The oil and gas industry is undergoing significant change. Companies want to lower costs, increase efficiency and reduce environmental impacts. In-situ bitumen production, which accounts for more than 50% of total production in Alberta, uses steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), the standard production method for all new projects. Operators today want to move away from existing methods, built for large-scale mega-projects, and toward more nimble, smaller-scale operations.
Key industry players have identified FSG as the most promising replacement solution for steam generation. The FSG Technologies team is focused on designing, supplying and maintaining new solutions for steam generation. FSG Technologies understands the industry’s need to be innovative, environmentally responsible and profitable.
FSG Technologies is well positioned to help the industry move forward with smaller-scale projects, which are more adaptable and more sensitive to environmental concerns, site developments and capital cost management.
FSG holds the exclusive license for the commercialization of FSG technology worldwide, with an option to acquire the patent from its parent companies. FSG Technologies has received considerable interest from potential funders. Successful investment will help FSG Technologies make this breakthrough technology available to operators as soon as possible.
The industry standard: OTSG
Currently, operators working in oil sands production rely on extensive water treatments to deal with the effluents, or liquid waste, generated from the extraction processes. In preparation for the once-through steam generation (OTSG) process, de-oiled water and brackish water must undergo softening treatment using warm lime softeners (WLS), filtering and weak acid cation (WAC) softeners before reaching the boiler feed water levels. These treatments remove excess minerals, such as magnesium and calcium, before de-aerating the water. Only then is the water ready for the actual OTSG process where the water is boiled to generate high-pressure steam. Even with this upstream water treatment, failure rates for OTSG boilers are very high, resulting in increased costs for operators.
FSG: an innovative solution
As we look to the future, the old standard is no longer sufficient. FSG Technologies aims to take the industry in a cleaner, more efficient direction. BMA and Ingenica, the parent companies of FSG Technologies, have jointly designed, developed and patented an innovative steam generation process known as Flash Steam Generation (FSG). The companies hold patents in Canada, the United States and Europe for this method of generating steam from de-oiled or brackish water and blowdown water.
The FSG process generates steam without boiling the water. This eliminates the principal cause of the deposits within the heat exchangers that lead to blockages and downtime. FSG technology eliminates this problem, increasing effectiveness while reducing costs.
The FSG process
In summary, here’s how it works. The FSG process:
Directly uses de-oiled water or OTSG blowdown water as feedwater,
Brings process water to a very high pressure (180 bar),
Heats up process water to a few degrees below boiling point (saturation temperature),
Generates steam by depressurizing or “flashing” the heated process water through an opening in the flash vessel, which is unheated,
Mixes the remaining condensate with incoming makeup feedwater and sends it back to the heat exchanger.
The key differences arising from the FSG process include:
No boiling water in the heat exchanger,
Water stays in liquid phase until it reaches the flash vessel,
No evaporation deposit in the heat exchanger,
Steam generation is separated from heat transfer,
Solid particles are concentrated in the flash tank blowdown.
Lab testing program
FSG Technologies has invested $3.5 million in its Montreal lab, which contains a lab flash tank and pumps, heat exchangers and a state-of-the-art control system. With the support of two major industry operators, the company successfully tested its proof of concept in the lab during the two-year lab testing program in 2015–2016. The testing included configuration testing and endurance runs undertaken with process water shipped from Alberta SAGD facilities by Nexen and Cenovus.
Using de-oiled water and OTSG blowdown water, FSG succeeded in:
Achieving steam generation without chemical addition;
Achieving a water recycling ratio of 95% or more;
Testing various operational configurations;
Achieving uninterrupted endurance runs of up to three weeks, equivalent to approximately 11 months at industrial scale.
Next step: field testing
The FSG process has been lab tested and is now ready to be verified at a much larger scale through field testing. The field pilot unit is projected to have a steam generation capacity of 8,300 kg/hour, i.e. 115 times the size of the lab. The field test will use seven modules compared to the single module used in the lab.
Key performance indicators include the length of the endurance runs between maintenance operations, and associated efficiency trends (as there can be several maintenance strategies). Meeting these benchmarks will help FSG meet its goal of being the most efficient steam generator ever in the oil industry.
De-oiled water is the result of steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). SAGD processes use high-pressure steam to move oil held in bitumen in the form of an emulsion to the surface. The water has to be removed in order to produce usable oil. The water that’s left after the oil is removed is called produced water (PW). The PW is collected in tanks for complete de-oiling and softening so it can be re-used as boiler feed water (BFW) for steam generation. This process is critical as all traces of oil and minerals have to be removed before being reused. Otherwise it causes blockages and delays.
Brackish water is water that has more than 1,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids. It can be treated for use in SAGD processes as an alternative to fresh water. Using brackish water is an industry response to local opposition to using fresh water for industrial processes.
Blowdown water is water with the highest amount of impurities. With our technology, collecting blowdown water is a controlled process: We extract the densest condensates from the bottom of the flash vessel as a way to manage particle concentration levels.
The oil sands industry is looking for significant change in its production methods to reduce costs and improve environmental performance. The FSG model offers a viable option for operators who want to eliminate the use of harmful chemicals and reduce GHG emissions while improving their water recycling ratios.
Cleaner, greener results
FSG’s state-of-the-art design cuts gas consumption and reduces the carbon footprint (CO2) by 15% or more compared to once-through steam generation (OTSG) processes thanks to higher process efficiency; this is largely the result of less water wastage, since wasted water is effectively heated for nothing. The FSG process also reduces nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to less than 5 ppm thanks to its multi-stage combustion process.
The FSG process also boosts the water recycling ratio to 95%. Water losses are almost completely eliminated, with operations saving up to 20% water. In comparison, current technology only results in about 80% water recycling ratios in warm lime softener (WLS) and once-through steam generation (OTSG) plants, and about 90% water recycling ratios in evaporators and drum boilers.
Last but not least, FSG does all this without the use of additives or chemicals beyond what might be needed to manage pH and reduce excess oxygen (to be assessed in pilot testing).
FSG’s highly modular format offers a much smaller footprint for production facilities. For companies wanting scalability in their plant operations, the flash steam generation unit gives companies greater flexibility and more efficient use of space for operators compared to other production processes, which rely on water treatment and boiler technologies.
Because the FSG process generates steam directly from de-oiled production water, there is no need for a local water treatment plant. This results in a much smaller footprint requirement for FSG-based production facilities. The reduced volume of water and chemicals required reduces operators’ capital expenses because the smaller phases offer more flexibility.
FSG technology has been designed to set new industry standards for availability and reliability. The core FSG product is a modular steam unit that is factory-built and tested, ready for road or rail shipment as desired.
Higher availability and reliability
Because FSG dramatically reduces the accumulation of deposits in the heat exchanger tubes, it provides higher reliability and availability. This virtually puts an end to tube failures and allows much longer operational runs between cleaning operations. The unit remains fully piggable, meaning it can be cleaned easily with a special tool for pipes.
The heat exchanger and pre-heater can also be fully removed and replaced in a single day, and these units can be factory refurbished. Increased availability means more bitumen production, resulting in more revenues per year. This high standard helps reduce maintenance down times, which add to operating costs and eat up profits.
As a result of the technological advances described above, the FSG process brings about a tenfold decrease in downtime. In practical terms, lab testing suggests run times of up to 11 months at industrial scale. That means companies can benefit from a better ROI on costs and a lower risk in operation.
Modularity and Off-Site Testing
FSG deploys a fully modular architecture where ten standard modules are fully built, assembled and pre-tested at a dedicated facility off-site before being shipped to site. On-site works is limited to battery limits, preparation works, re-assembly of the modules and post-installation check-out, thus minimizing interference with operations and costs.
The oil sands industry suffers from some of the world’s highest aggregated production costs. Cutting capital expenses will help significantly while also lowering the investment threshold (currently at about $1.5 billion). FSG Technologies makes it easy for operators to replace existing assets or expand existing facilities, with flexible, low-risk solutions to begin production or to upgrade the performance of existing plants.
FSG Technologies is planning to develop a differentiated product offering that leverages the strengths of FSG technology. This product line will include the following solutions:
OTSG replacement units. Rated at a steam production pressure of 10 MPa like current SAGD systems, these units may be added to existing SAGD facilities without the need to expand existing water treatment plants. They can also replace existing OTSG units reaching end of life.
Steampads. These units are rated at an optimal steam production pressure of 5 MPa, unlike incumbent systems which produce at 10 MPa for historical reasons and require downstream equipment to lower steam pressure to the 3 to 4 MPa required for injection in the wellheads. FSG’s steampads incorporate de-oiling equipment so they may be deployed in stand-alone or distributed configurations that are ideally suited for second-tier leases, which are typically located off the fairway. Steampads may even be linked to renewable energy resources such as wind turbines, potentially replacing up to 30% of a plant’s heating costs.
New CPF units. For new projects that do not require a connection to an existing 10 MPa steam header, 5 MPa units without the de-oiling element offer both phasing freedom and the increased efficiency of lower steam output pressure.
OTSG blowdown recovery units. Rated at a steam production pressure of 10 MPa, these units, based on the standard OTSG replacement units, will be able to recover the blowdown from existing OTSG units and turn most of it into steam, thus increasing the efficiency of existing CPFs. Tests in FSG Technologies’ Montreal lab showed that at least 90% of OTSG blowdown water could be turned into steam. BRUs can improve the performance of existing facilities and help meet increasingly stringent environmental targets while reducing production costs.
Hybrid FSG-COGEN Units. Rated at a steam production pressure of 10 MPa like current COGEN units, or potentially at 5 MPa if appropriate, these units would include a Cogeneration turbine in the lower part of the combustion stack – replacing the first level of burners – to heat the flue gases while generating power for the site, similarly to existing COGEN units in CPF facilities.
Unlike other processes, FSG technology allows operators to use more flexible project models, and will make second-tier leases more practical. These features will help the oil sands industry recover, nourishing the economy and boosting employment in the region. With staged investments, projects are also easier to finance, allowing companies to resume project investments in Alberta much earlier than expected.
FSG units can be deployed individually without the need for a big water treatment plant. This flexibility means operators of existing plants can phase in their investment in new projects.
The modular structure of the FSG units decreases capital costs and reduces deployment time, shortening the delay before first oil. This modular architecture increases reusability, making it possible for operators to relocate units should a drilling area prove unproductive.
FSG technology will lower capital costs (CAPEX) by 10 to 25% and operating costs (OPEX) by 5 to 15%, as well as de-risking projects. All of this adds up to better returns for investors.