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In speaking with oil & gas producers about what they want to achieve with Hint’s technology, safety of the plant and the staff is always top priority. After that, the biggest goals are: lean and mean production, lower cost combined with higher quality, less product loss, and finally, more transparency in contact with clients. In short, efficiency is king.

In achieving these goals, flow measurement plays an important role. Through the use of on-line analysers in product flow, you can measure the composition and physical properties of the product. This is the input for flow measurement systems to be able to compute the quality and quantity delivered. The calculated quantities and quality are used to determine measuring stations, well revenues, concessions, and reservoirs. We call this allocation – the allocation of quantities and qualities for sources. Analyzers are also necessary for the legally required measurement of emissions and monitoring of the process safety.

The same knowledge can now be used in the development of sustainable solutions. It comes down to efficiency – doing more with less – fewer people and fewer resources. Traditional industry can bring a lot of expertise from the field of remote monitoring and online predictive maintenance, which is already used on drilling rigs. The same technology can be applied to wind turbines. Hint’s remote monitoring and maintenance of plants can also help with wind turbines whose maintenance is currently done using expensive helicopters. The technology makes this process much cheaper.

Clean entrepreneurship

The benefits of a sustainable approach to the energy business are big enough to draw the likes of Bill Gates, who this year announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition renewable energy fund with private investors including Mark Zuckerberg and Richard Branson, and the U.S. and Indian governments. The premise of the fund, according to Gates, is to accelerate the development of sustainable energy by investing in clean energy entrepreneurship, and thereby to also make a profit.

Those participating in the collective will jointly provide an injection of $1 billion to companies that are bringing innovative energy ideas to market. Gates is convinced that the next 50 years will bring many technologies to help resolve climate issues. The challenges are immense, and that is why he believes we need new approaches.

The belief is that these private companies can eventually bring about energy breakthroughs. Here are some areas where that innovation and automation will take place.

Oil & gas factories became information & computer technology companies
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In the future, each plant in the energy industry will be controlled from a digital platform. All the data on the site will be measured together, in one dashboard. The system would then analyze the data and draw conclusions that engineers on the shop floor can use to base their actions. Think of actions not as physical work in the field but as adjustments to the plants from afar. Maintenance is condition-based and not malfunction driven. This saves costs since you keep ahead of potentially bigger problems. According to a Gartner study from 2013, effective software-based asset management can, within one year, result in technology cost savings of 30%. With a high degree of automation, we also address the outflow of personnel and knowledge that many companies face. This becomes another cost saving because you can make do with less staff at a plant.

New extraction methods

Oil fields are still being found, but their reserves can be difficult to exploit. Some organizations have become more adept at exploiting such reserves. In Texas, Norway’s Statoil is currently experimenting with sand of different gradations. It is spraying water and chemicals in the ground to loosen hard rock that is deep within the soil. It also varies the depth of wells in order to discern what level delivers the highest production. The engineers can control the valves remotely and can quickly adjust the flow. But does this represent cost savings or investment? As so often is the case, they go hand in hand. Statoil can now produce more with fewer rigs and the average cost of the drilling process has decreased from $4.5 million to $3.5 million in part by reducing the initial exploitation time from 21 to 17 days.

Measurement while drilling

With the measurement-while-drilling method, data about the condition of the well is collected when drilling for oil. Information about the composition of the stone that the drill encounters on its way down, along with the pressure in the well, is analyzed real-time by engineers. Also, a three-dimensional graph can be made of the well so that the drill is guided directly to the reserve. This makes the drilling process more efficient and precise. During drilling, the process can be adjusted for maximum yield. No more trial-and-error creates savings. Hours of non-productive time can be eliminated and the risk of blow-outs is made smaller.

LNG metering and sampling
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And, finally, there is liquefied natural gas (LNG) metering. LNG is extremely popular, especially in countries that have no energy resources. LNG transport by ship is relatively easy.

This would be beneficial to producers, but this transport is still so new that there are few or no industry standards, which leads to many losses in the loading and distribution process. What happens between departure and arrival ports is, in part, a black box. We have not fully penetrated the physical properties of the gas under low temperature. The measuring volume is not very accurate, and this also applies to sampling. The margin of error can be as much as 10%. If measured quantities and qualities do not match, this can result in huge unexpected costs. A lot of savings can be achieved in the future. The technology is in the works and Hint is also working with partners to develop the right measurement and analysis technology for LNG.

It is important for companies to know that there are real advantages in technological innovation when it comes to the infrastructure supporting the mining of fossil fuels, a process which should be as efficient and smooth as possible to increase revenues and quickly recoup investments.

Companies that have been working in fossil energy for years have the opportunity to play a significant role here, especially the more progressive companies with smart technology processes that have experience in the use of plant IT solutions. The money and the technology are going in the right direction. The initiative should follow.

Hint

www.hint.nl

About the author: Wouter Last is the president of Hint and can be reached at wlast@hint-global.com.