Petronas Works to Commercialize Innovations

By Stephen Rassenfoss 8 Apr 2014

Petronas has a goal of transforming itself from a technology user to a technology developer, and the fruits of that drive were on display at the OTC Asia conference in Kuala Lumpur. The technology division of the Malaysian national oil company was doing more than just talking about innovations at OTC Asia: it was creating international markets for them.

On 27 March, it signed a worldwide distribution deal with Clairant, a Swiss seller of specialty chemicals, for HycaPure. The liquid-infused pellets remove mercury from gases, including difficult-to-remove organic and inorganic varieties of mercury that others cannot.

Elsewhere in the exhibit hall, Cameron was displaying a device that employs a membrane created by Petronas to remove carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide in a new two-layered canister filter.

Those are early fruits of the drive to change the mindset of a national oil company with large international ambitions. Competing for prime opportunities will require it to build a reputation for solving problems other companies cannot.

In the past, Petronas’ approach was to use proven technology only, said Colin Wong He Huing, vice president of technology and engineering for Petronas. “Only in recent years has the organization gone from being a national oil company to an international one,” he said. “We aspire to be more than good at managing oil and gas. We need to be strong in research to highly technically capable.”

Its priorities are driven by needs closer to home. The starting point of the technology development’s work is the series of problems faced by the company as it works to extend the life of the country’s older fields, bring on new fields where the gas is laden with contaminants, and control its systems better.

“It is a disciplined system with seven steps of technology development” from idea to deployment, he said.

The search that led to the membrane system to remove carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide addresses a major problem posed by many of the fields left to develop in Malaysia: extremely high levels of contaminants. Sometimes more than half of the gas produced must be removed.

The mix of gases is slowed by a complex maze of polymer fibers. The lighter carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide rise and are removed, while the larger hydrocarbon molecules travel downward. The remaining contaminants are removed using amine, a commonly used solvent.

Within the next month, a pilot project will test how it works with the goal of a full-scale test sometime next year, Wong said. The upside is that carbon dioxide cleanup units are able to reduce the level of contaminants to 7% of what comes out of the unit, compared to 20% previously, said Shahida Mohd Shariff, general manager of the technology and engineering division of Petronas, adding that the group is now working on improvements to push that down to less than 1%.

The test unit is a production of collaborations with outside experts. The membrane work was in partnership with Dalian Institute in China. Further contaminant reduction using the solvent recovery process was developed with UOP, a Honeywell subsidiary, which sells equipment and chemicals to hydrocarbon processors.

If it performs well, the company’s engineering department will scale it up for offshore facilities where the more efficient process will hopefully allow units with less than half the footprint of current technology, saving precious space on offshore production platforms, Wong said.

A much more effective membrane has multiple advantages, Shariff said: “We use less amine, less ground, and less weight.”

Petronas wants to turn contaminants removed from gas streams into marketable chemicals. That will require pipelines capable of moving the corrosive mix to land. That goal led to development of an impermeable carbon fiber composite liner that can be inserted into pipes to prevent corrosion.

Another line of composite research is aimed at extending the life of pipes in older fields where the cost of replacing pipes is prohibitive. The goal is an improved wrap that can be installed to older lines that prevents contact with salt water and strengthens them as well. New inspection equipment that can run through a pipe or be mounted on a remotely operated vehicle is under development to ensure those pipes do not leak.

The metering systems and sensors critical for tightly managing process systems have a maddening tendency to drift away from true readings. That led to a program to create a monitoring system that compares readings, highlights which systems are likely off, and presents what the accurate reading is likely to be.  

Stephen Rassenfoss is the Emerging Technology Senior Editor for the Journal of Petroleum Technology.