Converting Methane Powered Actuators to Zero-Emitting Technology

FEATURED STORY to Zero-Emitting Technology Converting Methane Powered Actuators

What do successful organizations, large and small, have in common? When they are confronted with required changes to their operating systems, based on new governmental regulations, they have little recourse other than to find a solution.

By Bob Connal, Managing Director – Hybrid Automation Inc.

On January 20, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 13990. It di­rects the EPA to issue new regulations under the Clean Air Act, to significant­ly reduce oil/gas producers’ methane emissions. This Executive Order (EO) provides the EPA with the power to de­velop, implement, and enforce indus­try-changing restrictions on methane emissions at multiple levels through­out the natural gas production chain. It includes specific wording which identi­fies the conversion of pneumatic con­trollers to zero-emitting technologies and the elimination of associated gas venting. The proposal would regu­late, for the first time, methane-driv­en pneumatic controllers which vent methane directly to the atmosphere on every stroke

Methane Use by Producers

Methane (natural gas) is a common product, or by-product, of wells that are put into production. This methane is frequently under high pressure di­rectly out of the ground either natural­ly or as a result of injection techniques used to increase liquid/gas production. For decades, it has been a common practice by producers to use this gas as a source of power, via pressure, to control pneumatic actuators. Applica­tions for this ‘free’ source of power touch all levels of natural gas produc­tion; be it up-stream, mid-stream, or down-stream.

When gas-powered pneumatics actua­tors are stroked, methane is vented di­rectly into the atmosphere. Reducing methane releases to the atmosphere from methane-powered pneumatics will continue to be a contentious top­ic, regardless of who sits in the White House.

Natural Gas Composition

The natural gas that we get as consumers is made up of almost entirely methane. It is considered ‘dry gas’. When heavier hydrocarbons are present, the gas is considered ‘wet’. The wet gas goes through additional processing before it reaches the consumer.

Producer Options

Solutions to mitigate methane fugitive emissions are complex. Oil & gas pro­ducers have invested heavily in R&D to address existing and new EPA/Clean Air Act regulatory directives. Few vi­able, cost-effective, options have sur­faced for producers, as they must con­sider multiple options best suited for individual site locations.

The issues to retrofit existing methane-powered pneumatics can range from a total automated valve replacement to new technologies which enable the existing valve and actuator to remain intact. There is no blanket solution to methane mitigation. As unique as each well is, so will be the solution.

Access to reliable electric power will also become an important component for long-term success in methane miti­gation. The use of failsafe actuation (electric and pneumatic) may play a larger role in valve automation for natural gas pipelines, however, it is too early to tell.

If a gas pipeline needs to shut down for a new zero-emissions valve au­tomation retro-fit, it could come at a significate loss of revenue to the pro­ducer. Long-term solutions need to be cost-effective, reliable, maintenance-free, easy to implement, and provide tangible results mitigating methane venting to the atmosphere. Producers with a proactive approach to address­ing EO 13990, benefit from a positive dialog with the EPA and environmental activists.

Hybrid Automation controller.

The Solution

Technology currently exists which converts existing methane-powered pneumatic actuators to a zero vent-to-atmosphere operating system. Based on a simplistic operating platform, compressed air flows between an ac­cumulator and the existing pneumatic actuator. With a closed-loop operat­ing platform, there is zero reliance on external sources of pressure. Air lines from the Hybrid Automation controller connect directly to the intake and ex­haust ports of the existing pneumatic actuator. This technology eliminates methane as a means to power exist­ing actuators, regardless of pneumatic manufacturer or actuator type. If the existing pneumatic is single-acting, it will continue to function as a single-acting (fail-safe) device.

System reliability and maintenance-free technology play an important role in a producer’s decision-making process. Duration testing of this technology has shown zero failures after 200,000+ con­secutive cycles in failsafe mode. The new closed-loop technology has no printed circuit boards, software, batter­ies, or oil reservoirs and the operating system is based on the volumetric dis­placement of the pneumatic actuator; it can provide any psi operating pressure recommended by the actuator manufac­turer. Ambient air or an inert gas can be used to provide the initial charging of the controller. Once charged, the con­troller requires no additional source of air. No venting to the atmosphere, zero fugitive emissions, totally closed loop.

This technology provides immediate, tangible results to oil/gas producers who have established ESG directives and goals. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions through smart technology is not a fad. It has worldwide impli­cations for improving the health of individuals and the environment. Hy­brid Automation does not manufac­ture valves or actuators, and it does not flare methane. Reducing fugitive methane emissions throughout natu­ral gas production is smart business. Additional cost-effective methane mitigation technologies will continue to evolve.

Hybrid Automation is proud to be a technology innovator in cost-effec­tive methane mitigation. It follows a proven engineering model based on the following statement: “The best-engineered products have the fewest number of moving parts.”

As Managing Director of Hybrid Automation Inc., Bob is the company’s founder and IP developer. In February 2022, the US Patent Office issued a Patent for nineteen of his twenty claims. His technology includes converting methane powered pneumatic actuators to a closed loop, zero-emission platform. New applications for this technology continue to surface throughout a broad spectrum of industries. Hybrid Automation Inc. does not manufacturer pneumatic actuators or valves. Our technology is centered around the controller, converting third party pneumatics to a zero-emission platform.
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Sara Mathov is a feature editor contributing to Valve World Americas, Stainless steel World Americas and other related print & online media.