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Due to leaks and evaporation during crude oil and natural gas production, the oil and gas industry is responsible for releasing around 75 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year. Methane is a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly to climate change.
The CobaDGS mechanical seal by EagleBurgmann is the world's first turbo compressor seal that reduces harmful fugitive emissions gases to zero.
This innovation sets an important sign in fighting climate change. Hereby, the CobaDGS seal contributes significantly to the achievement of SDG 13 and indirectly supports achieving the SDGs 7, 12 and 15.
For a long time, natural gas was considered the energy source of the future, as it initially turned out to be more climate-friendly than other fossil fuels. The earth is spanned by a global network of pipelines, transporting natural gas from extraction locations to the users. A compressor station is usually required every 100 to 150 km to transport the gas in the pipelines. Seals are used to ensure a transition from a pipeline to a compressor, which is subject to high pressures. However, studies worldwide have shown that on average, 1.7 percent of the natural gas produced globally is lost through leakages. The issue is that natural gas is mainly composed of methane, which is considered a greenhouse gas.
Daniel Goebel the sales director of the aftermarket business development for compressor solutions EMEA at EagleBurgmann, explained the typical up-to-day sealing solution to us: “With this mechanical seal, you have one ring, with two ceramic rings installed, one is rotating, and one is non-rotating and in between is a certain sealing gap. In a normal operation with traditional solutions, the hydrocarbon leaks through and goes towards the atmosphere.” This has the result that per compressor, an amount that matches 100 tons of CO2 equivalent is leaking out of the machine per year.
The reduction of methane emissions was a central topic of the Glasgow Climate Conference (COP 26) in 2021. Consequently, great challenges were posed towards politics and the economy.
Freudenberg took on the challenge: "As a technology company, we are committed to delivering innovations, and products that help our environment in terms of resource efficiency,” mentioned Bilguun Bayarmagnai. The Freudenberg Group is a German family-owned company, with an extensive product portfolio from innovations for the oil and gas industry to household products.
Bilguun Bayarmagnai was one of the two employees at Freudenberg, whom we interviewed. He is head of corporate sustainability at the Freudenberg Group. Daniel Goebel works for EagleBurgmann, which is a Freudenberg subsidiary headquartered in Wolfratshausen, Germany. EagleBurgmann is one of the worldwide leading providers of industrial sealing technology and aims to find sealing solutions for every requirement.
It took the R&D engineers two years to develop a mechanical seal with zero hydrocarbon leakage. In 2019, the first model of the CobaDGs seal was ready for use. The novel aspect of the solution is an injection of dry nitrogen, which buffers the process gas and prevents it from flowing out of the sealing gap. Daniel Goebel summarized, “(…) it’s a similar device, similar technology, but advanced with this nitrogen buffering. With this solution, we can ensure that the process gas will not exit the compressor.” In addition, the sealing is extremely robust against the high pressures in the pipeline, which could be up to 160 bar.
Within his work over the past 20 years, Daniel Goebel has experienced heavy pollutions generated by the oil and gas industry, which made him very contemplative. EagleBurgmann has a sealing solution for almost every application and annually sells many seals to the oil and gas industry. As a sealing solution provider, the company wanted to add significant value to reducing the impact to climate change and to turn this into a business for good.
This was the central idea, which led to the development of the new sealing solution. Daniel Goebel told us the story of how the innovation came to life.
EagleBurgmann initiated a creative workshop in 2017, where global sales directors and engineers came together. They identified the need to develop a zero-emission sealing solution for compressors in the oil and gas industry.
That the need for innovation is significant was also confirmed by Bilguun Bayarmagnai: “We are still dependent on fossil fuels (…) until sufficient green energy is available. (…) We are in a transformation phase [working on disruptive technologies] to go away from fossil fuels. [In the meantime,] we should try to help these industries to act as sustainably as possible.”
In practice, the implementation of the new sealing solution is still proceeding, because unfortunately, the oil and gas industry appears to be very conservative. Even though the seal was ready for use in 2020, the first seal was installed in 2021. Initiated by increasing regulations concerning sustainability, as well as CO2 taxation, a new mindset was founded. “So, we see in our discussions that this innovation, which we did, zero-emission is highly relevant for all of these companies. We have now the first seal running for a year and many more delivered so it’s really starting to get into the market. We feel the relevance of that solution for these industries, especially gas pipelines,” explained Daniel Goebel.
Methane is considered the second largest contributor to anthropogenic climate change after CO2. The problem is the warming effect of methane in the atmosphere, which is about 30 times stronger than that of carbon dioxide. As a result, the greenhouse gas contributes significantly to global warming. The CobaDGS seal prevents annually about 228.000 m3 of direct methane gas emissions. This corresponds to 12,542 tons of CO2 equivalent, which complies with the CO2 consumption of 10,000 cars traveling a distance of 10,000 km. Thus, the mission of the seal is to significantly contribute to mitigating global warming.
The innovation has a positive impact on the emissions generated by customers. Bilguun Bayarmagnai pointed out that this is why the company defined the term "handprint impact": “This is the dimension where we describe the positive impact on our customer’s side. So, our products help our customers to reduce their own footprint.” This is exactly what the CobaDGS achieves for EagleBurgmann customers.
The supply of dry nitrogen eliminates the need to release process gases, and the resulting gas can be sold instead. Without carbon pricing, the CobaDGS seal would pay for itself after about five and a half years and with carbon pricing after just one year. This means that the business case is positive, with a win-win for the climate and the balance sheet. Which means that a larger quantity can be offered to the customer at the same production and transport costs for natural gas. This makes the energy source cleaner and can make more affordable.
Daniel Goebel believes that the company can play a part in making the environment more sustainable. “(…) if they would start for such an oil and gas company, maybe they could have the purpose to make it cleaner, be part of the transformation in the end.” The innovation can also be seen as a step towards developing business for EagleBurgmann, which will lead to new sustainable innovations in the future.
In the future, sustainability will be an increasingly important market factor, and Dr. Bilguun Bayarmagnai told us that with the CobaDGS "[they] are ready for this market."
The CobaDGS seal is a valuable asset for the business of EagleBurgmann. The company consists of the German Freudenberg Group and the Japanese Eagle Industry Group. Looking at the challenges of the future, the innovation will have the effect of generating new customers for the company. Based on more stringent environmental regulations, an increasing number of companies in the oil and gas industry will attempt to reduce their environmental footprint.
Through the development process and the final product, important insights into the production of sustainable seals were gained. The knowledge founded represents a competitive strategy in the end and creates new possibilities for future projects.
Another advantage of the CobaDGS is that the seal is compatible for installations worldwide. “As a result, it’s not limited to gas pipelines only. That solution is applicable wherever you have process gas compressors in the oil and gas industry”, explained Daniel Goebel.
On the customer’s side, a benefit is that the investment for CobaDGS pays for itself after five and a half years and with carbon pricing after one year only. This means that a company doesn’t have to sacrifice sustainability with added costs.
Freudenberg's slogan is: "Innovating together." The newly developed zero-emission CobaDGS seal supports this statement. This results in a positive response, particularly among the younger generation, in whom the issue of sustainability is strongly rooted.
The CobaDGS seal prevents the release of harmful emissions from pipelines, which results in numerous positive consequences. "The production of the emissions is very close to where people live. Therefore, the impact on basic clean air for people who are living in those specific areas is huge. That means indirectly by cutting emissions there is a huge impact on the quality of life for the people living there, based on a cleaner environment,” mentioned Daniel Goebel.
Taking this idea further, the reduction of methane emissions leads to a mitigation of the greenhouse effect. The CobaDGS can help to reduce climatic impacts such as sea level rise, drought periods and extreme weather events. This results in a global improvement of living conditions.
Furthermore, the company works on making the seal a sustainable product itself. The materials the mechanical seal is made of, like all metal parts and silicon carbide, can be reused. Consequently, one can define the operational lifetime of the CobaDGS seal. Daniel Goebel mentioned: “I would say that approximately 95% of that seal is being refurbished and reused. Then it goes back to the client and can be installed again and reused for another 5 to 10 years. So, I think, as a product itself, it's also quite sustainable because of the high portion of reuse which eliminates waste over the whole life cycle of the product use.”
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Bilguun Bayarmagnai, Head of corporate sustainability
Daniel Goebel, Sales director of the aftermarket business development for compressor solutions EMEA
The Freudenberg Group is a German family-owned company headquartered in Weinheim, Germany.
What sets the company apart is the diversity of its product range. Products range from innovations for the oil and gas industry to household products. The company's guiding principle is innovating together, so issues such as CO2 neutrality or circular business models are greatly important to the company, which had a revenue of 11.75 billion euros in 2022.