Ahead of the curve with innovative process technologies

Stricter environmental regulations, a growing share of renewables, additional cost pressures, new process technologies: industrial companies are facing a growing list of challenges.

Turning heavy oil into hydrogen

Refineries face a new challenge in selling one of the by-products of crude oil refining, namely heavy crude oil. This black, viscous oil was widely deployed as a marine fuel up until 2020. However, a recent International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreement has significantly restricted its use. The reason for this move was that heavy oil produces considerable amounts of sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide when combusted in a ship’s engine. Linde Engineering has developed a process technology called partial oxidation that allows oil companies to continue using this residue product. It involves heating heavy oil to temperatures of around 1,400 degrees Celsius and adding oxygen to support sub-stoichiometric (incomplete) combustion. This produces a hydrogen-rich synthesis gas – a mixture of hydrogen (H2) and carbon monoxide (CO) that is purified in downstream steps. The H2 fraction is extremely valuable to oil refining companies, which require large quantities of this gas especially to desulphurize fuel products. Our partial oxidation technology is a win-win for today’s refinery. On the one hand, they can turn a residue product into a useful commodity and, on the other, meet rising demand for H2, which is on an upward path as stricter environmental legislation increasingly mandates lower-emission fuels.

Transportation and container ships
Key visual for Linde DRYREF and BASF SYNSPIRE

DRYREF™ technology: Do more with less

Linde Engineering also collaborates with partners from industry and academic research to accelerate promising technologies from the development stage to market maturity. Our DRYREF process technology is one such success story. Here our engineers teamed up with specialists from BASF, who had created a new catalyst for synthesis gas production. Our engineers were able to use this catalyst to improve the entire steam reforming process flow. The result is DRYREF, a dry reforming technology that combines improved energy efficiency with lower operating costs. Highlights include lower CAPEX due to the smaller DRYFEF footprint and the ability to recycle carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is used to optimize the H2/CO ratio in the resulting synthesis gas. The Linde pilot reformer played a major role in the success of this project. Linde Engineering tests new process technologies at this large pilot plant at Pullach in Germany under real-world conditions. Subsequent tests at an industrial-scale synthesis gas plant demonstrated the commercial maturity of the DRYREF technology. Under the slogan “Do more with less”, DRYREF offers customers an attractive dry reforming solution for both new plants and revamps.

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Innovating helium capture

Helium production is another showcase for the benefits of investing in new technologies. Our engineers came up with the idea of combining highly efficient and selective membranes with a pressure swing adsorption (PSA) unit. This not only results in a very high helium yield but also makes the new process cheaper and more energy-efficient by dispensing with the cryogenic gas separation step. Linde Engineering teamed up with chemicals specialist Evonik to deliver the high-performance membranes. These hollow fibers made of extremely efficient polymers are embedded in stainless steel cartridges. The pre-treated natural gas is fed into these cartridges under high pressure, with the gas fractions separating due to selective permeation. Simply put, this means that small molecules like helium can pass through the membrane faster than larger ones. Depending on the gas composition and the size of the plant, any number of cartridges can be combined in one or more membrane stages. Linde Engineering has installed this helium production technology at a plant in Mankota, Canada, which processes over 250,000 standard cubic meters of natural gas per day and achieves a helium yield above 95 percent at a purity level as high as 99.999 percent. Previously, this kind of quality could only be achieved with cryogenic methods.

Helium purification facility in Mankota
ASU Roethenbach

Air separation: Capitalizing on power and price fluctuations

With its FLEXASU® project, Linde Engineering is helping to balance grid fluctuations as the renewable share increases. Experts refer to this as demand-side management. The FLEXASU project is part of the SynErgie Kopernikus project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Research and Education in cooperation with other external partners. In simple terms, it involves Linde engineers modifying air separation units (ASUs) so that they are better able to cope with frequent load changes. These changes include making the walls of pipelines thicker and modifying design details on components like valves, compressors and pumps. A larger storage tank for the liquid gases produced adds more flexibility. Linde Engineering is turning to digitalization to ensure that the ASU instrumentation and control technology is also able to cope with the demands of more dynamic operations. Software tools help to determine the optimum plant management scheme. The FLEXASU project is part of the SynErgie Kopernikus project funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Research and Education in cooperation with other external partners. Linde Engineering is keen to use the findings it has gained through this project to modernize older plants, enabling them to also be operated in a more dynamic way.

3D printing of plant components

Looking beyond process technology advances, Linde Engineering innovators are also constantly searching for ways to streamline production processes. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, is positioned at the heart of these efforts. This technology provides an innovative way to fabricate spare parts for plants. Its particular appeal lies in the fact that many plant components are complex in design and very costly to produce with conventional methods. Additive manufacturing (AM) on the other hand offers complete freedom of design. Using digital 3D design data, the AM powder or material gradually builds the final object, layer by layer. Our engineers are examining whether 3D printing can also be used for systems like heat exchangers – one of the key elements in natural gas liquefaction plants. 3D-printed parts could, for example, optimize heat transfer. This would reduce the surface area required for exchanging heat and thus the size of the components. Additive manufacturing is also a promising technology for complex process components with cavities, coils or catalytic structures as well as for tailor-made spare parts.

Close up of additive manufacturing

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