Consider Natural Gas

Switching to the fuel may make sense even for sites far from pipelines.

By Steven T. Carty, Kleinfelder, and Stephen J. Lynch, M+W Automation

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[Related: Prospects Brighten for Chemical Industry]

Using a plant's reported annual fuel consumption data, engineers can compare CO2 generation rates for both No. 2 fuel oil and natural gas for mid-range and nominal values. As mentioned earlier, the conversion to natural gas likely would significantly reduce CO2 emissions and offer the potential opportunity to trade on the carbon market.

However, within the context of the current federal regulatory and political climate, the voluntary carbon market is the only trading option at this time and the economics aren't favorable. Future developments in the creation of a mandatory carbon market could enhance the economic viability of this option.

Often, a forgotten element of a proposed conversion is the impact on current operations. The main plant access roads likely would be congested during construction. After construction of natural gas facilities on the plant site, multiple trucks could be delivering product on a weekly (or even daily) basis, with the exact schedule to be coordinated between plant operations and the trucking carrier.

Additionally, a plant likely would need to maintain a capability to utilize its current fuel source, e.g., No. 2 fuel oil, as a secondary fuel; this will require operators to periodically adjust combustion equipment to accommodate fuel switching. The existing firewater main may need modification to support the requirements of the natural-gas process equipment safety systems and also may require addition of storage and associated pump(s) to provide adequate firewater pressure or supply.

The next consideration is impact on operations staff. LNG poses highly specialized issues and requires personnel trained pursuant with Chapter 49 CFR Part 193 to operate and maintain the facility. Staff can receive such training or the plant can subcontract out the operations and maintenance of the LNG facility to an experienced contract energy company. Note that CNG facilities have less of an impact on plant operations staff.

One favorable aspect of a plant upgrade or retrofit for the local community is the additional dollars realized in the local tax base. On the other hand, abutters and other local citizens may raise questions about increased truck traffic or safety concerns. In the latter case, the well-documented excellent safety record of LNG plant operation and overland transportation of the commodity speaks for itself.

The conversion to or the addition of natural gas fueling capability is a process that requires a measured and methodical approach from a fiscal, schedule and public perception standpoint. Assess the permitting issues, technical challenges and other obstacles that may impact the ability to move forward. The political and regulatory climate clearly plays into this assessment. A full understanding of who the stakeholders are — within the organization and outside — also is important. Communication, education and outreach programs are the next step to inform the identified stakeholders about the project plan.

Once you're ready to move forward, the following design and contractual tasks can begin:
• developing a preliminary site plan;
• performing initial thermal radiation and vapor dispersion modeling;
• assessing truck routing and site access logistics;
• firming up supply and transport options, specifically with wholesale LNG/CNG suppliers; and
• determining the preferred procurement strategy.

In the current environment, the switch to natural gas can provide significant short- and long-term benefits to plants — even ones not near any natural gas transmission or distribution systems. Take the time to perform a comprehensive study of all aspects of the conversion. The results might surprise you.


STEVEN T. CARTY, PE, PMP, is a Rocky Hill, Ct.-based program manager with Kleinfelder. STEPHEN J. LYNCH, PE, is a Boston, Mass.-based platform discipline lead with M+W Automation. E-mail them at and

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