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  • Oil & Gas - News
  • Updated: May 04, 2023

Russia To Replace Western Technology To Increase Gas Exports

Russia To Replace Western Technology To Increase Gas Exports

Russia is on a quest to significantly improve its capacity to export fuel by sea as it desperately searches for new markets for the massive amounts of natural gas it formerly delivered to Europe through the pipeline.

The problem is that it must quickly create its own technology in order to achieve this.

By the end of the decade, Russia hopes to increase its exports of liquefied natural gas, an ambitious ambition that would establish it as a significant provider and, more importantly, enable the nation to access new consumer markets that are desperately needed.

Moscow is advancing its own liquefaction technologies to go head-to-head with the top LNG equipment manufacturers from France to the US, all of whom fled Russia following the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, in order to achieve this.

The Arctic Cascade Modified, or ACM, a technique developed by Novatek PJSC, a private LNG exporter from Russia, was granted a patent in April. The Yamal facility, the company's first project to create super-chilled fuel, and now the largest LNG plant in Russia, is where the gas liquefaction technology is based on a design that is already being employed in the fourth train of the facility.

The first three trains of the Novatek-led Yamal LNG project were constructed with imported machinery, yet it constantly operates far over its projected capacity.

The fourth train "has confirmed its reliability and high energy efficiency," according to Novatek's 2022 annual report, however, the manufacturer ran into issues when the line was put into service in 2021.

Work with Russian manufacturers was "starting to get good results," according to a question and answer from Novatek sent through email.

"We are capable of resolving technical problems."

While petrol does not generate as much revenue for the government (or the Kremlin's war chest) as oil, President Vladimir Putin cannot afford to leave it stranded and has few other options.

Moscow can no longer rely on Europe to buy the majority of its exports, and ambitions to deliver more to China through pipeline may not be realised for many years.

That supports LNG because it can be freely shipped anywhere in the world where prices are highest or demand is greatest and facilities can be built close to gas fields.

“Homegrown Arctic LNG technology has become an absolute priority of the Putin administration,” said Morena Skalamera, a lecturer in Russian and international studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands. “It is definitely not yet anywhere close to a viable substitute to Western technology, but [Russia has] an incentive to keep on improving in a wartime economy.”

The Sakhalin-2 LNG plant in Russia's Far East will also be put to the test because it will do its annual maintenance on turbines without using any outside contractors for the first time.

The roughly 40-day-long project will begin in July, and a protracted outage might restrict the world's supply and drive up market prices.

The fact that Russia spent decades concentrating on extensive pipeline networks from Germany to Turkey and fell far behind the rest of the world in LNG technology is part of the problem. Before the war, in 2021, LNG made up about 15% of all gas exports.

As a result, one of the biggest exporters of hydrocarbons in the world is really a relative newcomer to the LNG market.

The Sakhalin-2 project, which was mostly supported by foreign companies, started in 2009, and production at Novatek's Yamal facility started in 2017. 

The problem with research and innovation that results from Moscow's isolation is typified by LNG technology.

Gas liquefaction is quite difficult. Facilities are enormous engineering feats with a footprint the size of hundreds of soccer fields and a price tag in the billions.

The construction of a typical plant takes three to four years, and it consists of a network of pipelines that transport process and then chill gas to -160C (-260F) before loading it onto containers with certain shapes.

A new LNG building Centre was constructed in Belokamenka, close to the Arctic port of Murmansk, as part of Novatek's newest project, known as Arctic LNG 2. This project uses a building strategy known as gravity-based structures.

After foreign subcontractors such as Technip Energies NV in France, Linde in Germany, and Baker Hughes Co. from the US left in 2022, the project's schedule was uncertain.

According to an anonymous source who spoke to Kommersant last year, the work was given to two new contractors: Green Energy Solutions LLC, incorporated in the UAE, and Nova Energies, a company managed by the Russian engineering firm NIPIGAS. 

By the end of 2023, the first production train is expected to begin.

Given that the majority of the work was finished on the first train when the foreign contractors left, Russia may very well achieve that goal.

The other two trains should be more difficult.

According to Bloomberg, the first train will launch this year, followed by the second and third in 2024 and 2026, respectively, according to Novatek.

The larger LNG sector is still dubious.

“We will only know the true potential of Novatek’s Arctic Cascade LNG Technology once the trains are up and running for a while,” said Claudio Steuer, Director of SyEnergy Consulting, a UK-based energy consultant with about 30 years of experience working on global LNG projects.

“In the LNG industry, until a new technology or supplier can be demonstrated to be operating reliably, it is considered unproven.”

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