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Can Ethanol Be Transported In A Multi-Products Pipeline?

By Michael Curley, P.E., ENGlobal Engineering Inc., Tulsa, OK

U.S. Ethanol Biorefinery Locations

ince increased ethanol usage is being mandated in autos by the federal government, cheaper ways to transport ethanol are needed. Using an existing pipeline to transport ethanol is likely not practical because all the valves, gaskets, and tank seals on floating roofs would need to be checked to see if the construction materials are compatible with ethanol. However, a new multi-products pipeline could easily be designed with ethanol compatible polymers in valves, gaskets, and seals. The steel for the pipeline could be specified to minimize the possibility of stress corrosion cracking (SCC). The main unresolved issue is how to handle the ethanol transmix in a cost-effective manner. If this issue could be resolved, transporting ethanol in a multi-products pipeline could occur. Nevertheless, a small diameter dedicated ethanol pipeline may be the best alternative since there are no transmix or product quality issues with this alternative. A 4-or 6-inch dedicated pipeline could be placed in the same trench as a new gasoline/diesel pipeline at a relatively low cost. The Brazilians are studying running a small diameter (about 12-inch) carbon steel pipeline from the interior (ethanol production areas) of the country to the east coast of Brazil. With ethanol consumption increasing rapidly, the United States needs to develop a more cost-effective way to transport ethanol. Pipelines could be the way to lower ethanol transportation costs. Consumers are paying higher prices for gasoline because ethanol costs more to transport than gasoline since there are no ethanol pipelines, Table 1. At present, fuel-grade ethanol is transported to truck-loading stations via truck, rail, or barge/ship. Here it is blended with gasoline to make gasohol and E85. This article investigates the possibility of transporting fuel-grade ethanol via a multi-products pipeline.

Pipeline Barge Train Truck

Cents/gallon per 1000 miles 1.5-2.5 4-5 7.5-12.5 30-40

Table 1: Gasoline Transportation Costs.

Types Of Ethanol
We refer to 100% ethanol as neat ethanol. Neat cannot be sold without adding a poison, usually gasoline (to reach 5%v gasoline) to make fuel-grade ethanol (also known as denatured ethanol). Fuel-grade ethanol is blended with more gasoline to make E85, nominally 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline) or E10 (10% ethanol).

Problems With Ethanol Pipelines


Existing U.S. petroleum pipelines dont run in the right direction to transport ethanol to population centers. Corn-and ethanol-producing areas are primarily located in the Midwest. Most pipelines run from the Gulf of Mexico to the Midwest and East Coast. However, it may be cost-effective to ship ethanol by barge down the Mississippi and then load it in an existing pipeline to the East Coast. Other major technical concerns associated with transporting ethanol by pipeline follow.

pick up any water in the pipeline. If the water concentration is above 1% in fuel-grade ethanol, then the ethanol/water will separate from the gasoline. This same separation also occurs for E10 at 0.5%v water concentration. Because of this water sensitivity, only fuel-grade or E85 ethanol should be considered for multiproducts pipelines. Water enters pipelines primarily through external floating roof tanks from the customers (shippers) on the pipeline. Rain falls along the inside of the tank and enters through the seals. Persuading customers of existing pipelines to cover external floating roofs to eliminate rain water leakage would be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish. Water can also enter a pipeline from the water vapor in hot products entering the pipeline. As the product cools, the water vapor condenses, resulting in water in the pipeline.

Compatible Polymers
Suitable materials for ethanol service are: Buna-N, Neoprene rubber, Polypropylene, Nitride, Viton, and Teflon. Materials to avoid for ethanol service are natural rubber, polyurethane, cork gasket, leather, PVC, polyamides and methyl-methacrylate (MMA). For a new pipeline, having ethanol compatible materials is not a problem since the materials the valves, tank seals, and gaskets are constructed of can be specified. However, this is a major problem for existing pipelines. It would be difficult to determine all the incompatible valves and gaskets for an existing pipeline. Once these incompatible items are identified, it would be expensive to upgrade these items. Furthermore, the seals on the floating-roof, break-out and transmix tanks will likely be incompatible with ethanol. Hence, either new tanks would be needed or seals on the existing tanks would require upgrading for ethanol service. Either way, it would be an expensive and

Ethanol As a Solvent
Ethanol is an extremely good solvent and will dissolve gums, varnish, corrosion inhibitors, and rust off the inside of pipelines. Filters are needed to remove rust and debris from the ethanol batches in order to meet product quality requirements. Additional corrosion inhibitors and filtration would be needed to transport ethanol in a multi-products pipeline. This can be accomplished relatively economically.

Affinity For Water


Ethanol has an affinity for water and will

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time-consuming task to upgrade an existing pipeline for ethanol service.

Construct separate tanks to handle the ethanol transmix.

Blends at Distribution Terminal and Service Stations, API Recommended Practice 1626, Reaffirmed June 2000. (7) Brongers, Beavers, Agrawal, SCC Avoidance in Ethanol Pipelines, PRCI, March 2005. (8) Power Point by Steve Jacobs of Colonial Pipeline to FTC Conference May 8, 2002.

Stress Corrosion Cracking


SCC is a potential problem for pipelines carrying ethanol. In order for SCC to occur, the steel must be highly stressed and there must be a corrosion mechanism. Typically, the steel in cross-country piping is not highly stressed. API Technical Report 939D, Stress Corrosion Cracking of Carbon Steel in Fuel Grade Ethanol: Review and Study, September 2003, Table B-1, summarizes the known SCC failures of carbon steel in fuel grade ethanol service. Of these 12 failures, all but three occurred at the bottom of tanks where flexing of the metal had occurred from loading and unloading of the tank. Three SCC pipe failures are also mentioned in this report. The first pipe failure occurred where the pipe support was welded to a pipe, causing an area of high stress on the pipe. The crack was repaired and the problem corrected by installing a pipe support that was not welded to the pipe. The second pipe failure was at a butt weld near a pipe support. Presumably, there was flexing stress from the pipe hanger on the weld joint. The third failure was on the piping of an air eliminator valve. In summary, there have been very few ethanol piping failures. Of the three piping failures, two seemed to be caused by stresses induced on the piping from the pipe supports; indicating the piping design was poor. Hence, SCC failures are a concern but not a significant problem with crosscountry pipelines for ethanol service.

Method For Processing Ethanol Transmix


Transporting ethanol immediately before and after gasoline or diesel results in a transmix which is a mixture of ethanol and hydrocarbon. This material is out-of-spec ethanol and out-of-spec hydrocarbon. It is assumed that it would be preferable to ship ethanol between batches of diesel fuel. This is because ethanol has a very limited solubility in diesel fuel (5%v solubility). The ethanol begins to separate even sooner if any water is present. Also, the vapor pressure of ethanol is much higher than diesel fuel; hence, this should be an inexpensive separation with distillation. It should be noted that two separate transmix tanks would likely be preferable: one for ethanol-diesel transmix and one for gasoline-distillate transmix.

Author: Michael Curley is a Process Engineer at ENGlobal Engineers in Tulsa, OK. He has 26 years of engineering experience in the gas transmission, petrochemical, electric utility, and engineering businesses. He is a Professional Engineer in Ohio and Michigan. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Engineering from Wayne State, Detroit, MI.

Lab Tests
Laboratory tests were conducted at Tulsa University using anhydrous ethanol and diesel fuel. Fifty ml of ethanol and 50 ml of diesel and 1 ml of water were thoroughly mixed and then allowed to settle for five minutes in a graduated cylinder. This resulted in 41 ml of diesel settling on the bottom and 57 ml of ethanol/water on the top. About 82% (41ml recovered/ 50 ml original) of the diesel in the transmix could be recovered using a simple decant. The remaining ethanol/ water (some diesel) could be run through a distillation column to separate the remaining diesel from the ethanol. P&GJ Author Note And Acknowledgment: For the sake of brevity, the author has over-simplified certain areas and invites any comments to: michael.curley@englobal.com. The author would also like to thank Rick Youngclaus, Technical Consultant of Willbros, for his metallurgy recommendations and Dr. John DiCesare, Asssociate Professor of Chemistry for the use of the laboratory facilities at Tulsa University. Also, the following reflects the re-agent grade ethanol used in the lab tests: 5% isopropyl alcohol, 5% methyl alcohol, less than 0.1% water. REFERENCES:
(1) R.D. Kane, J.G. Maldonado, Stress Corrosion Cracking of Carbon Steel in Fuel Grade Ethanol: Review and Survey, Publication 939D (Washington, DC: API, 2003). (2) R.D. Kane, N. Sridhar, M. Brongers, J.A. Beavers, A.K. Agrawal, L. Klein, Stress Corrosion Cracking in Fuel Ethanol: A Recently Recognized Phenomena, Materials Performance 44, 12 (2005). (3) N. Sridhar, K. Price, J. Buckingham, J. Dante, Stress Corrosion Cracking of Carbon Steel in Ethanol, CorrosionVol. 62, No. 8 (August 2006). (4) Storing and Handling Ethanol and Gasoline-Ethanol Blends at Distribution Terminals and Service Stations, API Recommended Practice 1626, First addition, April 1985Reaffirmed June 2000. (5) R.D. Kane, J. G. Maldonado, Stress Corrosion Cracking of Carbon Steel in Fuel Grade Ethanol: Review and Survey, API Technical Report 939-D, September 2003. (6) Storing and Handling Ethanol and Gasoline-Ethanol

Metallurgy Recommendations
The steel for new ethanol pipelines should be more ductile (less brittle) in order to minimize the possibility of SCC. API 5L with Product Specification Level 2 (PSL 2) requirements should be specified. The pipeline specification should include requirements for the supply of both longitudinal and helical seam Submerged Arc Welded (SAW) line pipe. The pipe specification should include, but not be limited to, the following requirements for the steel plate, skelp and pipe: Fully killed (Al-Si killed) and made to fine grain practice. Microalloyed (Nb, V Ti), low carbon, low sul, fur, and treated for inclusion shape control. Continuous cast with segregation control and monitoring. PlateControlled rolled using TMCP (thermal mechanical process). Plate/PipeUT(ultrasonic testing) of the plate or full body UT of the pipe. PipeHardness testing of the pipe base metal, SAW weld and HAZ (heat-affected zone).

Ethanol Tank Recommendations


Use internal floating roof tanks with external roofs for storage. Use silicone seals for the internal floating roofs for tanks. Apply epoxy coatings to wetted surfaces on the inside of storage tanks.

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Pipeline & Gas Journal / May 2008 / www.pgjonline.com