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Challenges and opportunities

for the global refining industry

Special Supplement to


Sour gas processing

Recent project experiences demonstrate the effectiveness of integrated solutions
Natural gas is widely seen as a key element in the energy mix that will meet the worlds growing demand over the coming decades because of its abundance, its accessibility, and its contribution (as the lowestcarbon fossil fuel) to solving the global emissions challenge. Over the decades, gas development projects have evolved a long way, from the relatively simple exploitation of sweet gas reserves that were directly routed into domestic and industrial supply networks, to the exploitation of contaminated and remote gas deposits through liquefaction, marine transport and regasification. In recent years, production of gas resources has increasingly required the removal of sulphur species as well as H2S, CO2 and H2O, making the gas treating process much more complex and more expensive: today, the capital expenditure of the treating section can sometimes amount to more than 50% of the total capex in developing a sour gas field. Complexity has also been increased by recent tightening of product specifications for both sales gas and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), as well as stricter environmental standards. However, challenging times tend to be good for stimulating innovation. Experience of three recent projects is presented here, which demonstrates the benefits of an integrated approach to the acid gas removal and sulphur recovery sections of sour gas processing. Finding the most suitable solution Shell has extensive experience with gases containing a wide range of contaminant levels, up to around 50 mol% H2S and above 20 mol% CO2. Treatment can involve a wide variety of different process technologies. The three projects described here used:

Acid Gas Enrichment Required 100

Amine + Claus + Tail Gas Treating

Biological Desulphurization

[H2S] / [CO2] Ratio

Schematic showing the choice of treating solutions as a function of the H2S to CO2 ratio and the amount of sulphur per day

The results of this integrated line-up with Sulfinol-M include a H2S content of around 60 mol% in the acid gas significantly better than the 36 mol% that would be achievable using a generic methyl diethanolamine (MDEA) line-up without the integrated enrichment absorber and hot flash. This increase in H2S content led to a significant decrease in the size of the SRU, yielding capex savings that far outweigh the slightly higher capex required for the integrated Sulfinol-M AGRU. Estimated overall capex savings for this gas plant were around US$200 million. Project 2: Biological desulphurisation of associated gas Shell Global Solutions, with our technology partner Paques, recently secured the application of our biological desulphurisation technology, THIOPAQ, for the first associated gas reuse project in the Caspian region. This desulphurisation process was selected for its simplicity and low operational complexity when integrated into the overall process scheme. The integrated process allows direct sulphur removal from sour gas, without having to first capture H2S and then recover sulphur. The design capacity of the desulphurisation plant is 2 million standard cubic feet per day of sour associated gas with around 4 mol% H2S; this translates into about 18.5 tons of sulphur produced per day. Because of uncertainty over the presence of mercaptans and aromatics, it was important to adopt a flexible approach to the facilitys design, with the possibility of sending vent gas to an incinerator. As the field is located in a very remote area, careful management of the caustic supply is also required. Currently, an advanced recycling technology for caustic, which is under development, is being considered as an option for deployment at the Caspian project site to minimise chemicals consumption. Project 3: All-in-one removal with Sulfinol-X Several projects have been conducted by Shell Global

E nriched acid gas to S R U Regenerator


Sulphur Production (t/day)

T reated gas

Make up water

T reated flas h gas to fuel gas


T reated flas h gas to incinerator


E nrichment absorber Main absorber

F eed gas

F las h ves sel

E nrichment flas h ves s el

Condens ates

Project 1: Enhanced enrichment line-up with Sulfinol-M Acid gas enrichment can be required before sulphur recovery, in situations where the H2S to CO2 ratio is significantly lower than 1. An effective way to achieve this involves a highly selective process line-up, employing Sulfinol-M technology in the acid gas removal unit (AGRU), together with an integrated enrichment absorber and a hot flash to increase the H2S content of the acid gas. One of the projects where we have applied this approach is a large gas plant in the Middle East. The plant has a design capacity of 2.7 billion standard cubic feet per day; the feed gas contains about 7.7 mol% CO2 and about 4.3 mol% H2S, with some heavy hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene and xylene as well. The specification of the treated gas is 4 parts per million (ppm) of H2S and 1000 ppm of CO2. Loaded acid gas from the acid gas absorber is sent to an enrichment flash vessel, where flashing at elevated temperature occurs. Flashed CO2 is sent to the selective enrichment absorber to remove remaining H2S, and the loaded solvent is then combined with the loaded solvent from the hot flash and sent to the regenerator. The downstream sulphur recovery unit (SRU) employs Jacobss EuroClaus technology.

An integrated gas treating line-up

Solutions and partners where deep removal of H2S, CO2 and trace sulphur components was required. In one example, with feed gas containing around 2.5 mol% H2S and 2.4 mol% CO2, as well as mercaptans, deep removal of all the contaminants was performed in the AGRU with Sulfinol-X technology. This is a second generation version of Shells Sulfinol process, in which the removal of mercaptans in the AGRU results in a smaller molecular sieve unit. A separate regeneration gas-treating unit is not needed, as the regeneration gas stream contains only a minor amount of mercaptans and can be recycled back to the main absorber of the AGRU. The result is a much simpler process arrangement, with several advantages: higher CO2 and COS removal rates due to enhanced reaction kinetics; lower steam requirement, leading to reduced energy consumption; no oxazolidone formation; tighter specifications achievable; and lower chemicals consumption leading to lower waste disposal. In this particular instance, liquid petroleum gas (LPG) extraction followed the treatment of the gas. By performing deep removal of all the contaminants in the AGRU with Sulfinol-X technology, it was possible to avoid the need for an additional downstream treating facility for mercaptans removal from the LPG fraction and as a result gain additional capex benefits from the integrated line-up.

he Shell Sulfinol process, which removes H2S, CO2, carbonyl t sulphide, mercaptans and organic sulphur components from natural and synthesis gas from coal or oil gasifiers and steam reformers; and  hell-Paques/THIOPAQ, a biological desulphurisation process, which S directly removes H2S from gas streams and recovers it in the form of elemental sulphur, with up to 100 tons a day of sulphur produced per unit.

The choice of the optimal treating line-up can be quite a complex endeavour, depending on the level of contamination and presence of trace components such as mercaptans. A rule of thumb for the selection is that it can be considered as a function of the H2S to CO2 ratio and the amount of sulphur produced per day.