Converting Methane Powered Actuators to Zero-Emitting Technology

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.

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 retrofit, 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.

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.

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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