Complex thermodynamics combined with a goal to support rural communities led to a prestigious engineering award for RETTEW.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Council of Engineering Companies hosted its annual Diamond Awards Gala this week, and RETTEW was honored with a Diamond Award of Excellence for our Natural Gas Virtual Pipeline Terminal Design project.

Winning projects are selected based on their uniqueness, future value to the engineering profession, sustainable development considerations, and complexity.

In rural Pennsylvania, businesses have limited access to the stable prices and supply of the state’s plentiful natural gas. These areas are home to many thriving companies spanning a variety of industries. But without utility-owned and installed underground pipeline infrastructure, these companies must rely on other, more expensive forms of fuel to power their operations.

Compass Natural Gas Partners and RETTEW set out to provide Pennsylvania natural gas to Pennsylvania customers – especially those without easy access to the affordable resource.

Working with RETTEW as design engineer and construction manager, Compass created the state’s first virtual pipeline. By building a natural gas terminal, Compass accesses the available natural gas from existing underground pipelines, refines it, compresses it, and then transports it in specialized trucks to businesses. These companies then use the compressed natural gas to fuel their operations.

Compass’ terminal includes a natural gas refining system, compressor station, and dock for trucks to access the transportable gas. The site also has compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel pumps, as Compass’ fleet of delivery vehicles runs on the same CNG it supplies to customers. The site also includes a small power plant, which uses the natural gas to provide electricity for its operations. The terminal can access and deliver as much as 2 billion cubic feet of CNG per month.

The virtual pipeline terminal is not only the first of its kind in the state, it’s the second largest in the Northeast and one of only a few in the country. Working with varying manufacturers of the components, RETTEW engineered a process system. Integrating the power and benefits of the many different systems (electrical, thermodynamic, fuel delivery) helped redefine what was previously a more linear fuel utility.

The engineering, planning, and design of this virtual pipeline terminal was incredibly complex. A standard natural gas pipeline operates with a pressure per square inch of between 10 and 50 psi. The pipes in and above the ground at Compass’ station operate at between 4,000 and 5,000 psi, more than 100 times higher. RETTEW engineers accounted for special thermodynamic considerations for the refining, compressing, and transporting of the CNG, including very specific equipment needs and design techniques.

For example, the heat generated during the compression process is intense, and if the gas is not continuously chilled, it can damage and ultimately rupture the piping and pressure vessels on the CNG tankers. Similarly, as the gas flows through the piping and various regulators and safety devices, the intense pressure changes can cause the gas to freeze, resulting in flammable ice and hazards for operating personnel. RETTEW’s process designs accounted for these special needs and considerations, using ingenuity to create a system that is safe, operational, and successful.

Many companies have benefitted from access to this natural gas, some reporting as much as a 50 percent savings compared to previous use of other fuels to power operations. Those saved funds make more budget available to invest back into companies, support local charities, and provide financial security for employees and their families. Using CNG as a fuel is also a much cleaner and sustainable option for organizations.

RETTEW regularly digs in to complex engineering such as this project, whether in renewable energy, manufacturing businesses, private development, or transportation infrastructure.

“Our engineers are at the forefront of many industry developments,” Mark Lauriello, RETTEW President and CEO, said. “This award recognizes the visionary thinking RETTEW has become known for.”