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1 SPRING 1999 | VOLUME 15 | NUMBER 2

Density Stratification in LNG Storage

by David Sheats and Michael Capers, Malaysia, Brunei and the United Arab uction/gasification rate is much lower.
Scientific Instruments, Inc.
Emirates represent this part of the The very nature of this type of facility
The use of LNG (Liquid Natural
LNG production train. New liquefac- dictates that the gas will likely be
Gas) as an important energy source
tion facilities are or soon will be on- stored for a much longer period, which
around the world is increasing steadi-
line in Nigeria, Trinidad, Oman and has significant implications pertaining
ly. It currently represents about 6% of
Qatar. New fields have been discov- to possible density stratification as dis-
the worlds natural gas and is readily
ered and remain to be developed in cussed below.
available at numerous sites world-
Indonesia, Russia and off the coast of The storage tanks used at all three
South America. A "typical" LNG of the above types of facilities may be
Factors contributing to this
exporting facility will operate up to above or below ground, but they are
increased usage include the discovery
2-10 production trains and may have fundamentally the same. They have an
of large resources, development of
up to 10 LNG storage tanks. These inner tank, an insulation space and a
cost-effective methods of production,
tanks are located at a deep-water port concrete or high carbon steel outer
transportation and storage and the fact
and are used to load the tankers for the tank. They are typically 150' in diame-
that LNG is a very clean-burning fuel,
oceanic transportation of the product ter, 160' in height, and have a storage
making it an attractive option where
to customers. volume of 15-18 million gallons of
environmental concerns are high.
product. There are presently plans in
LNG is stored at cryogenic tem-
development for tanks with signifi-
peratures, which present some unique
cantly greater capacity than those pre-
safety concerns and require specialized
viously built and in service.
instrumentation to be able to detect
potentially unsafe conditions. In the Rollover
following discussion, these concerns A significant safety concern in the
are identified and the instrumentation storage of LNG is a phenomenon
techniques for addressing them are known as "rollover." If this occurs,
explained. The end result is a solution pressures inside the storage tank may
that gives confidence to the storage rise to excessive levels. The tanks are
facility personnel that any potentially equipped with safety vent valves that
Typical LNG storage tank
hazardous condition will be detected are designed to keep the pressures
in a timely manner so that the proper Import/Distribution from rising to levels that could cause
corrective action may be taken. An import/distribution facility structural damage. However, when
Production of LNG capable of accommodating these LNG these valves operate, LNG is vented to
tankers is located at a deep-water port the atmosphere at an uncontrolled
LNG is produced through a lique-
in countries that are using the LNG as rate, which is an additional safety con-
faction process that lowers the temper-
an energy source. From these storage cern.
ature of the multi-component mixture
facilities, typically 3-10 storage tanks, LNG is heavier than air and could
of hydrocarbons (mainly methane
natural gas is re-gasified and fed into a settle in pockets of explosive mixtures.
with lower concentrations of higher
national pipeline system or trucked to Perhaps the most well known case of
hydrocarbons) to 160C, a 600 to 1
remote storage locations. Such facili- rollover is that which occurred in La
reduction of volume from gas to liq-
ties are located in Spain, Japan, Spezia, Italy, in 1971. The actual pres-
uid. In this state, the product is eco-
Taiwan, Korea and the United States. sures realized are unknown since they
nomically transported via specialized
Peak Shaving Facilities exceeded available instrumentation
tanker ships from the production site
A peak shaving facility is actually and gas vented uncontrolled in a high-
(typically quite remote) to the cus-
a production/distribution plant com- ly populated area for several hours.
tomer. There are three primary types of
bined into one. The purpose is to pro- Fortunately, there was no explosion
sites where LNG is stored, namely liq-
duce LNG during low usage periods, and no major damage was done to the
uefaction/export facilities, import /
and store that gas for use during peak tanks. The possibility of both potential
distribution facilities and peak shaving
demands. The end result is the ability problems was very evident, and much
to "shave the peak" demand require- attention to detecting and preventing a
Liquefaction/Export similar occurrence has taken place
ment off the gas supply lines, since
The liquefaction/export facility is since that time.
that demand is normally only for a
located at the gas source and performs Rollover occurs under certain con-
short period, such as a very cold day.
the "cleaning," liquefaction and initial ditions as stratified LNG comes to
It is typically owned and operated by a
storage of the finished product. Such equilibrium. Stratification occurs when
local gas company or pipeline distribu-
long-term supply countries as the product in the tank forms in layers
tor. While the process is very similar to
Indonesia, Algeria, Australia, with different densities and different
the larger facilities, the prod-
(Continued on page 9)
SPRING 1999 | VOLUME 15 | NUMBER 2 2

Density Stratification
temperatures. Sudden mixing of LNG gas field, or an altered process that density layering in LNG tanks. To
in any storage tank occurs as two or results in a different composition. This accomplish this, a single probe with
more layer densities approach equali- is most likely to occur at a receiving installed temperature, density and liq-
ty. Any heat trapped in the system is terminal. uid level sensors is driven over the
released rapidly during mixing, gener- The second cause of layering entire depth of the liquid in the tank.
ating a vapor which may exceed the comes from a process referred to as The data is collected at fixed intervals
venting capability of the tank. "autostratification." In this mechanism, as specified by the customer.
The exact conditions that lead to unstratified liquid gains heat at the Simple data analysis is performed
rollover are somewhat complex. If lay- walls of the tank and rises by convec- to alert the operator of apparent tem-
ering occurs (discussed below), each tion. It flashes upon reaching the sur- perature or density layering. If certain
layer is initially uniform, with the face. If sufficient nitrogen is present, areas of the tank are suspect, a feature
upper layer lighter than the lower. the remaining liquid will be less dense, known as "Top Scan" is available to
Heat entering the top layer comes creating a layer at the top. As this layer examine a potential layer in more
through the walls of the tank. The liq- increases, it seals in the lower layer detail, providing an accurate picture of
uid next to the tank walls warms and can cause it to superheat, creating the suspected layer. As mentioned pre-
slightly, becomes less dense and rises conditions leading to rollover. viously, because a single sensor is used
to the top, where it evaporates. Since Layer Detection for data collection, calibration errors
light gases evaporate first, the liquid in The most effective method of pre- are eliminated and an accurate relative
the top layer tends to become denser. venting rollover is to detect layering profile is obtained. With an accurate
by means of instrumentation, and if temperature and density profile,
layering is present, take action to mix detailed calculations can be per
the layers under controlled conditions
before the final conditions leading to
rollover develop. If the size and com-
position of the layers can be detected,
the potential danger can be accurately
determined and the most cost-effective
approach can be chosen. This action
may be the operation of recirculation
pumps (if available), or by mixing with
Fluid circulation in a stratified LNG storage tank liquid in other tanks. Some installa-
tions that have the capability of recir-
At the same time, the liquid in the culation within a tank choose to oper- Typical display from M6280LTD System showing
lower layer gains heat through the ate these pumps on a regular basis as a stratification
floor and walls of the tank with a con- preventive measure. Operation of formed to properly determine the
vection flow similar to the top layer. these pumps is expensive, however, extent of the danger, and to enable
But because of the hydrostatic pressure and some facilities do not have a sim- cost-effective action in a timely man-
of the upper layer, the rising liquid ple method of recirculation. ner to prevent rollover.
does not evaporate but superheats. Layer detection is best accom- Summary
Thus the lower layer becomes warmer plished by means of a temperature Although we are not aware of any
and less dense. When the two layers sensor and density sensor that are run rollover incidents that have resulted in
approach the same density, the inter- through the entire depth of the liquid. fires, explosions or major structural
face between the two becomes unsta- In the absence of this, multiple temper- tank damage, there have been many
ble and mixes rapidly. When this ature sensors located at fixed intervals rollover incidents throughout the LNG
occurs, the liquid from the lower layer will also give an indication of layering. industry. An increasing awareness of
that is superheated gives off a large The disadvantage to multiple sensors the potential problem has resulted in a
amount of vapor that rises to the sur- is the difficulty of accurate calibration. greater emphasis on installing instru-
face. It is this phenomenon that is The cost of multiple density sensors is mentation.
known as rollover. prohibitive. Proper instrumentation, such as
Causes of Layering Instrumentation Scientific Instruments, Inc. M6280
What are the causes of layering? One instrument currently avail- LTD, is the most secure way to obtain
There are basically two ways that lay- able for layer detection and installed at information so that preventive action
ering is produced. The first, and most a number of facilities around the world can be quickly implemented to avert a
obvious, occurs when liquid of a dif- is the M6280 LTD series from Scientific potential problem.
ferent composition than that which is Instruments, Inc. It is specifically
already in the tank is introduced into designed to detect temperature and
the tank. This could be from a different