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Dynamic simulation of liquefied

natural gas processes
Heres how to improve the process design and operation of your facility
G. STEPHENSON, Honeywell Process Solutions, London, Ontario, Canada;
and L. WANG, Honeywell Process Solutions, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
multi-tube, spirally-wound, cryo-
genic heat exchanger, the main
heat exchanger (MHE) is the
principal piece of heat-transfer equipment
in mixed-refrigerant liquefaction cycles for
producing liquefied natural gas (LNG).
An MHE unit operation model called the
spirally-wound tube-bundle module was
developed as an integral component of
the dynamic simulation capabilities for a
process modeling package. The model pre-
dicts the axial temperature, vapor fraction
and pressure profiles for each tube stream
and shell stream and axial and radial tem-
perature profiles for the tube walls, shell
wall and insulation. The spirally-wound
tube bundle module, together with other
key unit operation modules, can be
deployed in dynamic process models, for
many applications, such as evaluating and
optimizing equipment design, control-
lability and operating procedures during
the detailed design phase; training pro-
cess operators before commissioning and
throughout the lifetime of plant opera-
tions; as well as engineering studies for
troubleshooting and debottlenecking with
challenging situations in plant operations.
Mixed-refrigerant natural gas
liquefaction. LNG production pro-
cesses involve removing acid gases, helium,
water, dust and heavy hydrocarbons, as
well as cooling the condensation and
natural gas to approximately (~ 162C)
through one of several commonly used
liquefaction cycles.
In the propane pre-cooled, mixed-
refrigerant cycle, a classical propane liq-
uefaction cycle precools both the feed
and the mixed refrigerant.
Precooling is
followed by a mixed refrigerant liquefac-
tion cycle that provides low-temperature
refrigeration. Several advantages can be
realized with this system.
It allows more
LNG production when driver size is
limited, substantially reduces the size of
the cryogenic exchangers, permits some
exchangers to be manufactured in steel,
and reduces the number of high-pressure
refrigerant separators. The propane system
also provides fixed temperature levels for
feed drying as well as recovery of compo-
nents from the feed for export or use as
makeup refrigerants. Finally, the low suc-
tion temperatures (about 35C) reduce
compressor inlet flow volumes.
As illustrated in Fig. 1, the mixed-
refrigerant liquefaction cycle cools the
high-pressure mixed refrigerant and natu-
ral gas feed in a common cryogenic heat
exchanger, the MHE, against the low-pres-
sure refrigerant returning to the compres-
sor suction. The mixed refrigerant from
the compressor discharge is partially lique-
fied against propane and then separated in
the high-pressure (HP) separator. In this
instance, the MHE has two spirally-wound
MR compressors
HP separator
Propane precooled, mixed-refrigerant liquefaction process.
FIG. 1
Originally appeared in:
July 2010, pgs 37-44.
Used with permission.
13027.indd 1 7/30/10 3:55 PM
tube bundles. The liquid from the HP sepa-
rator passes through the first (warm) bundle
of the MHE, where it is sub-cooled. It is
then flashed into the shell at the warm bun-
dle top, joining with the refrigerant from
the top (cold) bundle to provide refrigera-
tion. Vapor from the HP separator passes
through both bundles where it is partially
condensed. It is then flashed into the shell
to provide refrigeration for the top bundle.
As the mixed refrigerant progresses down
the shell toward the compressor suction,
the liquid becomes heavier in composition
and boils at higher temperatures, provid-
ing evaporative cooling at a continuum of
temperatures. The last amount of liquid is
vaporized in the bottom bundle and the
resulting mixed refrigerant vapor is super-
heated before reaching the compressor.
Alternatively, the MHE can have three
tube bundles rather than the two bundle
configurations, as illustrated in Fig. 2, that
shows a high-level flowsheet for dynamic
simulation of an LNG plant. With the
three-bundle configuration, the bottom
bundle serves as the condensing heat
exchanger for the fractionation (scrub)
column, rather than using the precool-
ers for this purpose. Vapor (almost pure
natural gas) from the reflux drum of the
scrub column is re-introduced into the
main heat exchanger at the bottom of the
middle bundle where it is cooled further.
Also, the natural gas pressure is reduced
through a Joule-Thomson valve before final
cooling against the low-pressure refriger-
ant in the top bundle. Product purity is
adjusted using liquefied petroleum gas,
which is cooled and at least partially con-
densed in the bottom and middle bundles
prior to being mixed with the natural gas
at the bottom of the top bundle as it enters
the bottom bundle of the MHE.
Main heat exchanger. A multi-tube,
spirally-wound heat exchanger is made
up of tubes that are spirally wound on a
mandrel, as thread or cable is wound on a
As shown in Fig. 3, a layer of tubes
is wound (left to right) on the mandrel and
spacers (bars, wire, etc.) are attached to
them. This is followed by a second layer
of tubes wound in the opposite direction
(right to left) and then a third layer (left
to right again), each layer complete with
its own set of spacers. This procedure is
repeated until the required number of tubes
has been wound onto the mandrel.
The longitudinal distance between the
tubes in a layer and the tube inclination
are kept constant for all layers. For the
large exchangers used in LNG plants, the
tube diameter ranges from
8 in to
4 in
and the tubes are applied to the mandrel
with a winding angle of approximately
10. The tubes are connected to tubesheets
at each end of the heat exchanger and each
layer contains tubes from all the differ-
ent streams so the shell-side duty is uni-
form. The heat exchanger operates in
total counter-flow, with evaporating fluid
flowing downwards on the shell side and
high-pressure, condensing fluid flowing
upwards on the tube side.
For the multi-bundle exchangers used
in natural gas liquefaction processes, the
bundles are housed within a single shell.
Additionally, there is a reservoir for each
bundle within the mandrel to collect and
redistribute the liquid phase of the refriger-
ant over the annular rings within the shell
of the tube bundle.
Model i ng t he mai n heat
exchanger. It is evident from the process
description that the basic unit operation
required to model the MHE is a spirally-
wound shell-and-tube heat-exchanger bun-
dle having multiple tube streams and a sin-
gle shell stream. Although numerous papers
Acid gas
removal and
fuel gas compressor
Liqueed natural
gas plant
Refrigerant preparation
Process flow diagram (flowsheet) for a dynamic simulation of an LNG plant.
FIG. 2
13027.indd 2 7/30/10 3:55 PM
have been published and/or presented at
conferences that discuss modeling of LNG
processes on a qualitative basis, there are few
publications that discuss these modeling
processes, in particular modeling the main
heat exchanger, on a quantitative basis.
A simplified model of a spirally-wound
tube bundle will not predict the expected
dynamic process behavior over the range of
operation for which dynamic simulation is
required. For example, a simplified model
will not accurately predict startup dynam-
ics, when, during initial startup, volumetric
capacitance influences the refrigerant charg-
ing procedures and compressor suction
conditions are influenced by the refrigerant
supply as a function of the exchanger duty.
Simplified modeling of heat exchangers also
produces irrational temperature profiles
with crossovers at segment boundaries and
between individual shell-and-tube streams.
Consequently, a first-principles math-
ematical model for a tube bundle of a
spirally-wound heat exchanger, employing
rigorous physical property calculations and
thermodynamic flashes, was developed as a
dynamic unit operation of a process model-
ing package. This unit operation, called the
spirally-wound tube-bundle module, when
used in a flowsheet with the standard unit
operations of process modeling, reflects
the behavior of natural gas liquefaction
processes with the fidelity, reliability and
robustness necessary to yield meaningful
results over the range of process operations
typical of dynamic simulation studies and
simulation-based training of process opera-
tors. The spirally-wound tube-bundle mod-
ule predicts:
Exit flow, temperature, pressure,
vapor fraction and composition for each of
the outlet streams
Phase change within each of the tube
streams and the shell stream
Tube and shell wall temperatures
Intermediate temperatures along the
heat exchanger
Thermal profiles in the shell wall and
Fig. 4 shows the standard views of the
spirally-wound tube-bundle module of the
process modeling package, illustrating a
great detail of what is captured in the model.
In large-scale, real-time and faster-than-
real-time dynamic simulations typical of
dynamic studies and simulation-based
operator training, fidelity and calculation
speed are always competing objectives.
Simplifying assumptions, such as using a
representative tube winding for each tube
stream and lumping the shell-side annular
rings into a single shell stream, were made
when formulating the mathematical model
so as to balance these objectives.
The model formulation incorporates
an axially distributed model for the mate-
rial flows in the multiple tube streams and
the shell stream, and an axially and radi-
ally distributed model for the heat flow
through the tube walls and the shell wall
and insulation. To predict phase change in
the tube streams and the shell stream, the
model for the material flows incorporates an
isobaric-isenthalpic (PH) flash at each grid
point. The solution of a spatially distrib-
uted model incorporating flash calculations
for a multiple-tube stream countercurrent
flow configuration is very challenging from
a computational perspective stability,
robustness and speed. Solution stability is
addressed by employing the equations-ori-
ented solution architecture that solves all the
modeling equations for the unit operation
simultaneously. Solution robustness and
calculation speed are addressed by replacing
the highly nonlinear PH flash equations by
first-order Taylor series expansions whose
coefficients are updated by exception as the
solution moves through the operating space
and by employing a multilayer grid for the
process streams, calculating some quantities
on a course grid and projecting values for
these quantities onto the finer solution grid.
The model formulation and solution
methodology employed in the spirally-
wound tube-bundle unit operation is
proven technology, having been successfully
deployed in dynamic simulation models of
more than 10 LNG plants.
The power of dynamic simulation.
The key value of dynamic simulation is
the improved process understanding it
After all, plant operations are
by nature dynamic. Realistic dynamic
models can be used to enhance the design
of the control system, improve basic
plant operation, and train both opera-
tors and engineers.
Plant life cycleearly stages. In
the design phase, dynamic simulation mod-
els can help identify operability and control
issues and influence the design accordingly.
They serve as valuable tools for designing,
testing and tuning control strategies prior
to startup. They can also be used for recon-
ciling trade-offs between optimized steady-
state design (targeted at minimizing capital
expenditures and operating utility costs)
and dynamic operability. In addition, such
models often assist in the development
of operating procedures. However, using
dynamic models for training plant opera-
tors before commissioning is, by far, the
most well-known application of dynamic
With a good understanding
of the production process and knowledge
of the control procedures applicable to nor-
Spirally-wound heat exchanger
with four streams.
FIG. 3
Standard views of the spirally-wound tube-bundle module of the process modeling
FIG. 4
13027.indd 3 7/30/10 3:55 PM
mal and abnormal operations, well-trained
operators ensure productive plant opera-
tions from day one.
Throughout the lifetime of a
plant. Once a plant is in operation, it
can benefit from dynamic simulation
models for improved operation on a daily
basis. The dynamic models allow process
engineers and plant operators to perform
what-if studies; test out the impact of
potential changes in feed stocks, operating
conditions, control strategies or operat-
ing schemes and troubleshoot difficulties
encountered during plant operation. It
reduces the risk of disruption and, hence,
improves the efficiency and reliability of
process operation.
In parallel, the dynamic models used in
precommissioning operator training can be
updated to as-built and used for continuous
Analysis has shown that approxi-
mately 90% of plant incidents are prevent-
able and that the majority of incidentsby
some estimates the vast majorityresult
from the actions or inactions of people.
Because people will always play an integral
role in plant operations, continuous train-
ing of plant personnel is crucial to achieving
safe, reliable and efficient operation.
Dynamic simulation has the power to
create significant value throughout the life
cycle of a project, from initial investigation
of the processing concepts right through
to plant operation. Although this value
is described here in broad terms without
specific reference to LNG projects, it can
certainly be realized in LNG projects, as
shown by the following case study.
Case studyRas Laffan LNG
Train 3. A precommissioning dynamic
simulation study (DSS) was undertaken for
Train 3 of the Ras Laffan LNG facility to
confirm operational readiness of key plant
The dynamic model encompassed
the liquefaction process (feed dryers, feed
pre-coolers, scrub column and main cryo-
genic heat exchanger) and the refrigeration
process (closed-loop mixed-refrigerant and
propane compression system).
The DSS was conducted during the
front-end engineering design (FEED) and
detailed design stages of the project. Dur-
ing FEED, the objective of the DSS was
to confirm whether the project specifica-
tions and plant design basis were suitable
for equipment selection, and whether the
control strategies met operability and asset-
protection requirements. During this study
phase, a simplified control implementation
was necessarily employed because the con-
trol system configuration was not available
at this early stage of the project. Eighteen
simulations were performed to predict and
analyze the response of the process and the
control system to upsets imposed in the pro-
pane and mixed-refrigerant compressor sys-
tems, including tripping anti-surge valves,
tripping the gas turbine and loss of cooling
to condensers. As is typical of such studies,
model validation included a complete (vir-
tual) startup of the liquefaction and refrig-
eration systems, optimizing the sequence
of operations and establishing reasonable
guidelines for initial refrigerant charging.
During detailed design, the objective of
the DSS was to confirm operational readi-
ness of all actual plant assets prior to con-
struction and commissioning. The dynamic
model was updated with the configuration
data for the selected equipment; its scope
was extended to include the nitrogen rejec-
tion compressor and the LNG and mixed
refrigerant turbines; and the simplified
control implementation was replaced with
the actual control system, emergency shut-
down logic, gas turbine startup sequences
and compressor anti-surge control. Evalu-
ation of the automation system was critical
to Ras Laffan because its configuration was
new and unique. The simulations performed
during the initial phase of the DSS were
repeated and supplemented by six additional
simulations using the updated and extended
dynamic model.
Generally, the DSS showed that the
control strategies were sufficient to protect
the equipment and personnel during upset
situations and that the new and unique
automation system was effective. A sig-
nificant finding from an operability per-
spective was sensitivity of the compressors
to overload during upset conditions with
high flow rates. However, possibly the
greatest single result of the DSS was the
confidence it provided in readiness for safe
operation through realistic simulation of
the many operating scenarios investigated.
Following the conclusion of the DSS, the
focus of the dynamic model shifted from
engineering to operation. Operating pro-
cedures were prepared and then validated
against the dynamic model, and process
operators were trained on process funda-
mentals and process operation during nor-
mal operation and abnormal situations.
Conclusion. Dynamic simulation has the
power to create significant value through-
out the life cycle of an LNG project, testing
and refining the design, virtually commis-
sioning the control system prior to startup,
training operations personnel both before
and after initial startup, troubleshooting
operating problems and validating pro-
posed changes to plant operations before
implementation. Addition of the spirally-
wound tube bundle module to the pro-
cess modeling package enables this value
to be realized for mixed refrigerant LNG
facilities. This is proven dynamic simula-
tion technology, having been deployed in
numerous dynamic simulation studies and
operator training systems. HP
Edwards, T. J., C. F. Harris, Y. N. Liu and C.
L. Newton, Analysis of Process Efficiency for
Baseload LNG Production, Cryogenic Processes
and Equipment, Fifth Intersociety Cryogenics
Symposium, ASME, New Orleans, 1984.
Lom, W. L., Liquefied Natural Gas, Applied
Science Publications, 1979.
Henderson, P., H. Schindler and A. Pekediz,
Dynamic Simulation Studies Help Ensure Safety
by Conforming Operational Readiness of LNG
Plant Assets, AIChE Spring Conference, New
Orleans, 2004.
Crawford, D. B. and G. P. Eschenbrenner, Heat
Transfer Equipment for LNG Projects, Chemical
Engineering Progress, Vol. 68(9), p. 62, 1972.
Fredheim, A. and P. Fuchs, Thermal Design of
LNG Heat Exchangers, Proceedings for the
European Applied Research Conference on
Natural Gas, Trondheim, Norway, p. 567, 1990.
Svrcek, W. Y., D. P. Mahoney and B. R. Yong, A
Real-Time Approach to Process Control, John
Wiley and Sons, Ltd., Chichester, England,
Tang, A. K. C. and G. Stephenson, LNG
Plant Operator Training, Petroleum Technology
Quarterly, Autumn, 1997.
Stephenson, G., P. Henderson and
H. Schindler, Profit More from Process
Simulation, Chemical Processing, August, 2009.
Grant Stephenson is an engi-
neering fellow of Honeywell Automa-
tion Control Solutions. In his current
role, Mr. Stephenson serves as the
global simulation architect for Hon-
eywell Process Solutions. Based in London, Ontario,
Canada, he has worked in the field of process simula-
tion for more than 35 years and has held positions with
DuPont, Atomic Energy of Canada, the University of
Western Ontarios Systems Analysis Control and Design
Activity (SACDA), and Honeywell. Mr. Stephenson is the
originator of the Shadow Plant dynamic simulator and
is a pioneer of the hybrid solution architecture and its
application to large-scale dynamic simulation. He has an
MS degree in applied mathematics.
Laurie Wang is a senior prod-
uct manager with Honeywell and is
responsible for the UniSim Design
Suite products. She is a registered
professional engineer with a PhD
from the University of Ottawa. She has hands-on expe-
rience with process simulation and specializes in chemi-
cal engineering thermodynamics. Ms. Wang has also
worked at the National Research Council of Canada as
a research scientist.
Article copyright 2010 by Gulf Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Printed in U.S.A.
Not to be distributed in electronic or printed form, or posted on a website, without express written permission of copyright holder.
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