Pioneering research conducted more than a decade ago at Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is now reaching the marketplace.

A new natural gas liquefaction facility uses cryogenic technologies, which operate at a very low temperature, developed and demonstrated by INL researchers in the early 2000s. NuBlu Energy recently opened a natural gas liquefaction facility and distribution terminal in Port Allen, Louisiana. It employs a low-cost refrigeration cycle that makes use of pipeline feed gas as the sole refrigerant. This technology was developed and first demonstrated by researchers at INL. The INL team also developed a low-cost gas treatment technology to remove moisture and carbon dioxide from the feed gas prior to liquefaction.

“The front end cleanup process was demonstrated in a limited capacity by INL researchers, but additional development will be required before it can be implemented commercially,” said Ryan Bills, INL’s senior commercialization manager for the project. “We are hopeful that NuBlu will be able to pick up where INL’s development effort left off to further improve the economics of small-scale liquefied natural gas production.”

The INL liquefaction technology was designed to draw natural gas directly from a high-pressure transmission pipeline at a point where the pressure is dropped to accommodate commercial distribution. The plant was largely powered by this pressure drop. As the gas enters the plant, some of it is allowed to expand, and as it expands, the gas cools. This temperature drop allows the natural gas to be used as a coolant in the liquefaction process. Though the design of NuBlu’s plant was adapted to accommodate their unique application, INL’s research was foundational.

Additional research at INL focused on improvements such as processing natural gas with higher CO₂ concentrations or nitrogen content, higher and lower pressure distribution lines, and liquefying a higher percentage of incoming gas.

INL’s work was initially targeted at improving the economics of liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a transportation fuel. NuBlu’s first facility helps realize this goal, though the technology shows promise in other applications such as mining, flare gas capture, and gas storage for peak shaving, which reduces power consumption during periods of maximum demand.

The 30,000-gallon-per-day NuBlu Plant is now liquefying natural gas from an adjacent transmission pipeline and will serve regional demand for LNG transportation fuels. Though the CO₂ removal system was not added to this unit, NuBlu is planning to add it to subsequent plants.

“We are excited to bring the INL technology to LNG market,” said Cory Duck, vice president of Corporate Growth & Development for NuBlu. “The NuBlu facility in Port Allen, Louisiana, is producing cold LNG for all energy markets. We are working to get all the LNG prescribed so we can duplicate our efforts to expand the plant to 90,000 gallons per day. Our goal is to utilize the patented CO₂ cleanup process in subsequent production modules.”

The modular plant design allows for easy expansion of up to 90,000 gallons per day when the LNG needs increase in the region, and makes is practical to produce LNG close to where it will be used, decreasing transportation and LNG product costs for consumers.

Enabled by INL technology licensed to NuBlu, the commissioning of this plant represents an important milestone for a technology that will help address the growing demand for LNG fuels.

Posted June 4, 2018