Why oil and gas transformers need a second look
Despite forecasts indicating that growth in oil demand is slowing, the IEA’s 2019 Outlook for the Middle East is a rosy one.
The significant investments needed in new infrastructure bring both opportunity and risk. Against the backdrop of a declining liquids market share, a renewed focus on cost competitiveness is needed – both for new and existing operations.
At the same time, in the face of ongoing threats, competitiveness cannot come at the cost of safety. As shown by the drone attack on Abqaiq, the world’s largest refinery, threats to critical infrastructure are evolving. Operators need to be prepared.
As with any industrial operation, a reliable source of electricity is critical to the competitiveness of oil and gas operations and unscheduled downtime from asset failure can easily cost operators into the millions of dollars in lost opportunities.
Significant improvements can be made by utilising predictive and proactive maintenance techniques, yet, in an attempt to keep costs down, many operators still perform reactive or time-based maintenance, risking greater maintenance costs in the long-run.
Transformer failure, as a case in point, poses a very real risk to oil and gas safety and uptime. Last year’s Transformer Risk Report found that 61% of survey respondents had experienced some kind of failure in the past five years. It was little surprise that 50% of respondents were very concerned about the impact of transformer failure on their operations. Even more of a concern was the length of time a failure might take to repair, with less than a third of asset owners expecting that power would be re-instated immediately, and a handful expecting to wait as long as 6 months!
Concerns over transformer failure are often exacerbated in the Middle East by harsh operating conditions. Last summer saw heatwave temperatures reportedly exceeding 60°C, coupled with dusty, humid or coastal conditions. What’s more, plants are not always in the most accessible of locations meaning any electrical equipment needs to be doubly reliable.
While newer transformer designs have been more closely tailored to cope in these conditions, the age and maintenance condition of electrical infrastructure across the Middle East’s oil and gas sector is mixed. Further, while refineries are experts at managing the processing of hydrocarbons, managing transformer fire risk may not come so naturally. And, as ExxonMobil’s Beaumont refinery found out, it only takes one small fire in a transformer to cause a sitewide outage that has an impact that lasts for days.
Taking proactive measures is a key line of defence, both for new and existing infrastructure. Kimberlite’s study found that oil and gas operators that employ maintenance approaches such as condition-based monitoring experienced 36% less downtime. For transformers, opting for an ester transformer fluid can make all the difference in providing a reliable, safe power supply.
Proactive measures: transformer fluid
Most transformers are filled with mineral oil; a good insulator, albeit demonstrably flammable. Clearly, an oil and gas operation is about the last place you’d want a fire, whether caused by mechanical breakdown, or as a result of terrorism.
In the 1970s, MIDEL ester transformer fluids were developed as an alternative insulating fluid by UK-based manufacturer M&I Materials. Leaning on the company’s century of history in innovating specialist materials, MIDEL’s readily biodegradable transformer fluid not only significantly reduces fire risk, but it can also substantially extend the transformer’s useful life.
Ester fluids are highly moisture tolerant, unlike mineral oil, protecting the transformer’s paper insulation and thereby extending its life. The fluids are also easy to use as a retrofilling option, meaning that operators across the Middle East can enhance fire safety and uptime while preventing deterioration without replacing transformers.
A new industrial centre for Oman
The Duqm Refinery in Oman is a clear example of how the right ester fluid can deliver world-class risk mitigation. Located in Al Duqm in the Sultanate of Oman, the refinery is part of a $15 billion investment earmarked to create Oman’s next industrial centre – the Duqm Special Economic Zone. The zone’s proximity to international shipping lanes in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean expedites the process of transporting goods in and out of the region and as such gives the refinery strategic advantage.
The site’s vision is to “create a facility that will benefit many generations to come….to be sustainable far into the future” and with a refining capacity of around 230,000 barrels of crude oil per day, fire safety is also an operational imperative.
Adhering to the strictest of international standards, the engineering team at Duqm commissioned new transformer units; filling the transformers with MIDEL fluid. The Duqm engineering team benefited from:
Enhanced transformer risk mitigation (K class fluids have fire points >300°C)
Improved environmental protection (MIDEL’s esters fluids are readily biodegradable)
Reduced total cost of ownership (less maintenance and civils costs with MIDEL)
With its enhanced fire safety profile, ester fluid-filled transformers require substantially less bunding and fire suppression systems – a cost-saving that typically runs into the millions of dollars on complex industrial sites.
MIDEL is used by leading names across the Middle East including JEPCO (Jordan), MEW (Kuwait), ADMA OPCO (Abu Dhabi), ZADCO (Abu Dhabi) and Qatar Petroleum (Qatar).
The next decade…
As with any large-scale infrastructure project, the engineering team will have countless decisions to make to protect the billion-dollar investments being made – big decisions that could ultimately impact on generations to come. At the same time, this new infrastructure will need a laser-like focus on cost-competitive operations if it is to make its mark on the world stage. It’s a lot to think about, and a lot to get right. But being open-minded to simpler innovations that tick off several advantages at once is an excellent way to optimise both time and money.
By Tim Martin, Sales Director, MIDEL EMEA
Form Energy receives funding power for iron-air batteries
Form Energy believes it has cracked the conundrum of commercialising grid storage through iron-air batteries - and some of the biggest names in industry are backing its potential.
The startup recently announced the battery chemistry of its first commercial product and a $200 million Series D financing round led by ArcelorMittal’s XCarb innovation fund. Founded in 2017, Form Energy is backed by investors Eni Next LLC, MIT’s The Engine, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group and Macquarie Capital.
While solar and wind resources are the lowest marginal cost sources of electricity, the grid faces a challenge: how to manage the multi-day variability of renewable energy, even in periods of multi-day weather events, without sacrificing energy reliability or affordability.
Moreover, while Lithium-ion batteries are well suited to fast bursts of energy production, they run out of energy after just a few hours. Iron-air batteries, however, are predicted to have theoretical energy densities of more than 1,200 Wh/kg according to Renaissance of the iron-air battery (phys.org)
The active components of Form Energy's iron-air battery system are some of the cheapest, and most abundant materials: iron, water, and air. Iron-air batteries are the best solution to balance the multi-day variability of renewable energy due to their extremely low cost, safety, durability, and global scalability.
It claims its first commercial product is a rechargeable iron-air battery capable of delivering electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with conventional power plants and at less than 1/10th the cost of lithium-ion and can be optimised to store electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with legacy power plants.
"This product is our first step to tackling the biggest barrier to deep decarbonisation: making renewable energy available when and where it’s needed, even during multiple days of extreme weather, grid outages, or periods of low renewable generation," it states.
Mateo Jaramillo, CEO and Co-founder of Form Energy, said it conducted a broad review of available technologies and has reinvented the iron-air battery to optimise it for multi-day energy storage for the electric grid. "With this technology, we are tackling the biggest barrier to deep decarbonization: making renewable energy available when and where it’s needed, even during multiple days of extreme weather or grid outages," he said.
Form Energy and ArcelorMittal are working jointly on the development of iron materials which ArcelorMittal would non-exclusively supply for Form’s battery systems. Form Energy intends to source the iron domestically and manufacture the battery systems near where they will be sited. Form Energy’s first project is with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy, located near the heart of the American Iron Range.
Greg Ludkovsky, Global Head of Research and Development at ArcelorMittal, believes Form Energy is at the leading edge of developments in the long-duration, grid-scale battery storage space. "The multi-day energy storage technology they have developed holds exciting potential to overcome the issue of intermittent supply of renewable energy."
Investors in Form Energy's November 2020 round included Energy Impact Partners, NGP Energy Technology Partners III, and Temasek.
In May 2020, it signed a contract with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy to jointly deploy a 1MW / 150MWh pilot project to be located in Cambridge, MN. Great River Energy is Minnesota's second-largest electric utility and the fifth largest generation and transmission cooperative in the US.
Last week Helena and Energy Vault announced a strategic partnership to identify additional opportunities for Energy Vault’s waste remediation technologies as the company begins deployment of its energy storage system worldwide. It received new investment from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV) in June.
Maoneng has revealed more details of its proposed 240MWp / 480MWh Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula in Australia (click here).
The BESS represents hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that will improve electricity grid reliability and network stability by drawing energy from the grid during off-peak periods for battery storage, and dispatching energy to the grid during peak periods.