Targeting large-scale turbomachinery and testing with a variety of fluids, Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) has constructed a 5460-sq.ft. (507-m2) facility for developing and evaluating turbomachinery exposed to multiphase flow conditions. Located in San Antonio, Texas, USA, the new Multiphase Machinery Test Facility includes a 3000-sq.ft. (278 m2) high bay with a 10-ton (9.07-tonne) bridge crane, as well as a climate-controlled work space. There is an outside concrete pad for fluid tanks and space for future concrete pads. A separate building houses a control room, conference room, customer office space, and other amenities.
“This facility greatly expands our capabilities for evaluating machinery under a range of conditions,” said David Ransom, manager of the Propulsion and Energy Machinery Section in SwRI’s Mechanical Engineering Division. “We now can evaluate much larger equipment and perform tests with hydrocarbons in addition to inert fluids.”
According to Ransom, the original intent of the new facility was focused on wet gas compression testing. “We had was our first major customer in that area in 2011, and the work kept coming in. We realized very quickly that the future of wet gas compression work was going to require a bigger loop and the ability to do other fluids. At that time, we were focused on air and water because that is what we had readily available and we could do that in the facility we had. Our customers were making it clear that we needed to move to hydrocarbons. We needed the ability to do a higher loop and hirer power. We couldn’t do that in the other facility. We were land locked and needed longer pipe runs and larger power machines.”
The new facility can accommodate suction pressures up to 290 psi (20 bar) and discharge pressures up to 507 psi (35 bar). “The compressor we’re using is a Clark machine that used to be in oxygen service,” said Ransom. “The compressor case has its own pressure rating. That’s really our limit on the high side for the current facility. The industry really needs up to 70 bar (1015 psi). We’re not going achieve that with the bar we have right now because the compressor case is the limit.”
Two phases are planned for the Multiphase Machinery Test Facility. Phase one was has been completed with the facility now online. Phase two will be expansion.
“We’ve been doing wet gas testing from 20 to 30 bar discharge but our customers really need 70 bar,” said Ransom, “and that’s a big jump in infrastructure and capital. The real trick is the funding. The initial design of the new test facility incorporates a lot of flexibility because we want to do whatever the customers’ needs require. We have conduit trenching that allows us to have fluid and wires in all places of the facility. We can easily install a machine anywhere on the site and receive data without the worry of wires. We have overhead crane abilities.
“The intent was to serve the wet gas research topic area but also be malleable to do other areas,” added Ransom. “I’m glad that we did it that way because wet gas research went down as the gas prices tanked in that area. We are still actively doing research in wet gas, but not enough to justify a lone facility.
According to Ransom, the facility will support oil and gas industry programs primarily, although SwRI researchers will also seek opportunities in the propulsion industry and other energy sectors. “For example, the very first project in the new facility was a Department of Energy project for fracturing wells in natural gas production,” said Ransom. Another Department of Energy project we are working on is using this facility to test new combustor type for a jet rocket.
“The bulk of the work initially will be prototype testing of natural gas foam for hydraulic fracturing research as well as compressor performance testing in wet gas conditions,” added Ransom. “Wet gas compression system research is a growing area for the oil and gas industry.”