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issue: July 2004 APPLIANCE Magazine

From the Top
Preparing for Liquefied Natural Gas


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by Dick Topping, director of Appliance Research, TIAX, LLC

Energy issues are nothing new to the U.S. appliance industry. It has watched as oil and gas prices have soared and efficiency standards have been mandated, and it has wondered if alternative sources energy such as solar power would ever make it. But one alternative energy source to which you may not have given much thought is liquefied natural gas (LNG).

LNG is natural gas that is liquefied and stored at a low temperature. For the most part, it is produced outside of the U.S., but it could soon have a significant impact on American appliance companies.

Natural gas has been so successfully promoted in the U.S. as a clean and efficient energy source, that demand today now outpaces its domestic supply. This trend is only going to get worse, and the country is looking to LNG to make up for the shortfall. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) projects continued demand for LNG in every market sector. By 2020, 14 percent of U.S. natural gas supply may come from imported LNG, an increase from the 2 percent that is currently imported. The energy industry now plans massive infrastructure investments to accommodate those imports. As many as 12 new terminals may be added to the four that currently offload, process, and supply LNG to the U.S.

With that much expansion planned, chances are good that the appliances you’ve designed and manufactured will soon be running on revaporized LNG. However, there is a potential problem with that—most imported LNGs have higher concentrations of the heavier hydrocarbons (ethane, propane, and butane) than what is produced in the U.S. That means the LNG compositions coming in from countries such as Algeria, Qatar, Nigeria, and Oman have higher heating values than your typical U.S. variety of natural gas. Trying to fuel your basic rangetop, oven, water heater, dryer, furnace, or hearth product with these imports could result in some unpleasant risks, namely elevated carbon monoxide emissions, increased yellow tipping, and firing rates that exceed nameplate rating.

The good news, though, is that imported LNGs can be blended with other gases (such as nitrogen, air, or lower BTU natural gas) to achieve acceptable performance levels in sensitive combustion equipment. This modification strategy is capable of achieving complete interchangeability—so that each region’s LNGs may be customized to match the local domestic stock and, therefore, permit the different varieties to seamlessly mix in the pipeline system. During the past 3 years, my company has tested some 30 appliances using a wide range of LNGs to develop interchangeability guidelines for existing and proposed import terminals.

The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is already looking into the need for an approach to addressing LNG interchangeability in the U.S. But that does not mean that appliance makers should sit back and await the outcome. In fact, you should not only be monitoring the process, but you should also be participating in it. By the time you read this, the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association (GAMA) will have sponsored two seminars on the topic of LNG and appliances. Other organizations are taking responsibility as well to ensure workable solutions. LNG could pose challenges for the millions of older appliances that will remain in service for many more years. Appliance makers have an important stake in this process and should be heard.

You may also want to prepare now for the increased future role of LNG by developing robust appliance designs that can accommodate a wider range of natural gas compositions. It makes sense to update your development testing and ensure that appliance certification processes include gases representative of imported LNGs. You should also be alerting your customers about the importance of regular appliance maintenance to avoid an increase in sensitivity to imported LNGs. A more flexible population of appliances would reduce the need for LNG modifications, thereby lowering energy costs, improving performance, and broadening the range of LNG import options.


Dick Topping

Dick Topping is director of Appliance Research at TIAX LLC (www.tiax.biz). He can be reached by phone at 617/498-6058, by fax at 617/498-7206, or e-mail at topping.r@tiax.biz.

From the Top appears bimonthly in
APPLIANCE Engineer™.


 

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