. 2


How LNG Will Fuel Global Energy Transition at Scale

By Rakhi Oli, Global Strategy Leader, LNG/Gas, Flowserve 

(P&GJ) — LNG is a key enabler of the global transition to a decarbonized energy system. It will play a pivotal role as companies move from coal and oil to cleaner energy sources.

LNG remains the only fuel choice available today to meet the energy needs of growing economies at scale. But it’s an extremely competitive market. In order to capture the potential of LNG, most producers will need to adapt the Top Five emerging technological trends to support energy transition pathways. The trends include: 

  1. Investing in small to midsize modular LNG systems instead of single, large-scale facilities 
  2. Digitizing fluid motion and control equipment, including pumps, valves, seals and automation, in order to reduce emissions 
  3. Switching to floating regasification units that can be built for less costs than the traditional long-term investments in on-shore terminals  
  4. Retrofitting existing LNG facilities to optimize efficiency and reduce both energy costs and carbon emissions 
  5. Enhancing lifecycle asset management to minimize total costs and achieve sustainability objectives 

The good news is LNG producers have been agile in embracing these trends. So have their engineering, procurement, construction and commissioning (EPCC) developers. Likewise, proven technologies available from knowledgeable partners can help companies significantly reduce the carbon footprint of their processes.

Growing Demand 

LNG has emerged as the fossil fuel of choice for the near term. Burning it emits as much as 50% less carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions than coal. That’s the value of natural gas. It’s emerged as a primary feedstock for energy production and conversion to hydrogen (H2) for industrial processes. 

As companies pursue strategies for decarbonization to limit greenhouse gases (GHGs), LNG also is expected to remain a key backup fuel. A reliable alternative fuel is necessary during intermittent outages that naturally occur with increasingly popular renewable power sources, such as wind and solar.  

This makes LNG a fast-growing commodity. Global demand is expected to rise as much as 50% by 2030. 

The LNG value chain has five components – from gas exploration and production to liquefaction, shipping, storage, then regasification and distribution to customers. Each component involves comprehensive processes that require flow control optimized for safety and emissions reduction.  

LNG companies strive to maximize efficiency and minimize energy consumption in order to better manage operational costs and avoid emissions. They’re experiencing earnings pressure from the 2020 declines in LNG prices.  

Therefore, it’s imperative that we improve the overall reliability of LNG processes while reducing operating costs. That’s especially critical at liquefaction and regasification facilities.  

LNG companies responding to the following five trends are showing the way.  

Trend 1 – Smaller/modular LNG systems that can scale with demand: The first major LNG technological trend is the industry’s pivot toward small to midsize LNG systems or trains, instead of the conventional format of investing in one mega-size LNG facility.  

This approach reduces risk to investors by building LNG facilities to match current demand. Their modular designs can be easily and affordably expanded as demand grows. The result is a more competitive price per ton of LNG produced in an optimum timeline. 

And of course, there can be fewer regulatory hurdles to overcome, compared to building conventionally large LNG facilities. 

Trend 2 Digitization to optimize LNG processes: LNG applications can be challenging because of the cryogenic temperatures and high pressures involved. In addition, LNG processes can emit methane (CH4), which is 25 times more harmful than CO2 because it holds more heat in the atmosphere.  

So, there is an increasing emphasis from LNG developers on minimizing methane emissions. What’s needed are technologies that minimize or eliminate fugitive emissions and leakages from critical equipment.  

That makes emissions reduction facilitated by digitization of equipment and processes the second technological trend transforming the LNG industry. 

Like so many other sectors of the economy, digital technologies are changing how energy is produced and consumed. Numerous other advantages can be gained by embracing the digitization of valves, pumps and cryogenic equipment in LNG processes. They include reductions in carbon footprint and costs while enhancing safety and efficiency.  

For example, comprehensive internet of things (IoT) solutions such as RedRaven from Flowserve provide advanced condition monitoring and predictive analytics. They enable companies to proactively schedule maintenance and identify inefficient operations.  

These digital solutions also enable LNG companies to avoid leaks and equipment failures that cause unplanned downtime. 

Trend 3 Floating regasification plants to add flexibility: The third major LNG technological trend is the growing number of floating regasification projects, compared to fixed or land-based regasification units.  

Building an on-shore terminal is a large, long-term investment which requires certainty of the continuous supply of LNG. Floating regasification plants can be built for 40 to 50% less than the costs of a land-based plant, according to Lloyd’s Register. They also can be constructed and commissioned in about half the time required for an on-shore facility. As a result, companies can scale up when and where demand grows. 

In addition, floating plants provide LNG companies with the flexibility to move the facilities when LNG supplies and demand shift to other regions. Given the current geopolitical situation, they’re expected to play an increasingly vital role in enhancing European energy security. 

Trend 4 Better management of energy consumption: The fourth emerging technological trend involves efficiency optimization initiatives at brownfield LNG facilities.  

A good example of this is the increasing reliance on vital NPSH calculations. Knowledgeable equipment manufacturers who provide accurate estimates can enable LNG companies to prevent cavitation. Doing so enables pump systems to function efficiently, minimize noise, and extend the equipment lifecycle.  

LNG companies are seeking suppliers of flow control equipment who have the industry experience and hydraulic expertise to help them maximize plant efficiency and productivity while also reducing or eliminating fugitive emissions.  

They’re investing in sealing systems and pumping solutions engineered to comply with industry standards, codes and regulations. Among the safety requirements are ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.  

They also need partners who manufacture equipment that conforms to global design standards. These include API 610, API 682 and API 692.  

Likewise, constant innovation is needed to help the industry overcome operational challenges and limitations.  

Trend 5 Lifecycle asset management to improve efficiency: Lastly, the fifth LNG technological trend emphasizes lifecycle asset management. Effective aftermarket service and technical support are essential to the success of LNG production facilities.  

Once the LNG facilities are up and running, loss of production for a single day due to unplanned downtime can cost millions of dollars. Therefore, LNG companies seek superior reliability, accessibility and maintainability of critical equipment. They also need a wide operating range of flow control devices to accommodate the cryogenic and non-cryogenic conditions across the LNG value chain. 

That makes designing LNG projects and selecting the right equipment all the more challenging. 

Preliminary design, detailed engineering, construction and commissioning can take six to 10 years. The risks can be mitigated with superior execution throughout the lifecycle of the project.  

That’s why LNG companies should choose a partner with engineering prowess and proven resources. Such a partner can enable them to meet the most demanding project timelines plus all business and energy transition objectives. 

With regular servicing and maintenance, LNG liquefaction and regasification facilities can run smoothly and efficiently. Lifecycle asset management, along with digitization, is now becoming one of the top priorities of LNG customers. It should be a part of early engineering and scope discussions when LNG facilities are designed. 

Right Equipment  

The top objectives of LNG developers include obtaining an optimum price per ton of energy produced along with: 

  • Efficient plant operations 
  • Emissions reductions 
  • Supply chain optimization 
  • Downstream market development 

They can all be accomplished by collaborating with an ideal partner. Expect your partner to offer the right products – pumps, seals, valves and automation – in addition to fluid motion and control system and hydraulic engineering prowess.  

The ideal partner will enable LNG companies to embrace the top five technological trends. The ideal partner also will design and implement solutions that match the LNG company’s operating conditions. 

LNG project development can be challenging. It is time, as well as cost-intensive. The phases for a typical base-load LNG development include pre-FEED (front-end engineering and design), a preliminary step to confirm the technical and economic feasibility of a project.  

Next comes the FEED phase to complete the facility design. It’s followed by a bridging phase to an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contractor before the exhaustive erection planning and commissioning phase can begin.  

Given the complexity of LNG projects and the turnkey format in which most are executed, project lifecycle execution and support from the critical equipment suppliers becomes significant in order for the project owners to meet project timelines. Cohesive engagement with the EPC contractors beginning at the early pre-FEED phases helps to meet the precise design requirements and develop the key documents. 

Continued collaboration during the order execution phases helps to overcome any scheduling risks and ensures on-time equipment delivery. Likewise, close collaboration with expert partners during the installation and commissioning phases ensures timely factory acceptance tests (FATs) and superior training programs for operations. A well laid-out and robust project execution plan contributes to the overall success of base-load LNG project development.

Aftermarket Support 

Also needed are aftermarket services and expertise to identify opportunities to enhance efficiency and cost-effectiveness throughout the LNG value chain. 

Therefore, LNG companies should seek a flow control partner who offers the following advantages. They can enable LNG companies to shrink their carbon footprint and successfully complete energy transition projects, including: 

  • Products and services that support all phases of the LNG lifecycle: upstream, liquefaction, shipping regasification and end uses 
  • Global resources for engineering expertise, equipment manufacturing and spare parts availability 
  • 24/7/365 technical support to provide unparalleled service 
  • The most complete portfolio of flow control equipment designed to work as a system to optimize LNG processes 
  • A single point of contact for LNG project planning, commissioning and operations  
  • An end-to-end IoT suite of solutions that increases efficiency while reducing costs with remote monitoring and predictive analytics  

Author: Rakhi Oli is the global strategy and partnerships development leader,   LNG/gas at Flowserve. She brings more than 20 years of multifunctional experience in the energy industry, with special emphasis on North American LNG projects ranging from the conceptual design to EPCC phase. Oli was nominated as a finalist for the Power Play Awards by ExxonMobil LNG and winner of ESG and Climate Champion GRIT Awards by Ally Energy. 

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