Improving Gas Plant Operational Efficiency

Emerson’s Chuck Miller presents on ways to find efficiency gains in the operations of gas plants. His abstract:

Whether you are processing natural gas to create pipeline gas, recover the natural gas liquids or liquefying for export, ensuring contract specification is sometimes difficult. To increase profits, plant managers need to maximize product recovery and reduce operating costs which is by no means a simple proposition, as it often entails increased energy efficiency, reducing reactive maintenance, and decreasing unplanned downtime. This challenge is complex as it involves improving everything from your process automation to your personnel’s experience and effectiveness.

Chuck opened highlighting some of the challenges in gas plant automation. Business goals typically revolve around maximizing product throughput, asset reliability, improved process system safety, and optimized recovery of natural gas liquids (NGLs). Lifecycle costs are important when considering the control and safety instrumented systems required to meet these objectives.


It’s important to look at what is best fit for purpose throughout the gas plant’s lifecycle. Gas plant design is trending to modular construction, requiring integration of multiple supplier systems into the overall plant control system. Complex economics and a competitive marketplace make automation design that enhance plant performance very desirable. Market variability requires flexible operations in turn requiring flexible control systems.

Automation technology selection is an important consideration. The design goal is to empower an already overstretched operations team to sustain plant performance in a highly variable environments. Comparisons need to be established for project requirements, integrated control and safety systems (ICSS) versus PLC design, and overall lifecycle performance.

The automation system capabilities should include a historian for compliance reporting, asset management software, SIL 2 safety system, wireless instruments and 3rd party integration packages. Fully integration from operator stations to field devices is important for flexible operations. Optimization software for improving plant performance and asset management software to aid in faster startups and improved ongoing reliability is important.

Project managers have their performance measured on managing project engineering costs, simplifying and managing risks of integration associated with 3rd party and SIS systems, managing changes during commissioning, reducing installation and commissioning costs, and on-time completion.

Chuck shared a comparison of configuration & system tools between ICSS and PLCs to reduce project schedule and cost risk:


For the system architecture:


Chuck shared more comparisons around system diagnostic requirements, integration with 3rd-party skids, and safety system capabilities. On the ongoing operations side, Chuck compared ICSS and PLCs in on-line system expansion, advanced process control for plant optimization, support resources, and training and lifecycle requirements. Contact him through his LinkedIn page for these comparisons.

He closed netting out the value these differences help to deliver. Automated NGL recovery increases throughput and operator efficiency, increases reliability and NGL recovery rate, reduces the potential for operational upsets, provides better support, supports ease of expansion/enhancements/upgrades and lowers training costs.

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