The Expanding Turboexpander Marketplace

Danny Mascari, President of L.A. Turbine discusses turboexpander history, technology, applications, range of operation and market opportunities.

How did L.A. Turbine get started?

John Maskaluk founded the company in 2003 in a garage in Valencia, California. He was previously a veteran of a major turboexpander supplier. When that firm was acquired, he saw an opportunity to service a fleet of thousands of turboexpanders around the world and recruited a core of experienced engineers and field technicians. Today, we have our headquarters and manufacturing facility in Valencia, with sales and service center operations in California and Belgium.

L.A. Turbine provides design, manufacturing and testing of application-specific turboexpanders used in hydrocarbon processing, geothermal power generation and other industrial power recovery and refrigeration applications. The company offers over a decade of aftermarket service, repair, redesign, maintenance and spare part production for all turboexpander models worldwide.

We are unique among turboexpander manufacturers and service providers as we control the entire design, manufacturing and repair process.

-Danny Mascari

How has the move to a new facility helped you?

Customers benefit from more competitive pricing and faster delivery time frames due to the implementation of best practices in design, layout and process flows. Investments related to reverse engineering, parts design, automation and quality management processes also result in price advantages.

What is different about L.A. Turbine compared to its competitors?

We are unique among turboexpander manufacturers and service providers as we control the entire design, manufacturing and repair process. We can ensure materials availability, guarantee quality control, provide quicker field service response times and problem resolution. We have technicians on standby that can get anywhere in North America or Europe within 24 hours, and the rest of the world within 48 hours. We also have machinery on standby that can be used to conduct repairs or to make replacement components.

What can you tell me about the technology?

The first turboexpanders were designed in 1934 or 1935 for the German firm, Linde AG. The earliest use of one in natural gas processing was by Dr. Judson Swearingen of Rotoflow in 1961. They are primarily sought after for their cryogenic capabilities and can recover energy that would otherwise be wasted. They deal in gases that are operating close to the dew point and in some cases already have a tiny percentage of liquid content.

Gas comes in via the inlet guide vanes then expands through the expander wheel, which results in a temperature and pressure drop. The wheels can be of an open or closed design and can achieve efficiencies in the 85% to 90% range. Turboexpanders can range up to 3,000 psi, cope with temperatures from -300°F to 570°F, have a wheel power of 3 kW to 13,000 kW and operate at speeds of 3,000 rpm to 120,000 rpm.

They can either be coupled with a compressor, a dynamometer or a generator. While compressors and turbines have specific models with a uniform design, every turboexpander is one-of-a-kind due to differences in gas composition, molecular weight and site conditions. Internal components such as the wheels are customized for each application.

What kind of bearings do you use in your units?

We offer oil bearings and magnetic bearings. Oil bearing units have a larger footprint due to the need for more auxiliary equipment. For markets with stringent API specs, the price of oil bearing systems can be driven so high that active magnetic bearings come out more affordable. As magnetic bearings have a small footprint, they are growing in popularity for offshore platforms and other space constrained environments.

What is the most common application of the turboexpander?

The processing of natural gas liquids and ethylene.

How are turboexpanders used in the geothermal industry?

Steam or brine is taken from core of earth and the resulting steam enters the turboexpander at 300°F or higher. The turboexpander can be coupled with a generator to produce power. Alternatively, it can be used in a binary cycle with a working fluid like isobutane. This time, the steam is used in a heat exchanger and is cooled down by the colder working fluid.

When did you transition from service to include the manufacturing of turboexpanders?

We began making our own units in 2007. Since then we have shipped almost 75 units. We produced 25 models in 2013 and will exceed 30 this year. Manufacturing now accounts for about 60% of our overall business, although our volume of aftermarket service has grown steadily.

How is the shale gas boom affecting the market for turboexpanders?

We are seeing a lot of orders for turboexpanders in shale plays. Also, as the U.S. gears up for LNG exportation, liquefaction facilities are being erected which opens up opportunities. Further, as small scale LNG is harnessed for transportation and used to supply gas in regions without a pipeline infrastructure, turboexpanders are finding new markets.

To read the complete issue, visit Turbomachinery International.