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399 Reservation Road
Marina, CA 93933
Phone: (831) 384-4300
Fax: (831) 337-5787
sales@foxthermal.com
www.foxthermal.com
A Dirty Little Secret:
Case Study on Thermal Flow Meter Calibration
for Natural Gas Service
A Study of the Importance of Calibration Affecting Errors in Reading
Written by:
Rich Cada, VP Sales & Marketing, Fox Thermal
Greg Smith, Sales Support and Customer Service Manager, Fox Thermal
Ria Edens, Marketing Communications Manager, Fox Thermal
Riccardo Hassan, Sales Director, Comhas Srl
Rev. A
Case Study»Precision Mass Flow Measurement
An ONICON Brand
Precision Mass Flow Measurement
An ONICON Brand
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 2
A Dirty Little Secret:
Case Study on Thermal Flow Meter Calibration for
Natural Gas Service
A study of the importance of gas composition and calibration
and their effects on flow meter accuracy
Summary
Errors associated with the calibration of
flow meters for natural gas service can
be costly but can also be mitigated using
an advanced flow meter design that
allows field-adjustment of the natural gas
composition without loss of accuracy.
Natural Gas Composition
Eventhemostexperiencedinstrumentation
and process control engineers specify
“natural gas” as the fluid in their thermal
flow meter specifications. In contrast, only
a small handful of specifications include the
actual composition of the flowing natural
gas. This often leads to the misconception
that natural gas is natural gas is natural
gas, regardless of location. Gases such as
argon, helium, hydrogen, nitrogen, and
oxygen are well-defined pure gases, but
if you think that natural gas always had a
uniform composition, think again!
Natural gas is a product of nature whose
composition, density, and heating value
vary from location to location (see “Notes
on Natural Gas Composition” on page 3).
The implications and potential problems
associated with flow measurement of
natural gas apply to most (if not all)
metering technologies, albeit in different
ways.
Application and Flow Meter Selection
Natural gas is colorless and odorless, so
naturalgasprocessorsandtransportersadd
odorant to the gas so it can be identified
downstream by smell. Odorization
systems typically require independent
measurements of the amount of natural
gas odorized and the amount of odorant
consumed.
Pipeline sizes in these applications ranging
from 1.5 to 8 inches and a preference for
installation without shutting down the
pipelines suggested applying insertion
flow meters. The desire to measure gas
flow accurately over a wide range of flow
rates without the need for pressure and/
or temperature compensation suggested
the application of thermal mass flow meter
technology. Therefore, insertion thermal
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
can adversely affect flow meter performance.
The table below contains natural gas
compositions provided by individual flow meter
users at various measurement locations (note
the cited regions) and the flow measurement
errors resulting from calibrating with the typical
NAESB gas composition. Even within the
U.S.A., different natural gas compositions in
different locations within the same state can
result in flow measurement errors that exceed
the measurement error associated with the flow
meter.
Notes on Natural Gas Composition
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 3
The North American Energy Standards Board
(NAESB) suggests composition ranges of
various components in natural gas, with
a typical analysis contains approximately
94.9 percent methane, 2.5 percent ethane,
1.6 percent nitrogen, and 1.0 percent other
components (see table). However, it is
reported that over 10 percent ethane can
be present in natural gas obtained from
horizontal drilling. In contrast, significant
amounts of heavier hydrocarbons may be
present in natural gas from other sources.
These types of differences in composition
Chemical Compositions of Natural Gas (in mole percent)
Gas Components
NAESB
Range
NAESB
Typical
Analysis
USA
(TX)
USA
(WY)
USA
(TX)
Nigeria Canada Italy
Methane 87.0 - 96.0 94.9 93.1 92.8 89.3 86.5 85.8 85.6
Ethane 1.8 - 5.1 2.5 3.0 4.2 8.2 7.2 4.8 7.7
Nitrogen 1.3 - 5.6 1.6 0.1 0.2 2.4 0.1 4.6 3.1
Carbon Dioxide 0.1 - 1.0 0.7 2.1 0.8 0.0 0.7 2.2 1.3
Propane 0.1 - 1.5 0.2 0.8 1.2 0.1 3.5 2.3 1.7
Iso-Butane 0.01 - 0.3 0.03 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.8 0.1 0.2
Normal-Butane 0.01 - 0.3 0.03 0.24 0.21 0.01 0.67 0.15 0.30
Oxygen 0.01 - 0.1 0.02 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
Iso-Pentane Trace - 0.14 0.01 0.12 0.09 0.00 0.23 0.01 0.12
Normal-Pentane Trace - 0.14 0.01 0.08 0.06 0.00 0.15 0.01 0.06
Hexanes Plus Trace - 0.06 0.01 0.24 0.24 0.00 0.11 0.01 0.05
Hydrogen Trace - 0.02 Trace 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
% Thermal Flow
meter Error vs.
NAESB Typical
Analysis
N/A 0.0 +4.0 +4.5 +6.6 +7.9 +9.8 +10.1
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 4
flow meters, so it was possible in this case
for the natural gas transporter to discover
that some recently-installed flow meters
were not performing properly in various
pipelines. Some of the meters reportedly
exhibited flow measurement errors in
excess of 10 percent. By way of example,
natural gas in north, south, and central Italy
comes from Russia, Africa, and elsewhere
respectively, with each source having
different compositions and exhibiting
different flow measurement errors.
The existing flow meter settings were
examined, and the programmed gas
density was discovered to be different
from the actual density of the natural gas
composition flowing in the pipe. Initial
investigationrevealedthatthecomposition
was set to a default natural gas composition
similar to the typical NAESB analysis (see
“Notes on Natural Gas Composition”
feature on page 3). However, the flowing
natural gas contained significant amounts
mass flow meters were selected to measure
natural gas flows in the odorization systems.
In these applications, odorant is added in
proportion to the natural gas flow rate. A
natural gas flow meter measuring high will
over-dose and waste odorant. For example,
a natural gas flow meter that measures
approximately 10 percent high will increase
odorantconsumption(andoperatingcost)by
approximately 10 percent. In an odorization
system that consumes approximately
$40,000 USD of odorant per year, locating
and correcting an existing flow meter error
of this magnitude would reduce operating
costs by approximately $4,000 USD per
year. Implementing these fixes over tens or
hundreds of odorization systems in a sizable
natural gas transmission system can yield
substantial ongoing operating cost savings.
Discovering the Problem
Odorization systems are often installed
upstream or downstream of custody transfer
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 5
of heavier hydrocarbon components, so its
actual composition was materially different
than the default assumption of NAESB
natural gas settings.
Further investigation at the factory
confirmed the composition of the gas
used to calibrate the flow meters was
not representative of the actual flowing
natural gas. This mismatch needed to
be addressed, but the gas transporter
also expressed a desire to set the gas
composition in the field to reflect the
actual gas composition based on region,
all without sending the flow meter back to
the factory for calibration. The user wanted
to fix the identified problem, then later be
able to periodically update for natural gas
composition changes likely to occur over
time.
Natural Gas Calibration — The Dirty
Little Secret
Thermal flow meter calibration for natural
gas service is typically performed with (1)
a surrogate gas mixture representative
of natural gas like the NAESB’s typical
composition, or (2) with a well-defined
pure gas using correlations to correct
for the thermal properties of natural gas
relative to the well-defined gas. Using
a surrogate gas representative of the
flowing natural gas is generally considered
more accurate than using correlations,
but the effectiveness of technological
advancements in the latter technique are
challenging this presumption.
Fox Thermal Model FT4A thermal mass flow meter and temperature
transmitter.
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 6
Flow meter manufacturers can calibrate
their natural gas flow meters using
their own factory-standard natural gas
surrogate. Calibrating with a surrogate
representative of a typical NAESB analysis
would seem appropriate, but some flow
meter manufacturers reportedly calibrate
or have calibrated their flow meters using
surrogates containing 95 to 100 percent
methane plus small percentages of ethane
and/or nitrogen.
Note that each flow meter manufacturer
can have its own factory-standard
surrogate natural gas mixture. Therefore,
calibrations of the same flow meter
performed by different manufacturers
using their different surrogate gases will
measure differently in operation, where
the measurement variation depends on
differences in the thermal properties of the
different surrogate gases. For example,
the flow measurement error associated
with calibrating in pure methane versus
calibrating in the typical NAESB natural
gas mixture is approximately 3 (three)
percent — an amount that can be larger
than the performance specification of the
flow meter if left uncorrected.
Notwithstanding that calibrations of the
same flow meter specified for the same
fluid service (natural gas) will be different
when performed using different surrogate
gases, calibrating using a surrogate gas
with thermal properties sufficiently similar
to those of the actual flowing gas should
not pose a significant measurement
The Importance of NIST Calibrations
Meet NIST-traceable Flow Standards
Calibrations performed on flow meters must
meet MIL-STD-45662A requirements.
Ensure Reliable Flow Meter Performance
Calibration equipment subject to a
meticulous metrology program that includes
the selection, usage, calibration, control, and
maintenance of measurement standards.
Automated Calibration Procedures
Automated systems in calibration flow
labs maximize calibration accuracy and
repeatability as well as output and efficiency.
Results are consistent and calculating
measurement uncertainty simplified.
Calibration Technician performing an actual gas calibration in the flow
laboratory.
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 7
problem. However, an overwhelming
majority of users have never considered
nor confirmed whether the composition
of their actual natural gas reasonably
approximates the surrogate gas used
for calibration. Without knowing, they
could be experiencing significant flow
measurement errors on a continuing basis.
Actual natural gas analyses can be obtained
from natural gas suppliers. With that
information, the flow meter manufacturer
can confirm whether the calibration gas
and the user’s natural gas are reasonably
similar. Better yet, users should include
their actual natural gas analyses in flow
meter specifications when purchasing,
allowing their flow meters to be factory-
calibrated using an appropriate surrogate
mixture. Even if the factory’s surrogate gas
cannot be changed, the calibration can be
corrected to account for a different mixture
in the application.
The “dirty little secret” of natural gas flow
measurement is that failure to calibrate
with a gas sufficiently similar to the gas
encountered in the field can result in
significantandsometimeslargeundetected
flow measurement errors, and those errors
will more than likely be present during the
entire life of the flow meter.
An alternative technique to calibrate a
flow meter for natural gas service is to
calibrate using a well-defined gas and then
use mathematic correlations to accurately
correct the measurements in natural gas.
One advantage of this technique is that
problems associated with the “dirty little
secret” are mitigated because the actual
natural gas composition can be entered
directly into the electronics, completely
eliminating the need to use surrogate
gas mixtures. Further, the thermal flow
meter itself can automatically update
the density calculation of the natural gas
and its thermal content to reflect the new
composition.
This alternative technique offers the
user, representative, and manufacturer
more flexibility. The actual natural gas
composition can be obtained, entered,
and changed both after installation and
during operation, without loss of accuracy
and without returning the flow meter to
the factory for calibration. Similarly, these
flow meters have the flexibility to adapt
to completely different applications by
enteringthecompositionforanewprocess,
again without loss of accuracy and without
returning the flow meter to the factory for
calibration.
Sampling Natural Gas from the source is the best way to determine the
gas composition.
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 8
Solution
As previously mentioned, the existing
flow meters were configured for a natural
gas composition similar to the NAESB’s
typical analysis and calibrated using the
factory-standard surrogate natural gas.
The composition of the actual natural
gas was significantly different than
surrogate, varying by site and likely to
change over time. The transporter wanted
the capability to configure the actual
composition of its natural gas in the field
without returning the flow meters to the
factory for calibration, all without loss of
accuracy. This information was relayed
to the thermal flow meter manufacturers’
representative who informed the flow
meter manufacturer.
The manufacturer used the actual natural
gas compositions to perform calculations
that confirmed the flow measurement
errors were similar to those experienced
by the transporter. The traditional
approach to resolve this problem would
be to return the flow meters to the factory
for recalibration with various surrogate
gases representative of the various natural
gas streams. This was not acceptable to
the transporter in the short term and
would have made compensating for future
composition cumbersome in the long
term.
Sample screen view of the FT4A View™ software tool used to configure
the Model FT4A and analyze data on flow and temperature of gas.
The manufacturer offers in-the-field custom gas mixture creation for gas composition changes by programming the flow meter directly.
Custom
Gas Mix
Ethane
Carbon
Dioxide
Methane
Hexanes
Hydrogen Argon
Butane Pentanes
Propane
Heptanes
Nonanes+
Octanes
Nitrogen
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 9
However, the existing flow meters were
factory-calibrated in a well-defined gas, to
which correlations were used to measure
natural gas using the alternative method
previouslydescribed. Usingthistechnology,
each component in the natural gas could
be configured in 0.1-percent increments
Gas-SelectX™ allows the user to choose gases in 0.1% increments to
create a custom gas mix.
in the field to measure the flowing natural
gas with no loss of accuracy.
The existing flow meters could have been
used if the actual natural gas largely
contained components present in the
typical NAESB analysis, albeit in different
proportions. However, the actual flowing
natural gas contained significant quantities
of numerous heavier components, and the
transporter wanted the flexibility to set
those heavier components directly in the
field, both for simplicity and to achieve the
best accuracy. Therefore, the existing flow
meters were upgraded to a model that
not only allowed more components, but
also included additional gases relevant to
the oil and gas industry (see table below)
that were determined to be present in the
actual flowing natural gas.
Gas-SelectX™ Feature
FT1 Gas-SelectX™ Menus FT4A & FT4X Gas-SelectX™ Menus
Pure Gas Gas Mixture Pure Gas Gas Mixture Oil & Gas
Air
5-Gas Mix of
any gases in first
column. Mixture
must total 100%.
Air Air Methane (C1)
Argon Argon Argon Ethane (C2)
Butane Butane Butane Propane (C3)
Carbon Dioxide Carbon Dioxide Carbon Dioxide Iso-Butane (C4)
Ethane Helium Ethane Normal-Butane (C4)
Helium Hydrogen Helium Pentanes (C5)
Hydrogen Methane Hydrogen Hexanes (C6)
Methane Natural Gas* Methane Heptanes (C7)
Natural Gas* Nitrogen Nitrogen Octanes (C8)
Nitrogen Oxygen Oxygen Nonanes+ (C9+)
Oxygen Propane Propane Carbon Dioxide
Propane Nitrogen
*Choosing Natural Gas sets the NAESB average in a pre-programmed mix of methane, ethane, propane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. This composition
can be changed by the user in the field with no loss of accuracy.
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 10
Assessment and Operation
In general, both new and existing natural gas flow meter installations can be affected by this
“dirty little secret” and can cause measurements to be inaccurate for decades. Such operation
can be costly over the life of the flow meter in applications such as odorization. One problem
for most users is that they need to trust their natural gas flow meters because they do not
have reasonable means to verify their flow measurements are accurate. This transporter was
the exception because custody transfer flow meters were available to check accuracy.
Nonetheless, there are actions that the typical user (without the ability to verify accuracy)
can take to assess the performance of flow meters and to ensure accurate natural gas flow
measurement.
1.	 For existing flow meters calibrated with a surrogate gas at the factory, users should
compare the actual flowing natural gas composition (typically available from the utility)
with the gas mixture used to calibrate the flow meter at the factory. The manufacturer
can then estimate the measurement error and offer suggestions to correct for the actual
flowing composition. Sometimes, flow meter settings can be modified to compensate
for the estimated error, but factory calibration using a more representative surrogate gas
mixture may be needed for more accurate measurement.
•	 Repeat periodically to determine if the actual natural gas composition has changed
sufficiently to warrant modifying the correction and/or recalibrating the flow meter
at the factory.
2.	 For existing flow meters calibrated with a well-defined gas at the factory, users should
configure the actual flowing natural gas composition (typically available from the utility)
in the flow meter.
•	 Repeat periodically to determine if the actual natural gas composition has changed
sufficiently to warrant updating the flow meter composition configuration in the field.
3.	 For new installations, users should include their natural gas analysis in their specifications
and strongly consider purchasing flow meters that are calibrated with a well-defined gas
in the factory, allowing the actual flowing natural gas composition to be set in the field,
with no loss of accuracy, to mitigate the effects of the “dirty little secret” altogether.
Huge financial losses can occur in some applications when natural gas flow meters are not
accurate. Conversely, large cost savings can be realized when the performance of existing
flow meters is scrutinized and corrected.
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 11
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIES / CONTACT INFORMATION
Rich Cada, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Fox Thermal has more than 30 years experience in
applications engineering and market development of industrial mass flow measurement and control
instrumentation.
Phone: +1 (831) 384-4300
Email: rcada@foxthermal.com
Website: www.foxthermal.com
Greg Smith, Sales Support and Customer Service Manager at Fox Thermal, has worked in the
semiconductor, environmental, and gas processing industries since earning his chemical engineering
degree from UC Davis. All together, he has over ten years of experience in applications engineering
and product support.
Phone: +1 (831) 384-4300
Email: gsmith@foxthermal.com
Website: www.foxthermal.com
Ria Edens, Marketing Communications Manager at Fox Thermal, is a marketing professional with
eight years experience in technical writing along with application, market, and regulation research
involving thermal mass flow meter technology and applications.
Phone: +1 (831) 384-4300
Email: redens@foxthermal.com
Website: www.foxthermal.com
Riccardo Hassan, Sales Director at Comhas, has 20 years experience.
Phone: +39 02 6129.8551
Email: riccardo@comhas.com
Website: www.comhas.com
Precision Mass Flow Measurement
An ONICON Brand
399 Reservation Road
Marina, CA 93933
Phone: (831) 384-4300
Fax: (831) 337-5787
sales@foxthermal.com
www.foxthermal.com
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
399 Reservation Road
Marina, CA 93933
Phone: (831) 384-4300
Fax: (831) 337-5787
sales@foxthermal.com
www.foxthermal.com
Fox Thermal Model FT4A
Thermal Mass Flow Meter &
Temperature Transmitter
•	 Measures gas mass flow
rate and temperature
•	 Equipped with CAL-V™
Calibration Validation
feature
•	 2 line x 16 character backlit
LCD display
•	 Housing: NEMA 4X
Indoor/Outdoor
•	 Standard 4-20mA output
for Flow
•	 Second output available
for pulse/alarm
•	 USB port standard
•	 Communication Options:
HART or RS485 Modbus
•	 Approvals:
CE, FM, FMc, ATEX, IECEx
See FT4A Datasheet for more product
information.
Precision Mass Flow Measurement
An ONICON Brand
Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com

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Case Study on Thermal Flow Meter Calibration for Natural Gas Service

  • 1. 399 Reservation Road Marina, CA 93933 Phone: (831) 384-4300 Fax: (831) 337-5787 sales@foxthermal.com www.foxthermal.com A Dirty Little Secret: Case Study on Thermal Flow Meter Calibration for Natural Gas Service A Study of the Importance of Calibration Affecting Errors in Reading Written by: Rich Cada, VP Sales & Marketing, Fox Thermal Greg Smith, Sales Support and Customer Service Manager, Fox Thermal Ria Edens, Marketing Communications Manager, Fox Thermal Riccardo Hassan, Sales Director, Comhas Srl Rev. A Case Study»Precision Mass Flow Measurement An ONICON Brand Precision Mass Flow Measurement An ONICON Brand Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 2. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 2 A Dirty Little Secret: Case Study on Thermal Flow Meter Calibration for Natural Gas Service A study of the importance of gas composition and calibration and their effects on flow meter accuracy Summary Errors associated with the calibration of flow meters for natural gas service can be costly but can also be mitigated using an advanced flow meter design that allows field-adjustment of the natural gas composition without loss of accuracy. Natural Gas Composition Eventhemostexperiencedinstrumentation and process control engineers specify “natural gas” as the fluid in their thermal flow meter specifications. In contrast, only a small handful of specifications include the actual composition of the flowing natural gas. This often leads to the misconception that natural gas is natural gas is natural gas, regardless of location. Gases such as argon, helium, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen are well-defined pure gases, but if you think that natural gas always had a uniform composition, think again! Natural gas is a product of nature whose composition, density, and heating value vary from location to location (see “Notes on Natural Gas Composition” on page 3). The implications and potential problems associated with flow measurement of natural gas apply to most (if not all) metering technologies, albeit in different ways. Application and Flow Meter Selection Natural gas is colorless and odorless, so naturalgasprocessorsandtransportersadd odorant to the gas so it can be identified downstream by smell. Odorization systems typically require independent measurements of the amount of natural gas odorized and the amount of odorant consumed. Pipeline sizes in these applications ranging from 1.5 to 8 inches and a preference for installation without shutting down the pipelines suggested applying insertion flow meters. The desire to measure gas flow accurately over a wide range of flow rates without the need for pressure and/ or temperature compensation suggested the application of thermal mass flow meter technology. Therefore, insertion thermal Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 3. can adversely affect flow meter performance. The table below contains natural gas compositions provided by individual flow meter users at various measurement locations (note the cited regions) and the flow measurement errors resulting from calibrating with the typical NAESB gas composition. Even within the U.S.A., different natural gas compositions in different locations within the same state can result in flow measurement errors that exceed the measurement error associated with the flow meter. Notes on Natural Gas Composition Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 3 The North American Energy Standards Board (NAESB) suggests composition ranges of various components in natural gas, with a typical analysis contains approximately 94.9 percent methane, 2.5 percent ethane, 1.6 percent nitrogen, and 1.0 percent other components (see table). However, it is reported that over 10 percent ethane can be present in natural gas obtained from horizontal drilling. In contrast, significant amounts of heavier hydrocarbons may be present in natural gas from other sources. These types of differences in composition Chemical Compositions of Natural Gas (in mole percent) Gas Components NAESB Range NAESB Typical Analysis USA (TX) USA (WY) USA (TX) Nigeria Canada Italy Methane 87.0 - 96.0 94.9 93.1 92.8 89.3 86.5 85.8 85.6 Ethane 1.8 - 5.1 2.5 3.0 4.2 8.2 7.2 4.8 7.7 Nitrogen 1.3 - 5.6 1.6 0.1 0.2 2.4 0.1 4.6 3.1 Carbon Dioxide 0.1 - 1.0 0.7 2.1 0.8 0.0 0.7 2.2 1.3 Propane 0.1 - 1.5 0.2 0.8 1.2 0.1 3.5 2.3 1.7 Iso-Butane 0.01 - 0.3 0.03 0.2 0.2 0.0 0.8 0.1 0.2 Normal-Butane 0.01 - 0.3 0.03 0.24 0.21 0.01 0.67 0.15 0.30 Oxygen 0.01 - 0.1 0.02 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 Iso-Pentane Trace - 0.14 0.01 0.12 0.09 0.00 0.23 0.01 0.12 Normal-Pentane Trace - 0.14 0.01 0.08 0.06 0.00 0.15 0.01 0.06 Hexanes Plus Trace - 0.06 0.01 0.24 0.24 0.00 0.11 0.01 0.05 Hydrogen Trace - 0.02 Trace 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 % Thermal Flow meter Error vs. NAESB Typical Analysis N/A 0.0 +4.0 +4.5 +6.6 +7.9 +9.8 +10.1 Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 4. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 4 flow meters, so it was possible in this case for the natural gas transporter to discover that some recently-installed flow meters were not performing properly in various pipelines. Some of the meters reportedly exhibited flow measurement errors in excess of 10 percent. By way of example, natural gas in north, south, and central Italy comes from Russia, Africa, and elsewhere respectively, with each source having different compositions and exhibiting different flow measurement errors. The existing flow meter settings were examined, and the programmed gas density was discovered to be different from the actual density of the natural gas composition flowing in the pipe. Initial investigationrevealedthatthecomposition was set to a default natural gas composition similar to the typical NAESB analysis (see “Notes on Natural Gas Composition” feature on page 3). However, the flowing natural gas contained significant amounts mass flow meters were selected to measure natural gas flows in the odorization systems. In these applications, odorant is added in proportion to the natural gas flow rate. A natural gas flow meter measuring high will over-dose and waste odorant. For example, a natural gas flow meter that measures approximately 10 percent high will increase odorantconsumption(andoperatingcost)by approximately 10 percent. In an odorization system that consumes approximately $40,000 USD of odorant per year, locating and correcting an existing flow meter error of this magnitude would reduce operating costs by approximately $4,000 USD per year. Implementing these fixes over tens or hundreds of odorization systems in a sizable natural gas transmission system can yield substantial ongoing operating cost savings. Discovering the Problem Odorization systems are often installed upstream or downstream of custody transfer Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 5. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 5 of heavier hydrocarbon components, so its actual composition was materially different than the default assumption of NAESB natural gas settings. Further investigation at the factory confirmed the composition of the gas used to calibrate the flow meters was not representative of the actual flowing natural gas. This mismatch needed to be addressed, but the gas transporter also expressed a desire to set the gas composition in the field to reflect the actual gas composition based on region, all without sending the flow meter back to the factory for calibration. The user wanted to fix the identified problem, then later be able to periodically update for natural gas composition changes likely to occur over time. Natural Gas Calibration — The Dirty Little Secret Thermal flow meter calibration for natural gas service is typically performed with (1) a surrogate gas mixture representative of natural gas like the NAESB’s typical composition, or (2) with a well-defined pure gas using correlations to correct for the thermal properties of natural gas relative to the well-defined gas. Using a surrogate gas representative of the flowing natural gas is generally considered more accurate than using correlations, but the effectiveness of technological advancements in the latter technique are challenging this presumption. Fox Thermal Model FT4A thermal mass flow meter and temperature transmitter. Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 6. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 6 Flow meter manufacturers can calibrate their natural gas flow meters using their own factory-standard natural gas surrogate. Calibrating with a surrogate representative of a typical NAESB analysis would seem appropriate, but some flow meter manufacturers reportedly calibrate or have calibrated their flow meters using surrogates containing 95 to 100 percent methane plus small percentages of ethane and/or nitrogen. Note that each flow meter manufacturer can have its own factory-standard surrogate natural gas mixture. Therefore, calibrations of the same flow meter performed by different manufacturers using their different surrogate gases will measure differently in operation, where the measurement variation depends on differences in the thermal properties of the different surrogate gases. For example, the flow measurement error associated with calibrating in pure methane versus calibrating in the typical NAESB natural gas mixture is approximately 3 (three) percent — an amount that can be larger than the performance specification of the flow meter if left uncorrected. Notwithstanding that calibrations of the same flow meter specified for the same fluid service (natural gas) will be different when performed using different surrogate gases, calibrating using a surrogate gas with thermal properties sufficiently similar to those of the actual flowing gas should not pose a significant measurement The Importance of NIST Calibrations Meet NIST-traceable Flow Standards Calibrations performed on flow meters must meet MIL-STD-45662A requirements. Ensure Reliable Flow Meter Performance Calibration equipment subject to a meticulous metrology program that includes the selection, usage, calibration, control, and maintenance of measurement standards. Automated Calibration Procedures Automated systems in calibration flow labs maximize calibration accuracy and repeatability as well as output and efficiency. Results are consistent and calculating measurement uncertainty simplified. Calibration Technician performing an actual gas calibration in the flow laboratory. Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 7. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 7 problem. However, an overwhelming majority of users have never considered nor confirmed whether the composition of their actual natural gas reasonably approximates the surrogate gas used for calibration. Without knowing, they could be experiencing significant flow measurement errors on a continuing basis. Actual natural gas analyses can be obtained from natural gas suppliers. With that information, the flow meter manufacturer can confirm whether the calibration gas and the user’s natural gas are reasonably similar. Better yet, users should include their actual natural gas analyses in flow meter specifications when purchasing, allowing their flow meters to be factory- calibrated using an appropriate surrogate mixture. Even if the factory’s surrogate gas cannot be changed, the calibration can be corrected to account for a different mixture in the application. The “dirty little secret” of natural gas flow measurement is that failure to calibrate with a gas sufficiently similar to the gas encountered in the field can result in significantandsometimeslargeundetected flow measurement errors, and those errors will more than likely be present during the entire life of the flow meter. An alternative technique to calibrate a flow meter for natural gas service is to calibrate using a well-defined gas and then use mathematic correlations to accurately correct the measurements in natural gas. One advantage of this technique is that problems associated with the “dirty little secret” are mitigated because the actual natural gas composition can be entered directly into the electronics, completely eliminating the need to use surrogate gas mixtures. Further, the thermal flow meter itself can automatically update the density calculation of the natural gas and its thermal content to reflect the new composition. This alternative technique offers the user, representative, and manufacturer more flexibility. The actual natural gas composition can be obtained, entered, and changed both after installation and during operation, without loss of accuracy and without returning the flow meter to the factory for calibration. Similarly, these flow meters have the flexibility to adapt to completely different applications by enteringthecompositionforanewprocess, again without loss of accuracy and without returning the flow meter to the factory for calibration. Sampling Natural Gas from the source is the best way to determine the gas composition. Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 8. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 8 Solution As previously mentioned, the existing flow meters were configured for a natural gas composition similar to the NAESB’s typical analysis and calibrated using the factory-standard surrogate natural gas. The composition of the actual natural gas was significantly different than surrogate, varying by site and likely to change over time. The transporter wanted the capability to configure the actual composition of its natural gas in the field without returning the flow meters to the factory for calibration, all without loss of accuracy. This information was relayed to the thermal flow meter manufacturers’ representative who informed the flow meter manufacturer. The manufacturer used the actual natural gas compositions to perform calculations that confirmed the flow measurement errors were similar to those experienced by the transporter. The traditional approach to resolve this problem would be to return the flow meters to the factory for recalibration with various surrogate gases representative of the various natural gas streams. This was not acceptable to the transporter in the short term and would have made compensating for future composition cumbersome in the long term. Sample screen view of the FT4A View™ software tool used to configure the Model FT4A and analyze data on flow and temperature of gas. The manufacturer offers in-the-field custom gas mixture creation for gas composition changes by programming the flow meter directly. Custom Gas Mix Ethane Carbon Dioxide Methane Hexanes Hydrogen Argon Butane Pentanes Propane Heptanes Nonanes+ Octanes Nitrogen Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 9. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 9 However, the existing flow meters were factory-calibrated in a well-defined gas, to which correlations were used to measure natural gas using the alternative method previouslydescribed. Usingthistechnology, each component in the natural gas could be configured in 0.1-percent increments Gas-SelectX™ allows the user to choose gases in 0.1% increments to create a custom gas mix. in the field to measure the flowing natural gas with no loss of accuracy. The existing flow meters could have been used if the actual natural gas largely contained components present in the typical NAESB analysis, albeit in different proportions. However, the actual flowing natural gas contained significant quantities of numerous heavier components, and the transporter wanted the flexibility to set those heavier components directly in the field, both for simplicity and to achieve the best accuracy. Therefore, the existing flow meters were upgraded to a model that not only allowed more components, but also included additional gases relevant to the oil and gas industry (see table below) that were determined to be present in the actual flowing natural gas. Gas-SelectX™ Feature FT1 Gas-SelectX™ Menus FT4A & FT4X Gas-SelectX™ Menus Pure Gas Gas Mixture Pure Gas Gas Mixture Oil & Gas Air 5-Gas Mix of any gases in first column. Mixture must total 100%. Air Air Methane (C1) Argon Argon Argon Ethane (C2) Butane Butane Butane Propane (C3) Carbon Dioxide Carbon Dioxide Carbon Dioxide Iso-Butane (C4) Ethane Helium Ethane Normal-Butane (C4) Helium Hydrogen Helium Pentanes (C5) Hydrogen Methane Hydrogen Hexanes (C6) Methane Natural Gas* Methane Heptanes (C7) Natural Gas* Nitrogen Nitrogen Octanes (C8) Nitrogen Oxygen Oxygen Nonanes+ (C9+) Oxygen Propane Propane Carbon Dioxide Propane Nitrogen *Choosing Natural Gas sets the NAESB average in a pre-programmed mix of methane, ethane, propane, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. This composition can be changed by the user in the field with no loss of accuracy. Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 10. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 10 Assessment and Operation In general, both new and existing natural gas flow meter installations can be affected by this “dirty little secret” and can cause measurements to be inaccurate for decades. Such operation can be costly over the life of the flow meter in applications such as odorization. One problem for most users is that they need to trust their natural gas flow meters because they do not have reasonable means to verify their flow measurements are accurate. This transporter was the exception because custody transfer flow meters were available to check accuracy. Nonetheless, there are actions that the typical user (without the ability to verify accuracy) can take to assess the performance of flow meters and to ensure accurate natural gas flow measurement. 1. For existing flow meters calibrated with a surrogate gas at the factory, users should compare the actual flowing natural gas composition (typically available from the utility) with the gas mixture used to calibrate the flow meter at the factory. The manufacturer can then estimate the measurement error and offer suggestions to correct for the actual flowing composition. Sometimes, flow meter settings can be modified to compensate for the estimated error, but factory calibration using a more representative surrogate gas mixture may be needed for more accurate measurement. • Repeat periodically to determine if the actual natural gas composition has changed sufficiently to warrant modifying the correction and/or recalibrating the flow meter at the factory. 2. For existing flow meters calibrated with a well-defined gas at the factory, users should configure the actual flowing natural gas composition (typically available from the utility) in the flow meter. • Repeat periodically to determine if the actual natural gas composition has changed sufficiently to warrant updating the flow meter composition configuration in the field. 3. For new installations, users should include their natural gas analysis in their specifications and strongly consider purchasing flow meters that are calibrated with a well-defined gas in the factory, allowing the actual flowing natural gas composition to be set in the field, with no loss of accuracy, to mitigate the effects of the “dirty little secret” altogether. Huge financial losses can occur in some applications when natural gas flow meters are not accurate. Conversely, large cost savings can be realized when the performance of existing flow meters is scrutinized and corrected. Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 11. Fox Thermal • www.foxthermal.com • Case Study Page 11 AUTHOR BIOGRAPHIES / CONTACT INFORMATION Rich Cada, Vice President of Sales & Marketing at Fox Thermal has more than 30 years experience in applications engineering and market development of industrial mass flow measurement and control instrumentation. Phone: +1 (831) 384-4300 Email: rcada@foxthermal.com Website: www.foxthermal.com Greg Smith, Sales Support and Customer Service Manager at Fox Thermal, has worked in the semiconductor, environmental, and gas processing industries since earning his chemical engineering degree from UC Davis. All together, he has over ten years of experience in applications engineering and product support. Phone: +1 (831) 384-4300 Email: gsmith@foxthermal.com Website: www.foxthermal.com Ria Edens, Marketing Communications Manager at Fox Thermal, is a marketing professional with eight years experience in technical writing along with application, market, and regulation research involving thermal mass flow meter technology and applications. Phone: +1 (831) 384-4300 Email: redens@foxthermal.com Website: www.foxthermal.com Riccardo Hassan, Sales Director at Comhas, has 20 years experience. Phone: +39 02 6129.8551 Email: riccardo@comhas.com Website: www.comhas.com Precision Mass Flow Measurement An ONICON Brand 399 Reservation Road Marina, CA 93933 Phone: (831) 384-4300 Fax: (831) 337-5787 sales@foxthermal.com www.foxthermal.com Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com
  • 12. 399 Reservation Road Marina, CA 93933 Phone: (831) 384-4300 Fax: (831) 337-5787 sales@foxthermal.com www.foxthermal.com Fox Thermal Model FT4A Thermal Mass Flow Meter & Temperature Transmitter • Measures gas mass flow rate and temperature • Equipped with CAL-V™ Calibration Validation feature • 2 line x 16 character backlit LCD display • Housing: NEMA 4X Indoor/Outdoor • Standard 4-20mA output for Flow • Second output available for pulse/alarm • USB port standard • Communication Options: HART or RS485 Modbus • Approvals: CE, FM, FMc, ATEX, IECEx See FT4A Datasheet for more product information. Precision Mass Flow Measurement An ONICON Brand Power Specialties, Inc. | (816) 353-6550 | www.powerspecialties.com