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World's Largest Nitrogen Plant Insulated with Expanded Perlite
Furnaces: P20 (vertical portable) / 3S-600M (horizontal mobile)
Product: Cryogenic Perlite
Location: Cantarrel, MEXICO
By: Arthur D. Anderson
Just off the Yucatan peninsula, the Cantarell field produces some 1.2 million barrels of oil per day. About one third of Mexico's total output, the field is crucial to their economy. When the pressurizing "bubble" of natural gas which aids extraction became more depleted, Pemex, the state run oil company, began searching for alternatives to enhance extraction.
The alternative chosen was to inject the field with large volumes of pressurized nitrogen. 1.2 billion cubic feet per day would be required from a new facility which would be the worlds largest with total project cost reaching over $1 billion.
The 30 hectare site for the plant is approximately 100 kilometers from the oil field in the jungle of the Yucatan. Very strict environmental regulations were followed which dramatically limited the impact of the plant on the surrounding area. Noise levels both during construction and later in operation would be limited to 65 decibels at the fence. These restrictions together with the sheer size of the plant and the logistics involved made the project very demanding.
Within the site are four air compressors. Consuming some 52 Mw of electricity and producing 300 million cubic feet per day, each one of the units would be the world's largest. The heavy energy needs prohibited tapping into the local utility grid, and because the environmental permit would not allow drilling wells, the facility need to be designed to be self-sustaining.
In operation, liquid nitrogen produced by the facility is piped through two 36 inch diameter lines and injected into the oil field. Natural gas extracted with the oil is returned to the facility in a third pipe where it is used to operate three 72 Mw combustion turbines to provide electricity. The cooling system alone consumes 10Mw and makes use of cooling towers which process 80,000 cubic meter of seawater per hour. Condensing steam turbines use the heat captured by heat-exchangers to power nitrogen compressors which then raise the pressure to 1,500 PSI. After compression, the gas is cryogenically cooled to temperatures that reach -180 deg. C.
To insulate the equipment at these temperatures, German Linde AG, licensee for the air-separation technology, chose expanded perlite. ICF Flour Daniel, the turnkey EPC contractor for the project, contracted with Termolita S.A. to supply and install the perlite insulation.
Specification for the project required that the facility be able to operate without stop for 15 years and imposed liquidated damages of $125,000.00 per day. It was imperative that the insulation contractor complete the project on time and that strict quality standards be met.
To carry out the project, Termolita S.A. made use of three perlite processing systems having a combined production capacity of over 1650 cubic feet per hour in-place. The systems included: their original truck-mounted mobile unit supplied by Incon's predecessor, a new vertical portable supplied by Incon, and a unit rented from another company.
Termolita carried out each phase exactly on schedule and were complimented on their project as a whole. Density tests showed that product coming from the Incon units was typically within a range of +/- 1% as documented over an eight day period. The largest variation during that period was 2.2%.
During my visit, the facility was beginning to be brought into operation. It was expected to be fully operational by September.
"Giant Nitrogen Plant Enhances Oil Production in Mexico", Engineering News Record, May 8, 2000
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