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Eliminating Black Powder Contaminants — Interview with Black Powder Solutions


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These translations are done via Google Translate

Eliminating Black Powder Emissions—Interview with Black Powder Solutions

By Geoffrey Cann

You might think that black powder is gun powder, but you’d be wrong. It’s a nasty industrial contaminant that slowly destroys your industrial equipment. You can remove it through magnetic filtration.


Black powder is composed of microscopic bits of metal, stone, rock and minerals that are present in crude oil and natural gas by virtue of their birthplace in subsurface geology formations. Imagine the dust in your house—it’s in the air, it settles on everything, and it’s a nuisance to clean up. Now imagine these tiny nearly invisible contaminants but floating in petroleum products. Over time they build up, coat the insides of equipment, pollute the air, and require careful removal during shutdowns. What if you could remove the bulk of them through filtration at source?

Magnetic filtration is the key.

This is a slightly edited transcript of an interview I had with Roger Simonson of Black Powder Solutions about black powder and its costs to the industry.

You can check out the interview on my podcast here.


Geoffrey 

Can you explain what exactly black powder is in the context of contamination?

Roger 

Black powder contamination is in pipelines, refineries, and gas plants. It’s in the product itself. Black powder is very abrasive wear contamination that comes from the formation of the gas or oil, generally from the rock and minerals around the oil or gas deposit. It comes into the pipeline alongside crude oil and causes erosion. With that contaminant comes moisture, and that moisture creates more black powder through both chemical and bacterial reactions with the oxygen molecules in oil and gas, and the iron on the pipeline wall.

Geoffrey 

Is that like rust?

Roger 

That’s a good way of putting it. The term black powder has entered our terminology in the last 10 years. It’s also been called rouge, black dust, yellow dust, brown dust, that sort of thing.

Geoffrey 

What does it look like? If I were to cut open a pipe that’s been contaminated by black powder, or has had a buildup of black powder, what would I see?

Roger 

It depends on what sort of pipe you’re looking at. When you open up a liquids pipeline, you’ll find a mud-like buildup of this black powder. If it’s gas, especially in a dry gas line, it’ll be very fine dust. The majority of the particles in this case are under one micron in particle size.

Geoffrey 

Does it cling to the inside of the pipe wall?

Roger 

In the gas industry during the low season, black powder builds up in bends and turns of the pipeline. During the peak season, with higher pressure and volumes of product moving through, pipelines accumulate hundreds of pounds of black powder and can shut down compressors that are moving to gas down the pipeline. It causes damage everywhere it goes.

Geoffrey 

It sounds like human arteries—hardening of the arteries refers to a buildup on the inside arterial wall with fatty deposits and cholesterol, eventually causing heart disease.

Roger 

That’s a great analogy. The black powder causes damage to most assets and moving parts. For example, the gathering lines that come into an oil battery get plugged up with black powder. They have to be shut down or the battery will become inefficient or even ineffective at separating the gas from the oil and the water. When you’re shutting down, you’re losing production. If you can remove all that black powder before it gets into that battery, it can make the refinery downstream that much more efficient.

Geoffrey 

How does the industry remove contaminants today?

Roger 

For an oil pipeline, the current practice is to use basket strainers with big screens. These can’t really remove black powder because it’s too fine. It continues on through to the front-end tank farm and starts displacing the storage capability. It also pumps right into the refining process, into the distillation tower. It plugs the trays, damages the piping, raises energy consumption for the refining process, and eventually contaminates the finished product—gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heavies all have some degree of black powder in them.

Geoffrey 

In our world of heightened awareness of energy costs, emissions and pollutants, why does black powder contamination even exist?

Roger 

It’s been accepted as part of doing business, and industry is used to replacing pumps, seals, and gaskets. For instance, the industry has adopted fine media filters to help address black powder contamination, but filters have to be changed often and at a high cost. Over time the filters become less effective. Refineries simply accept long turnarounds to clean out all the refining equipment. Blending is another challenge. Multiple flow lines from various producer wells flow into a single battery, reducing the incentive for producers to clean up their product because they are all ultimately blended together.

Geoffrey 

Pipelines rely on pigs to inspect, detect corrosion, and carry out minor cleaning. What’s the relationship between black powder buildup and pigging operations?

Roger 

Pigging is a reactive way of dealing with the buildup of black powder. If you can employ magnetic filtration at every pumping station, along the oil pipeline, you’re going to reduce the wear of the pipeline wall, preventing or minimizing leakage issues. Keeping the product as clean as possible, between every pumping station, delivers a very clean product to the refinery, and the tank farm will be very, very clean. It eliminates the clean up issue that everybody seems content to live with.

Geoffrey 

If you could have a cleaner product that didn’t contain black powder build up, could it result in a potential redesign or rethinking of pipeline layout to reduce its cost?

Roger 

If you impede the flow of a liquid through a pipeline by any mechanism, including black powder, you’re going to have to increase your horsepower to pump it. This will stress the pumps as well. Screen filters to collect contaminants doesn’t work on micro-sized particles. What’s needed is filtration that imposes minimal flow restriction, even over time.

Geoffrey 

Would that apply to liquids and gas?

Roger 

Absolutely. A big mechanical filter system on a gas pipeline requires a huge amount of energy to pull that gas through the filter.

Geoffrey 

What happens to the traditional filters after you remove them when they are full? Is there a hazardous waste disposal problem?

Roger 

Not only are they a costly problem, they are a hazard. Many companies profit by supplying one time use throwaway filters. These filters are a contamination and environmental problem that has to be dealt with at a high cost.

Geoffrey 

Has anybody tried magnetic filtration, and what has been their experience?

Roger 

A Portuguese gas pipeline operator with traditional filters in place had customers complaining of black powder damaging burner jets in the customer’s steel plants. They installed magnetic filters just before their traditional filters, and after a year, their traditional filters still looked like new with no black powder on them. The magnetic filters trapped almost all the black powder.

Geoffrey 

Does this mean you could actually get rid of the traditional filtration system though?

Roger 

My philosophy is you can never have enough filtration. But we are proving that we can remove this black powder from pipelines and you don’t need to have any other filtration after it.

Geoffrey 

What’s the relationship between black powder and methane emissions? Does black powder removal help in reducing methane or CO2 emissions?

Roger 

I don’t think removing black powder will eliminate methane emissions, but it will have some impact on them. In a conventional gathering system, all the valves and meters are leak points. They often will leak out methane because black powder causes damage to the seals and allows the opportunity for the methane to escape. A compressor is another very big leak point if your seals are damaged from black powder. As we transition to natural gas for power generation, we really should demand very clean gas. If the gas itself is dirty, it makes the generators run less efficiently and causes rogue emissions.

Geoffrey 

Is it fair to assume that the further upstream you go, the better off you’re likely to be when it comes to black powder removal?

Roger 

Absolutely. You reduce the erosion that it causes which creates more black powder.

Geoffrey 

What is the digital angle to black powder?

Roger 

There is still limited understanding of black powder which makes it hard for companies to grasp its impact. To help, we designed a sample station that can go on a slipstream pipeline, gather the black powder, and monitor the flow value—how much black powder over time, and what is the black powder made of. We populated a database that we can then employ artificial intelligence to help us predict the impacts of black powder on the life of a pipeline and its components. For example, a big compressor can be shut down with six to eight ounces of black powder. That’s not very much.

Geoffrey 

Has the aeronautics industry flagged black powder as a concern?

Roger 

Nashville airport installed magnetic filtration to remove black powder as the primary separator in their system. They still have their traditional filters. The set up has been in service now two years—their cost of traditional filters is dropped and the quality of the aviation fuel is much higher. It has a serious impact on the engines of the planes.

Geoffrey 

Does the performance of these magnetic filters change over time? Does black powder contamination impact their performance like other assets?

Roger 

The magnetics in our patented design on have been in service now for 20 years, and they’re still working with full strength. Instead of replacing a traditional filter, you only need to clean the magnetic filters. A traditional filter five inches in diameter and a foot in height will seize up with just three or four ounces of black powder. A one-foot two-inch diameter magnetic filter element, however, will hold up to 14 pounds.

Geoffrey 

Are these kinds of filters safer?

Roger 

Very much safer. If every week you have to change out 50 or 100 filters on a pipeline, whether it’s gas or refined product, the opportunity for injury is very high. If you can change that to every six months, or even longer with an automated cleaning system, there’s much less human contact with the contamination. Also, traveling to and from site is the root cause of 80% of injury. Magnetic filters reduce this risk dramatically.

Geoffrey 

What do you see as the future of this kind of technology? Obviously better data is one dimension, but where else could it go?

Roger 

Better filtration applies at every refinery, every gas plant, every pumping station, and every compression station around the world. The US is much more interested in cleaner, lower cost solutions than in Canada because it’s hyper competitive and is 10 times larger. Pipelines have also been in the news because of the hacking incident at Colonial but also the Enbridge/Michigan dispute about Line 5. Black powder and pipeline integrity are suddenly hot topics.

To learn more about black powder magnetic filtration, visit Black Powder Solutions 


Check out my book, ‘Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, coming soon in Russian, and available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.

Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course.

Mobile: +1(587)830-6900
email: [email protected]
website: geoffreycann.com
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/training-digital-oil-gas



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