Investigation of High-Oleic Soybean Oil as an Extraction Solvent to Remove Hydrogen Sulfide from Natural Gas

2020-06-25T15:53:41Z (GMT) by Emma C Brace
Conventional soybean oil and high-oleic soybean oil offer opportunities as bio-solvents for sweetening sour natural gas, adding value to the soybean oil industry and the natural gas industry. The rise of fracking in the United States and changing economics in the energy industry have increased use of natural gas, which is often rendered sour by high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a toxic and corrosive impurity. The present work evaluates the viability of both conventional and high-oleic soybean oil to act as bio-solvents for removing gaseous H2S. Predictive in silico methods, experimental validation, and economic feasibility analysis are included to draw conclusions regarding the overall capability and feasibility of using soybean oils as bio-solvents for gas sweetening.

In silico predictive methods for sweetening were implemented to assess the relationship between fatty acid composition in the soybean oils and the ability to effectively partition H2S from methane or nitrogen gases. The Conductor-like Screening Model for Real Solvents (COSMO-RS) was used to predict the partition coefficient (K) of H2S in a bi-phasic liquid-vapor system made up of fatty acids in the liquid phase and methane or nitrogen gas in the vapor phase. The fatty acid mass fractions represented those found in soybean or high-oleic soybean oil. Methane represented gas and nitrogen was considered in order to compare to experimental conditions. This proof of concept work predicted K values for H2S below 0.0005 at temperatures from 10 to 100 °C at atmospheric pressure; K values near zero indicate near-complete removal of H2S from the gas phase.

Experimental validation included equilibrium extraction experiments as well as data collection for isotherm model development. Experimental equilibrium studies were carried out at residence times ranging from 0 – 60 minutes with mixing at ambient conditions. Experiments resulted in K values below 0.1 for H2S in soybean oil and high-oleic soybean oil at 25 °C with residence times less than 15 minutes and a 2:1 gas to oil ratio. More than 90% of the H2S was removed from the gas phase within 15 minutes. Isotherm models demonstrated the saturation limits of the soybean oils and compared them to saturation limits in water and heptane.

Economic feasibility experiments used graphical and algebraic methods to determine the number of equilibrium stages needed to remove 99.9% of H2S from feed gas with H2S concentrations ranging from 40 – 400 ppm. A gas flow rate equivalent to industrial levels was used to design an extraction column. Capital costs and operating costs were estimated, along with the revenues to be gained from selling methane and selling recovered elemental sulfur as a secondary product. Solvent regeneration would need to exceed 98% in order to keep the cost of treating a unit of natural gas equal to or less than existing industrial methods. Suggestions for cutting costs and improving process viability are made.