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Alexandria University

Faculty of Engineering
Specialized Scientific Programs

Natural Gas
Treatment
and
Purification
[GPE 521]
Instructor:
Dr. Mohamed Helmy
Undergraduate teaching assistant:
Eng. Sarah Eletriby
Course Materials (Reference Texts):

1- G. M. Campbell, "Gas Conditioning and Processing", Vol.2, Campbell Petroleum


Series, (1994).
2- S. Mokhatab, W. A. Poe and J. G. Speight, "Handbook of Natural Gas Transmission
and Processing", Elsevier Inc., (2006).
3- C. U. Ikoku, "Natural Gas Production Engineering", John Wiley and sons Inc.,
(1984).
4- B. Guo and A. Ghalambor, "Natural Gas Engineering Handbook", Gulf Publishing
Company, (2005).
5- W. C. Lyons, "Standard Handbook of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering",
Vol. 2, Butterworth-Heinemann, (1996).

Course Topics

The following major topics will be covered in the formal lectures.

1- Phase separation (gas liquid separation)


2- Mercury removal
3- Sweetening of natural gas ( Acid gas removal)
4- Dehydration of natural gas
Natural gas treatment is a very important process for natural gas production; this is to produce the gas with
the certain standard specifications. The main objectives of the treatment processes are:
[1]-Remove entrained solids (dust, sand).
[2]-Separation of the gas from liquids such as crude oil, hydrocarbon condensate and water.
[3]-Remove undesirable contents from the gas like mercury.
[4]-Reduce acid gases (CO2 and H2S) to sufficiently low limits to permit additional processing in the
plant without corrosion or plugging problems. [sweetening]
[5]-Reduce the water contents to the allowable limits. [dehydration]
The sweetening and dehydration steps are repeated in two cases, namely:
[1]-Field operation: to prepare the gas with the required specifications needed for compression and
transportation
[2]-Plant operation: to prepare the gas with the required specifications needed for the processing step.
See Fig.(1)
Solid dust (sand) removal [desander]
Desander is drilling equipment with a set of hydro-cyclones that separate sand and abrasive solids from the
drilling fluid. The fluid is passed through the desander vessel which incorporates a cyclone to remove the
solid particles by means of the centrifugal force whilst the water and condensate are carried on.
Why dust removal is necessary?
To prevent erosion of pipes and metallic equipments and prevents plugging of small orifices in various
controlling and process equipment.
Phase separation [Gas-Liquid Separation]
Separation of oil and gas is a critical field processing operation. Substances to be separated are crude oil, water
and gas.
Crude Oil: this is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons produced from the reservoir in liquid form. Its
density usually ranges from around 40 lb/ft3 to 55 lb/ft3.
Natural Gas: which is associated with an oil accumulation may be termed free gas or dissolved gas.
Water: water produced with oil or gas may be in the form of liquid or vapour. The liquid water may also
be in the form of free water or it may be emulsified in the oil.
According to the form of water (either free or emulsified) the separation processes can be classified into:
[1]-Three phase separation [if water is present in the form of free water],
[2]-Two phase separation [if water is emulsified with the oil] see Fig.(2)
In three phase separation, however, in addition to the removal of gas from liquids, the oil and water are
separated from each other.
Principles of separation
The objective of ideal separation is to separate the hydrocarbon stream into liquid-free gas and gas-free-
liquid. For the separator to perform this function there are two necessary factors, namely;
Fig.(1) Block schematic of various processes of a gas.

Fig.(2) the difference between 2 & 3 phase separation


[1]-The fluids to be separated must be immiscible
[2]-Difference in density must be exist (one fluid must be lighter than the other)
Factors affecting separation
The factors that affect the operation and separation between the oil and gas phases in a separator are:

[1]-Fluid stream composition

[2]-Separator operating pressure

[3]-Separator operating temperature

Change in any one of these factors will change the amount of gas and liquid leaving the separator.
Generally, an increase in operating pressure or a decrease in operating temperature will increase the liquid
covered in a separator. However, there are optimum points in both cases beyond which further change will
not aid in liquid recovery.

An analysis can be made using the well stream composition to find the optimum temperature and pressure at
which a separator should operate to give maximum liquid or gas phase recovery. These calculations known
as flash calculation require a trial and error solution or programmed computer.

Phases of separation [Parts of a separator]


A properly designed separator must perform the following functions:

1. Cause a primary phase separation of the liquid from the gas.

2. Refine the primary separation by removing most of the entrained liquid mist from the gas.

3. Further refine the separation by removing the entrained gas from the liquid.

4. Discharge the separated gas and liquid from the vessel and ensure that no re-entrainment of one into
the other takes place.

The total process within the separator can be divided into four parts as follow now Fig. (3).
[1] Primary separation section
As the reservoir fluids enter the vessel an initial separation of gas and liquid takes place. This happens
because of:
a) Reduction in velocity
The velocity of the inlet stream is reduced as the fluids flow from a relatively small diameter pipeline into
the large volume separator.
b) Reduction in pressure
The pressure is reduced by maintaining a controlled pressure on the vessel lower than that of the inlet
stream.
c) Change in flow direction
The change in flow direction is accomplished by placing some form of deflector at the inlet to the separator.
Fig.(3) Separator sections.
2. Secondary separation section
After the primary separation, gas will flow towards the outlet of the vessel. However, it will still contain a
certain amount of liquid in the form of droplets. In the secondary separation process these liquid droplets are
removed from the gas stream.
Causes of separation in this stage:
Liquid droplets which are suspended in the gas stream will tend to fall or 'settle' towards the bottom of the
vessel. This is simply due to the force of gravity (difference in density).
Factors affecting the ease of separation in the secondary separation stage
The size of the droplets.
The density of the liquid droplet compared to the density of the gas.
The velocity at which the gas stream is traveling through the separator (depends on the separator
diameter).
The turbulence which exists in the flowing gas stream.
3. Mist extraction section [to remove very small droplets]
The secondary separation of liquid droplets from the gas by gravity settling will not usually remove very
small particles. These particles tend to remain in the gas stream in the form of a mist. In order that the
gas leaving a separator as free as possible from liquid, a final mist extraction section is built into the
vessel.
Mist extraction is accomplished using either an impingement or a centrifugal force mechanism.
4. Liquid accumulation section
The lowest section of a separator is where the liquids from the other three sections accumulate before being
discharged from the vessel. Initially, this liquid will have gas bubbles entrained within it which must be
removed.
Just as liquid droplets tend to fall through a gas stream, gas bubbles tend to rise to the surface of liquids due
to density differences.
The time required for the bubbles to reach the surface and re-enter the gas stream will vary. However, for
most oilfield applications it will occur in one to four minutes. This means that the liquids must stay in the
vessel for this period of time, which is known as the retention time, residence time or space time.
Note:
The above mentioned four phases of separation are involved in the two phase separation while in the
three phase separation a fifth stage is added in which oil is separated from water and is called oil and
water separation section.
Oil and water separation section
Oil and water do not mix. If these liquids are left long enough in a vessel, separation will occur and the oil
will float on top of the water. Oil and water will separate faster than gas will be liberated from the oil. So, if
the separator is large enough to allow efficient gas separation, then the retention time required for oil and
water separation will be exceeded.
Stage separation
Stage separation is a process in which gaseous and liquid hydrocarbons are separated into vapor and liquid
phases by two or more equilibrium flashes at consecutively lower pressure. The purpose of stage separation
is to reduce the pressure on the reservoir liquids a little at time, in steps, in order to stabilize the crude oil for
shipment at pressures at or near to atmospheric, this means that the separator would have to be operated at
this pressure which means that the separator need to be extremely large.
In order to achieve optimum separation in such a case the process would be carried out in a number of
separator vessels working in series. Each separator would operate at a lower pressure than its predecessor.
This process is known as stage separation. At each stage the gas which is liberated and separated is removed
and the liquid passes to the next vessel in the sequence [see Fig.(4)].
The series of vessels used in a stage separation process is known as a train of separators. The number of
vessels in a train varies, but usually ranges from two to four. We can refer therefore to a two, three or four
stage separation train.
Stage separation is necessary for:
1- High pressure well streams 2- High flow rate well streams

Fig.(4) Stage separation flow diagrams.


Classification of separators
Separators are classified according to:
A- The shape of the vessel.

B- The number of the fluids to be separated.(two and three phase)


A- According to the shape of the vessel.
Separators are commonly manufactured in three basic shapes:
1. Horizontal Separator
2. Vertical Separator
3. Spherical Separator

I. Horizontal separators
When to use horizontal separators?
Horizontal separators are almost always used for:
1- High to medium GOR streams 2- Foaming crudes 3- Small liquid surge characteristics

Fig.(5) Three phase horizontal separator

Fig.(5) Three phase horizontal separator


Fig.(6) Two phase horizontal separator
The horizontal separators have a much greater gas-liquid interface area than other types, which aids in the
release of solution gas and reduction of foams.
There are two configurations of the horizontal separator, namely:
A. Single barrel separator as shown in Figs.(5&6)
B. Double barrel (tube) separator Fig.(7)

Fig.(7) Horizontal double barrel separator.


The double barrel type has all the advantage of normal horizontal separator (single barrel) plus a much
higher liquid capacity. Incoming free liquid is immediately drained away from the upper section into the
lower section. The upper section is filled with baffles, and gas flow is straight through and at higher
velocities.
Advantages of horizontal separators:
1. Require smaller diameter and less expensive than vertical separators for a given gas capacity.
2. For a given size, more area is available for settling in the liquid phase. Thus, the horizontal
conforms to three phase operation better than does a vertical.
3. Foamy crudes are processed more effectively in a horizontal than in a vertical since large liquid
surface area is available for foam dispersion.
Disadvantages of Horizontal Separators:
1. Have less liquid surge capacity than a vertical of comparable oil and gas capacity.
2. Liquid level control is more critical than with a vertical type.
3. Occupies more space.
II. Vertical separators
Applications:
1. Small flow rates of gas and/or liquids
2. Well streams having sizable quantities of sand, mud, paraffin or other related substances.
3. Plot space is limited, but little or no vertical height limitations.
4. Well streams or process flow streams which are characterized by large instantaneous volumes of
liquid (high surge capacity)
Advantages of Vertical Separators:
1. Liquid level and control not as critical as for horizontal; [level control is easier]
2. Can handle more sand, mud, paraffin, and wax without plugging.
3. Usually easier to clean.
4. Requires less space to install (e.g. offshore applications)
Disadvantages of Vertical Separators:

1. More expensive,
2. Does not adapt to skid-mounted assemblies as well as do horizontals in most case, and
3. Requires a larger diameter for the same gas capacity.

Fig.(8) Vertical separator

Fig.(9) Three phase vertical separator.


III. Spherical separators
These types of separators are compact vessels arrangement and provide good gas separation. However, they
have very limited surge space and liquid settling section.
When a well stream can contain excess mud or sand and are subjected to surging foamy components, the
spherical separator is not economical.
These Separators are not as popular today because of their limitations. However, they are still used in small
scale operations.

Operation:

Figure (9) illustrates the principles of the spherical separator. The well stream enters the top of the separator
and the liquids spread thinly over the hemispherical baffle and accumulate in the lower part of the vessel.
Gas proceeds along the same initial path between the hemispherical baffle and the separator shell. At the
lower edge of the baffle, the gas passes into the chamber of the separator and rises through the mist
extractor. Gas leaves the separator through the upturned outlet which emerges from the bottom center of the
vessel. The rising liquid activates a float or level controller to operate the oil valve on the dump line from
the separator.
Advantages of Spherical Separators:
1. Excellent gas separation capacity per dollar, and
2. Its cleanout and drain features are better than those of horizontal and vertical separators.
Disadvantages of Spherical Separators:
1. Is not economical for large gas capacities, and
2. Its surge capacity is limited.

Fig.(9) Spherical separator


Separator internals
Separator internals are mechanical devices that should be present in some of all separators, regardless of the
overall shape or configuration of the vessels.
These mechanical devices are used in order to:
1. Improve the separators efficiency
2. Simplify its operation
3. Save in the vessel size
Separator internals are divided into three categories, namely;
A. Internal arrangement B. Intermediate arrangement C. Outlet arrangement
A- Internal arrangements
Function of inlet arrangements:
Cause primary separation of liquid and gas To divert the liquid flow down stream
These devices are used in front of the inlet nozzle and called inlet diverter or deflector which cause rapid
change in the fluid velocity and direction (maximize the difference in momentum between gas and liquid. It
takes many shapes such as:
1. Flat plate 2. Spherical dish 3. Centrifugal inlet device

Fig.(10) Inlet diverter types


B- Intermediate arrangements
Intermediate arrangements are used to refine the separation process. The most commonly used of these
intermediate devices are:
1. Wave breaker
The wave breakers are most common used in large horizontal separators to limit wave propagation in the
vessel. The waves may result from surges of liquid entering the vessel.
Wave breaker geometry:
The wave breakers consist of plates perpendicular (perforated inlet baffles Fig.(10)) or parallel to the flow
located at the liquid level.
Effect of wave propagation action:
1) Affect level controls and level switches performance
2) May lead to liquid carry over
2. Stilling well (float shield) see Fig.(11)
Stilling well is installed around the float for level control to protect the float from currents and waves which
could cause it to sense incorrect level.
3. Weir
It is a dam like structure used to control the liquid level and keep it at a given value corresponding to the
desired residence time to permit the separation of gas from liquid and oil from water for three phase
separator.
4. Straightening vanes Fig.(12)
These are used to separate liquid mist from gas and used where hydrate or paraffins are present which cause
plugging of the mist extractor. They are used when hydrate or paraffins prevent the use of pads.
C. Outlet arrangements
The outlet arrangements are used at the top and the bottom of the separator.
1) At the top: Mist extractors are used
Mist extractors are use to coalesce small particles (mist) of liquids that will not settle out by gravity and
prevent it from going out with the gas. The most common types of mist extraction devices are;
Wire mesh pad Mist extractor using vanes Centrifugal mist extractor
Wire-mesh pads are made of finely woven mats of stainless steel wire wrapped into a tightly packed
cylinder. The liquid droplets impinge on the matted wires and coalesce.
Vane-type mist extractors force the gas flow between parallel plates, which contain directional
changes. Droplets impinge on the plate surface where they coalesce and fall to a liquid-collection area
where they are routed to the liquid- collection section of the vessel.
Centrifugal mist extractors cause the liquid drops to be separated by centrifugal force. These can be
more efficient than either wire mesh or vanes and are the least susceptible to plugging. However, they
are not in common use in production operations because their removal efficiencies are sensitive to small
changes in flow.

Fig.(10) Perforated inlet baffle wave breaker

Fig.(12) Straightening vanes well)

Fig.(11) vertical separator equipped with float shell (stilling well)


Wire mesh pads

Mist extractor using vanes Centrifugal mist extractor

Fig.(13) Different mist extractors types


2) At the bottom: Vortex breaker (anti-vortex device) are used
Vortex breakers are used to prevent gas from going out with the liquid. It takes many forms such as:
Crossed plates vortex breaker
Horizontal plate vortex breaker
Slotted pipe vortex breaker

Fig.(14) Vortex breakers

Special separation operating problems:


Some of the major problems encountered in the operation of oil and gas separators are due to foam,
paraffin, sand, emulsion, slugging, liquid carryover and gas blowby.
A. Foams:
This is resulted when the oil fails to release the gas quickly enough as it passes through the vessel, and a
layer of oily bubbles forms on top of the liquid surface. Foaming problems can be caused by changes in
pressure or temperature, or the presence of minute particles of solids, corrosion protection chemicals
injected into the stream or any combinations of these factors.
Effect of foams
[1] The foam layer on top of the oil interferes with the movement of liquid particles out of the gaseous phase
and the release of solution gas from the oil phase.
[2] Mechanical control of liquid level is aggravated
To solve the problem
Anti foaming agents are often injected into the inlet stream to prevent foaming.
B. Paraffin
Effect of paraffin:
Accumulations of paraffin waxes causing coalescing plates in the liquid section and mesh pad mist
extractors in the gas section to be plugged.
To solve the problem
Man ways, hand holes, and nozzles should be provided to allow steam, solvent, or other types of
cleaning of the separator internals.
The bulk temperature of the liquid should always be kept above the cloud point of the crude oil to
prevent parraffin wax formation in the separators.
C- Sand
Effect of sand
Sand can be very troublesome in separators by causing cutout of valve trim, plugging of separator internals,
and accumulation in the bottom of the separator, thus leading to level control problems.
To solve the problem
Sand problems may be solved by removal of sand up streams the separator by using a filter or desanding
cyclone before the separator; however, filters will quickly block in sandy service and are not often used.
D- Emulsion
Emulsions can be particularly troublesome in the operation of three-phase separators. Over a period of time
an accumulation of emulsified materials and/or other impurities usually will form at the interface of the
water and oil phases.
Effect of emulsion
Decrease in wateroil separation efficiency.
Increase the settling time required to achieve an acceptable separation of oil and water
To solve the problem
Addition of demulsifying chemicals into the well fluid.
Application of heat in the liquid section of the separator.
E- Slugging
Slugging occurs when, for some reason or another, there is an intermittent, rather than a constant, flow of
well fluids into the separator. In some instances the flow may cease altogether for a few seconds and then a
slug will arrive.
Slugging effect
This intermittent flow (slugging) can cause rapid fluctuations in separator levels and pressures. The
controllers react to these changes by rapidly opening and closing their respective valves in an attempt to
bring the situation under control. In severe cases the control system may become unstable resulting in a
shutdown.
To solve the problem
Lower level set point on controller.

Lower proportional band setting


F- Liquid carryover and gas blowby
Liquid carryover occurs when free liquid escapes with the gas phase as a result of many causes such as:
1. Excessive inlet gas flow rate
2. High liquid level (reduce the vapor disengaging space)
3. Excessive wave action in the liquid
4. Operating pressure is below the design value
5. Liquid API gravity is higher than the design value.
To solve the problem
Check gas flow rate and cut back to the design rate
Check liquid level and lower it to the design value
Install horizontal baffles
Lower gas rate in proportion to reduction in pressure
Gas blowby occurs when free gas escapes with the liquid phase and can be an indication of:
Low liquid level Vortexing Level control failure
Wave breaker, vortex breaker and checking operating conditions eliminate this problem.
Design considerations
The following factors must be determined before beginning separator design.
[1] Gas and liquids flow rates (minimum, average, and peak).
[2] Operating and design pressures and temperatures.
[3] Surging or slugging tendencies of the feed streams.
[4] Physical properties of the fluids, such as density, viscosity, and compressibility.
[5] Designed degree of separation (e.g., removing 100% of particles greater than 10 m).
Design procedure
I. Vertical separator
For a three-phase vertical separator, the total height can be broken into different sections, as shown in
Fig.(15). The separator height is then calculated by adding the heights of these sections. If a mist eliminator
pad is used, additional height is added.

Fig.(15) Basic design of three-phase vertical separator


The calculations of diameter and height are detailed as follow.
1- Calculate the vertical terminal velocity using Equation:
(1)

and set Vg = 0.75 Vt for conservative design. [The upward superficial gas velocity must be the droplets
settling velocity]
K: empirical factor depends primarily on the separator geometry, the type of mist extractor, flow rates and
fluid properties. It can be obtained from the equation:
(2)
Or from table (1).
P : Operating pressure in psig
Vg: superficial gas velocity based on total cross sectional area, ft/sec.
L & g : liquid and gas density at the operating conditions.
Table (1) K-Values Used for Designing Separators

2- Calculate the vessel internal diameter, Di:


(3)

Qg: gas flow rate at operating conditions, ft3/s


3- Calculate the settling velocity of the heavy liquid out of the light liquid using the equation:
(4)

Where Vt is in inch/min, densities of light and heavy liquid phases (L, H) are in lb/ft3, viscosity is in cP,
and Dd is the droplet diameter in m.

4- Calculate the rising velocity of the light liquid out of the heavy liquid phase using the equation:
(5)

5- Calculate the light and heavy liquid volumetric flow rates QLL and QHL.
6- Assume HL = 1 ft (minimum) and HH = 1 ft (minimum) and calculate the settling times for the heavy
liquid droplets to settle (ts,HL) and for the light liquid droplets to rise (ts,LL) through this section,
respectively, as
(6)

(7)

7- Calculate the cross sectional area available for the light liquid AL
(8)
(9)

G: baffle liquid load gph/ft2 is obtained from Fig.(16)

)L- g) lb/ft3

Fig.(16) Determining the downcomer allowable flow


In Figure 16 the high liquid level above interface is equal to HL+ HR, where the height from light liquid
nozzle to baffle (HR) is assumed 9 inch as a minimum.
8- Calculate the residence time (tr) of each phase based on the volumes occupied by the light and heavy
phases as:
(10)

(11)

If tr,LL< ts,HL or tr,HL< ts,LL, increase the diameter and repeat the procedure from step 6. Note that AH = A.
9- Calculate HR based on the required holdup time (tH) as:
(12)

Check this value with that assumed in step 7 to ensure that the assumed value is reasonable. If surge is not
specified, calculate the surge height (HS) based on surge time (tS):
(13)

where the minimum HS is 6 inch.


Holdup time is defined as the time it takes to reduce the liquid level from normal (NLL) to low (LLL) while
maintaining a normal outlet flow without feed makeup. Surge time is defined as the time it takes for the
liquid level to rise from normal (NLL) to high (HLL) while maintaining a normal feed without any outlet
flow. Holdup time is based on the reserve required to maintain good control and safe operation of
downstream facilities, whereas surge time is usually based on requirements to accumulate liquid as a result
of upstream or downstream variations or upsets, for e.g., slugs. In the absence of specific requirements,
surge time may be taken as one-half of holdup time.
10- Calculate the vessel total height (HT) as:
(14)
where HA is liquid level above baffle, which is 6 inch (minimum), and HBN is liquid height from above
baffle to feed nozzle, ft.
ft (15)

DN: Nozzle diameter, ft.


HD: is the disengagement height = 0.5 Di
Note:
Three principles used to achieve physical separation of gas and liquids or solids are momentum, gravity
settling, and coalescing.
Separators are sometimes called scrubbers when the ratio of gas rate to liquid rate is very high.