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Liquified natural gas

Power Play: Africa's First Floating Gas Facility Will Charge Up Mozambique's Economy

Bruce Watson
September 08, 2017
Mozambique has been a country at peace since 1994, but that doesn’t mean life has been easy. That peace came after a long civil war that left the country battered and bruised, with GDP per capita and life expectancy among the world’s lowest.
But there are also bright spots. In 2012, Italian oil giant Eni found an enormous natural-gas field off Mozambique’s coast, more than 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) beneath the ocean’s surface. The Coral field, located in Area 4 in the Rovuma Basin, contains approximately 450 billion cubic meters (16 trillion cubic feet) of gas. This discovery and subsequent developments are sure to propel the country into the future — if it can find a way to bring the fuel to market.

Paolo Marra of Baker Hughes, a GE Company (BHGE) believes the country has ”struck gold” with this natural gas discovery. “It has the potential to put Mozambique on the map as a major LNG producer, together with countries like Qatar in the Middle East, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas,” says Marra, a regional manager in sub-Saharan Africa. “The difference is that Mozambique has little to no infrastructure. You would have to build it from scratch, which is time-consuming and extremely costly.”

So the government, in concert with Eni East Africa (EEA), is working on a different option to move the gas quickly to market — a floating liquefied natural gas facility (FLNG). These technologically advanced vessels are moored above offshore natural gas fields and used to produce, liquefy and store the natural gas at sea. Subsea equipment, such as manifolds, subsea trees and flexible risers, are used to bring the gas to the surface from pockets under the seabed. Machines on the FLNG barge then purify the gas and cool it to minus 160 degrees Celsius, converting it to liquid form. Next, workers load the LNG onto ships that can carry it around the world.

 width= Mozambique believes a recently discovered natural-gas field off its coast is the key to job growth in the country. It currently lacks the infrastructure to move the gas to market, so Baker Hughes, a GE Company, is helping it build a floating facility that can convert natural gas to liquid form, which ships can then distribute around the world. Images credit: Arne Hoel.

FLNG facilities are a fairly new development. Unlike sprawling conventional onshore refineries and gas-processing facilities, they must perform the same operations in a quarter of the space, with strict weight limitations. Currently, only four such facilities are in use or in development around the world; Coral South FLNG will be the fifth, and Africa’s first. It also will be the first ultra-deepwater FLNG facility in the world, at more than 2,000 meters deep, and will be moored off Mozambique.

The $8 billion project was launched by Mozambique President Felipe Nyusi on June 1. When it becomes operational in 2022, it will be able to liquefy more than 3.3 million tons of gas per year, which is equivalent to 5 billion cubic meters.

BHGE will provide much of the equipment for the development, including subsea production systems to help extract the natural gas, and rotating machinery to power the purification and liquefaction process. Four GE gas turbines will generate electricity on board the FLNG facility, while centrifugal compressors will liquefy the natural gas. The turbines use components from jet engines designed to power airplanes like DC-10s and 747s. Their light weight makes them ideal for the FLNG platform. They'll be built in Cincinnati, the home of GE Aviation, and the compressors will be built in Florence, Italy.

 width= Paolo Marra of Baker Hughes, a GE Company, says the natural-gas field "has the potential to put Mozambique on the map as a major LNG producer."

It might be early days, but the discovery already has begun to affect life for some in Mozambique. Two years ago — long before a contract was signed — BHGE hired 20 local engineers and began training them to work on the project. Since then, the engineers have traveled to sites around the world, where they have learned to work with the company’s technology.

“We could see Mozambique’s potential long before this deal,” says Graham Gillies, subsea production systems leader at BHGE. “First and foremost, this project is about supplying clean energy to the developing world while, at the same time, helping to build the infrastructure and capability needed to develop future projects that will be equally beneficial to the country. As well as training local engineers to make sure they’re ready to hit the ground running, we’ve funded engineering scholarships at Eduardo Mondlane University, important in developing a future oil and gas talent pipeline for the country.” All told, BHGE has invested a half million dollars in supporting petroleum engineering education programs in Mozambique.

With a natural-gas reserve promising decades of income and job growth, an education infrastructure that’s getting supercharged, and the possibility of energy independence on the horizon, Mozambique might be poised to see the end of many of its struggles. “This is a development that will last for many years,” says Marra. “And it’s going to lead to a lot of growth in local business and infrastructure.”