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Power Generation: Propane’s Next Big Target Market

Jack Brewster from Opis LPG Report (Opisnet) followed closely the World LP Gas 2014 Forum in Miami, the developments on Power Generation with LPG presented there and in particular the specific session of Larry Osgood, "Using LPG For Large Scale Power Generation". Read further for his excellent overview.

Propane engines offer superior performance to diesel in so many ways: lower fuel costs, less frequent maintenance, lower emissions. So why is it such a hard sell?

That was the question addressed by Larry Osgood in his presentation, “LPG for Large-Scale Power Generation,” given at the recently concluded World LP-Gas Global Forum in Miami. Osgood is a research coordinator for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) and works out of Monument, Colorado as head of Consulting Solutions LLC.

In an amusing slide, “Why don’t more sites use LPG for power generation?” Osgood channels the thinking of project developers everywhere. “We haven’t used it before.” “Is it safe?” “You have to store it in those high-pressure tanks.” One more reason suggested by Osgood is pure ignorance. The performance advantages of LPG-fired generating equipment are simply never presented to prospective customers.

Electric generation is a gigantic market with sizes ranging from backup generators for the home to mobile generators at construction sites to commercial and industrial applications in medium and large sizes to central power plants feeding electric utility grids.

In the medium size range of distributed generation (DG), for sites that can operate independent of the grid, a representative product line is offered by Kohler Power Systems. The industrial generator line starts at 25 kilowatts (KW), and they offer gas generators fired by either LPG or natural gas up to 400 KW.

For medium to large DG installations, that push the size range from 400 KW up to the low megawatt range, LPG engine suppliers include Waukesha, Caterpillar, GE Jenbacher, Yanmar and Wartsila.

Finally, for central power plants supplying the grid, there are LPG-fired gas turbines provided by Hitachi, Solar, GE and Siemens.

All these size levels are displayed on the new WLPGA “LPG Applications Website,” www.lpg-apps.org, that was unveiled at the Global Forum. In a typical application search, you would first select one of eight sectors, in this case “Energy/Power,” click on a Function, and then be offered three options: Power/Electricity Generators, Combined Heat & Power (CHP), or LPG Gas Turbines.

The LPG-apps website is particularly helpful in the case of LPG gas turbines. On this page is a link to a presentation given by Hitachi at an earlier WLPGA conference describing the performance parameters of their LPG-fired turbines in installations worldwide.

In his presentation, Larry Osgood places particular emphasis on two projects. One is the “Large System” distributed generation installation at the Kauai Marriott Resort. The power plant consists of two 420-KW generators powered by Caterpillar LPG engines. The plant provides power to run air-conditioning and everything else for the entire resort, process heat for several applications, and redundant backup power if needed.

Why LPG? First of all, it’s an island, so there’s no natural gas. Second, LPG runs rings around diesel in terms of emissions, and there are tax incentives across Hawaii for low-CO2 installations. The plant uses 800,000 gallons of propane per year, and the fuel supply is no harder to obtain than diesel. Finally, fuel storage is provided by three bullet-tanks that eliminate the site-contamination problems of diesel storage.

For his final application, Osgood goes to the top and looks at a central power plant running on LPG. His model case is the conversion to LPG now being implemented by the Virgin Islands Water & Power Authority (Viwapa) at its 198-MW power plant on St. Thomas and the 118-MW plant on St. Croix.

In a presentation by Vitol at the IHS Latin American LPG Seminar in September, Vitol says they signed an agreement with Viwapa for the turnkey supply of LPG for a period of seven years. Per this agreement, Vitol will build, own, and operate the storage and terminal facilities required to deliver the propane to each plant gate. At the end of the supply agreement, ownership of the facilities will transfer to Viwapa. Vitol is funding capex of $93 million for the storage and terminal facilities.

Vitol is also supervising the works led by General Electric for the dual fuel conversion of the seven turbines currently running on No.2 oil.

The stunning result of this conversion according to Osgood is that Viwapa’s fuel costs will be reduced by 30%, which amounts to $90 million a year. Annual fuel consumption here runs 250,000 tonnes, or 3 million bbls a year, about six VLGC loads of propane. Primary storage will be floating, in the form of a VLGC moored at one of the harbors. Propane will get to shore in shuttle tankers in the 2,000-ton range.

When the system starts up, now less than three months away, the Virgin Islands will leave behind their unenviable position of having the highest electricity costs of any U.S. state or territory.

Jack Brewster, jbrewster@opisnet.com

Published on 21 November 2014