Fluid Management A Business Full of Energy: Fluid Management for China's Petrochecial–Boom

Author / Editor: Martin Raab / Dr. Jörg Kempf

Hydrocarbons fuel the booming Chinese economy, but transport and distribution of oil and gas across the vast country is a gargantuan task. Solutions from Endress+Hauser simplify handling and storage. Over the years, Endress+Hauser China has become a specialist in automated solutions for managing fluids...

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Red giants: five arms for loading and unloading ships stretch out over Shidongkou Port. The Shanghai Shidong-kou Coal Gas Manufacturing Company operates a fuel transshipment terminal here.
Red giants: five arms for loading and unloading ships stretch out over Shidongkou Port. The Shanghai Shidong-kou Coal Gas Manufacturing Company operates a fuel transshipment terminal here.
(Picture: Endress+Hauser)

A thick haze hangs over Panjin, an industrial city in the north-eastern Chinese province of Liaoning. This key petrochemical hub is just off the coast of the Bohai Sea, a sweeping gulf connected to the Yellow Sea, holding the country’s richest offshore deposits. Humidity hangs in the air; the waterfront is only some 40 kilometers away. Dark clouds on the horizon suggest rain is on the way.

50 tanker trucks are lined up in a neat, long row on the edge of the street in front of the gates of the Huajin Tongda Chemical Company. The drivers arrived early in the morning at the refinery’s sales office with their paperwork. Now they wait patiently for their trucks to be loaded.

An 'Of the Shelf Solution' for the Oil Industry?

Suddenly the line starts moving. The first trucks roll into the yard and head for the terminal’s loading bays. While the drivers complete paperwork, refinery employees hustle around on top of the platform. Hatches are opened with a clang, grounding cables connected, sensors for overfill prevention hung in the openings and loading arms swung into position. The first driver returns and scales the platform. The chip card in his hand activates a process that opens a valve to release the flow of diesel. The 35-tonne tank will be filled within half an hour.

Song Zhaoming observes the activity with a look of satisfaction. He has just finished checking one of the flowmeters, along with one of the refinery’s employees. “Everything is running smoothly,” reports the 27-year-old project engineer from Endress+Hauser China. The truck loading terminal has been in operation for just under four years. “This is one of the first systems that we installed. Since then, it has almost become an off-the-shelf solution.”

Versatile Fluid Management Systems

Over the years, Endress+Hauser China has become a specialist in automated solutions for managing fluids. “China’s economy is constantly growing. We already have to import around half of our oil and gas needs,” explains Lu Jianlin, Director of Regional Sales. “This percentage will continue to grow and so will consumption. Our solutions help the industry to build the necessary infrastructure.”

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At the heart of Endress+Hauser’s systems are Coriolis flowmeters that precisely measure the mass flow. A batch controller manages the filling process. The software was developed by Endress+Hauser engineers. The system components also include displays, card readers, valves, pumps and other measurement technology such as pressure devices and level switches that prevent overfilling.

Modular Design for Extra Flexibility in Petrochemicals

“The modular design gives us the flexibility to adapt our solutions to the customers’ requirements and makes it easy to expand the systems,” emphasizes Song Zhaoming. The truck loading terminal at the refinery in Panjin, which originally had 12 loading bays, now has 40.

The train loading capacity was expanded from 20 to currently 56 loading arms. “That shows how satisfied we are with Endress+Hauser’s system,” says Liu Ying, Manager of the refinery branch of Huajin Tongda Chemical Company.

Refinery at the Heart of China's Boom Region

1,500 kilometers west of Panjin, the Shaanxi province in central China is one of the country’s most fertile regions. Major waterways such as the Yellow and Wei Rivers have cut deep through the hundred-meter deep, dust-like soil for thousands of years. Nature bestows the inhabitants of this region with an abundance of resources as shown by the vegetable fields and fruit orchards that line the roads. But deep underground there are even more valuable riches to be found: oil and gas deposits, which have been extracted for more than 100 years.

Vertical line-shaft pumps can be seen everywhere, bobbing their heads in the same up and down motion. The Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group develops the oil and gas deposits in this region.

The government-owned company runs scores of plants, including a natural gas liquefaction facility near Yan’an, 300 kilometers north of the ancient imperial city of Xi’an. Pipelines bring the natural gas to the facility from the north. The gas is then liquefied by cooling it to minus 162 degrees Celsius so it can be further transported and reduced to a fraction of its original volume.

Cold as Ice: Fluid Management for Difficult Applications

An employee is busy loading a tanker. Wearing thick gloves, he couples the insulated loading arm to the truck, the lock latching into place with a click. Like all exposed metal elements, the lock is covered in ice, warning not to touch it with bare hands...

Simple Operation – Big Results

The Yan’an facility can load up to ten tankers at a time with liquefied natural gas. “We went into great detail to adapt our solution, including creating a way to accommodate the extremely cold medium,” explains Song Zhaoming.

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The Endress+Hauser engineers integrated a weighbridge at the customer’s request, so the data can be used for billing. “We also linked our system to the Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group’s enterprise software.” This facilitates a direct, two-way flow of information.

Fluid Management Makes its Way Across the Petrochemical Industry

Chip cards are again the key to the system. Every detail about the order is stored in the database and associated with the cards. They also serve as an identification card during the weighing and loading processes. “This basically eliminates operating and billing errors,” says Xie Lan, Manager of Instrument Engineering at the Shaanxi Yanchang Petroleum Group in Yan’an. He praises the entire system for its simplicity. “Trucks can be quickly and easily loaded, which allows us to work very efficiently.”

Meanwhile, dozens of Endress+Hauser’s installations are spread out across the entire country. All told, they add up to more than 400 loading arms. Apart from supplying all of the components, Endress+Hauser China also helps manage projects from start to finish. “A lot of companies can deliver devices, but only a few cover the engineering as well. That’s a real benefit for our customers,” emphasizes Professor Ji Jianhua, an engineer and former university lecturer who is in charge of project business for Endress+Hauser China.

Ji is proud of the 13-member project team, to which Song Zhaoming also belongs. “Many applications are easy to get your head around. But when it involves heavy oil or chemicals, you need experience in order to select the right valves, pumps and other components,” says Ji. “Our automation solutions incorporate not only our measurement instrument know-how, but also a lot of process expertise and knowledge of our customers’ applications.”

Accumulated Know-How for Fluid Mangement

The know-how accumulated by Endress+Hauser is also exploited north of Shanghai, where the Yangtze River flows into the East China Sea. The soaring towers of two coal-fired power plants dominate the silhouette of the Shidongkou port. In the adjoining neighborhood the Shanghai Shidongkou Coal Gas Manufacturing Company operates a transshipment facility.

The government-owned company stores fuel for customers on a contract basis. With a dock that juts out far into the bay, the facility can service ships with a capacity of up to 30,000 tonnes. Five enormous, bright-red loading arms are responsible for loading and unloading: four for oil and one for liquid gas. The 15 white storage tanks at the rear of the site boast a capacity of 10,000 cubic meters each. Rounding off the facility are six tanker truck terminal bays that act as the starting point for transporting the fuel via China’s roads.

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“We automated the whole plant,” explains Song Zhaoming. “Endress+Hauser systems control the loading and unloading of the ships and trucks and manage the entire tank farm.” A process control system from Rockwell Automation operates in the background. The entire tank and terminal automation system is integrated in the company’s enterprise software. “That increases efficiency,” adds the project engineer.

Close Relationship is the Key for Developing Succesful Solutions

“As operator of the facility, our focus is on safety,” explains Chen Jihui, Project Manager at the Shanghai Shidongkou Coal Gas Manufacturing Company. The high standards of the Endress+Hauser systems ensure a smooth operation. “First and foremost, the automated processes make sure that all of the deliveries can be properly settled and invoiced.” The system documents each process so that the measurement data is clear and easy to understand. “This prevents errors or manipulation from occurring. That’s particularly important considering that we are handling material that belongs to our customers.”

Sales Director Lu Jianlin is convinced of the mutual benefits the tank and terminal automation business has to offer. “Our customers don’t need to do anything. They receive a comprehensive range of services and benefit from having a reliable and proven solution,” says Lu. “On the other hand, we can demonstrate to our customers that we are there for them right from the start. That creates trust and puts our customer relationship on a completely new footing.”

* The author works for Endress+Hauser, Reinach/Switzerland.