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CP valves for small pocket high-speed

compressors
Next-generation valve technology for high-speed compressors
Bernhard Spiegl, Markus Testori and Gunther Machu Hoerbiger Compression Technology

he trend towards high compressor speed is


continuing in almost all compressor market
segments. In the last 20 years, significant
research was undertaken to achieve sufficient
valve lifetime in these demanding applications.
New polymer materials and spring technologies,
together with better valve simulation, helped to
make the plate-type compressor valve (Hoerbiger
CT valve) the workhorse in the natural gas
industry, with acceptable reliability in the highspeed segment. Nevertheless, there existed room
for improvement in applications with compressor speeds higher than 1200 rpm, especially with
additional issues such as over-lubrication, dirt
and frequent liquid slugs.
A newly developed valve family (CPs valves)
applies a unique design concept that simultaneously applies significant improvement in
reliability, efficiency and robustness, as recent
field testing has proved. The use of innovative
materials and processing technology allows the
design concept of a profiled valve plate,
thereby combining the advantages of ring valves
and plate valves. The high opening impact
speeds inherent with demanding applications
are handled by a new springing and damping
concept.
More than 1000 CPs valves are running
successfully in former troublemaker applications globally, with impressive results in
reliability and energy saving. In addition, the
high efficiency of the valve concept allows the
change of design guidelines for compressor
cylinders and opens the door for new, innovative
compressor concepts.

Introduction
Natural gas is becoming more and more important to satisfy the increasing energy consumption

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of the world. The demand for gas gathering, gas


transport and gas storage compression equipment is increasing rapidly.
Most existing gas fields suffer from decreasing
gas pressure, thereby further increasing the need
for efficient gas compression to boost the gas
pressure to the needed pressure levels of the
pipelines.
In order to keep investment cost down, gas
field and pipeline operators press for increased
compressor speed. If increased compressor
speed is not matched with appropriate valve
technology, the end user could be faced with
reduced compressor efficiency and reliability.
Standard plate valve technologies had reached
their physical limits.
High-speed compressors in natural gas are still
seen as critical with regard to valve lifetime reliability, and sufficient lifetime is only achieved by
sacrificing valve efficiency.
At the 5th EFRC conference in 2007 in
Prague,1 a new valve concept with a high number
of narrow individual valve rings with synchronised valve opening motion was presented. This
valve is running successfully in critical applications and shows that the applied ideas work out.
The progress in material science, material
processing and precision machining opens the
door for even more advanced technical solutions,
which will be outlined in this paper.
Modern valve development is a combination of
the latest knowledge in valve design, valve
motion simulation, sealing material technology
and valve spring technology. In addition, during
development, the known critical load situations
in the specific applications need to be taken into
account. In the case of North American natural
gas compression, with its high-speed compressors and the increasing gas production in so

October 2010 1

Figure 1 Typical failure modes of standard valve plates


in high speed compressors

called unconventional gas fields, over-lubrication and frequent liquid slugs need to be taken
into account during the design phase.
Thereby, new valve concepts should be
discussed in respect of their ability to handle:
Valve opening impact
Over-lubrication and liquids
Valve closing impact
Differential pressure resistance
Valve efficiency .
In the reciprocating compressor business, a
compressor speed higher than 1200 is seen as a
high-speed compressor. In this paper, special
emphasis is given to the valve diameter range
from 50 to 100 mm the majority of high-speed
compressors range in this valve diameter size.

Limitation of existing valve designs


Typical valves used in the high-speed market are
narrowly spaced plate valves (Hoerbiger R-Type
valves, CT valves and similar designs). Beside
some new installations, almost no ring valves
found their way in this application.
Lately, field returns from demanding applications indicated that the predominant failure
mode is impact-initiated valve plate breakage
from high-impact loads during opening or closing. In most cases, the failure goes hand in hand

2 October 2010

with a failure of the spring element either coil


springs or spring plates or was initiated by a
failed spring element.
Figure 1 shows pictures of typical failure
modes that can be found with standard technology in high-speed compression. Valve plate
breakage from high opening impact speed is, in
most cases, a combination of high compressor
speed and oil sticktion on the seat (see Figure 3).
Oil sticktion itself is a function of oil quantity,
viscosity and seat geometry.1 Very often, the oil
sticktion situation becomes critical after
improper seat repair when the seat land geometry is changed.
Another reason for opening impact failures is
liquids going through the compressor. The
mechanism of liquids passing compressor valves
cannot be modelled entirely. Significantly higher
impact speeds need to be assumed.1 High quantities of liquids could also lead to seat and guard
breakage and damages on the compressor.
The component of the valve suffering most
under continuous high opening impact speeds
are the spring elements of the valve. In the case
of spring plates, we have to differentiate between
three failure modes (see Figure 1):
Fatigue breakage caused by bending stresses
(supported by surface defects)
Overstressing in critical areas due to plate flattening during guard impact
Impact fatigue of moving parts of spring plate
by hitting the steel guard.
The first two failure modes can be solved by
suitable engineering. The third mode is a designinherent problem of valves with spring plates.
Continuous steel-to-steel impact with speeds
higher than 4 m/s will lead to local material
fatigue.
In the case of coil springs, the effect of high
opening impact speeds is different. A properly
designed coil spring, using the latest principles
of spring design and spring wire technology, can
handle impact speeds up 3-4 m/s without overstressing or coil contact (speeds measured from
field installations). With higher impact velocities, coil contact occurs, leading to wire thinning
and wire breakage (see Figure 2). Multiple
higher impact speeds lead to plastic deformation
in the spring wire and length reduction.1 The
loss of spring load will influence valve closing
behaviour significantly.
Failure from high valve closing impact speed is

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Figure 3 p-t traces at two different times laid onto each


other reveal a sharp pressure rise (grey curve) at the
discharge valve opening hinting at oil sticktion1
Figure 2 Motion of individual coils over time of a spring
during opening event of a valve. Coil contact due to
improper design

another typical failure mode to be found in highspeed compressor valves. High closing impact
speeds originate typically from improper springing, spring failures or the combination of step
pressure rise rates in conjunction with overlubrication. Beside the general material impact
resistance, the seat geometry can also lead to
preliminary failures. Improperly serviced seat
land with sharp edges can initiate cracks in
non-metallic valve plates, leading to plate breakages starting at the seat lands.
In general, the spring plates have a competitive advantage over coil springs in regard to
preventing high closing impact speeds. The
non-linear springing characteristic of spring
plates helps to separate the sealing element from
the guard, even before the gas flow changes
direction and builds up a high differential leading to high acceleration.

rings with motion synchronisation is to combine


the individual rings and synchronising plate to
one moving part.
A narrowly spaced valve plate, with profiled
seat lands, is an old dream of every valve engineer looking at the flow deflection in a plate-type
valve. The main problem why this concept was
never applied is the leakage and wear situation
resulting from the thermal behaviour of standard non-metallic materials.
High-precision machining equipment is
needed to achieve a good sealing solution. In
difference to ring valves, sealing is more difficult
due to the connecting webs hindering the ring
segments to tilt. In addition, a material is needed
with a thermal expansion of steel to keep the
tight tolerances.
In the last years, considerable progress was
made in the area of fibre-reinforced non-metallic
materials.3 A proprietary material (Hoerbiger
HP) was designed specifically for valve applications, initiating a new class of designed
materials for valve applications, the 3X

New valve concept (CPs)

The new valve concept is based on a fundamental investigation of the field failures, latest
simulation know-how and research on the technical possibilities of advanced designed to
application non-metallics.
The starting point was the development work
done for the Hoerbiger CM1 valve introduced in
2007. Fundamental research led to a new understanding of valve ring motion, oil sticktion and
valve efficiency. At that time, the conclusion was
that a high-performance ring valve with a high
number of rings can only work reliably if the
ring motion is synchronised (see Figure 4).
The logical extension of a concept of multiple

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Figure 4 CM valve with synchronising plate published at


5th EFRC Conference in 20071

October 2010 3

there is much more behind this choice. The


concept will be discussed in respect to the typical load situation occurring in high-speed
compressors:

Handling high opening impact speeds


As mentioned above, critical opening impact
speeds are supported by high compressor speed,
over-lubrication, liquids and seat geometry. The
allowable levels are defined by the impact resistance of the sealing and springing element.
Springing element

Figure 5 New valve concept for high-speed compressors


CPs. The green cushion plate is fixed on the guard side
and does not move

materials. With the help of tailored materials, it


is possible to adjust the thermal expansion to
certain levels.
The combination of high-precision machining
and non-metallics having the thermal expansion
of steel finally allowed for the breakthrough of
making a profiled valve plate. First, test installations with profiled valve plates were done in
2005 on PET compressors with high success.4 At
that time, the high cost of materials and differential pressure limitations did not allow the
application in high-pressure installations.
In order to make this technology applicable for
the high-speed market, the cost and differential
pressure resistance needed to be improved by a
new material and production technique.
With this new valve concept, not only the efficiency aspect is addressed. Even more emphasis
is given to reliability with respect to the typical
failure modes addressed above.
On first glance, the introduction of profiled
valve plates and seat lands originates purely
from a flow and valve efficiency standpoint, but

4 October 2010

In the new concept, an advanced technology of


spring plates is applied. Surface and heat treatment
are optimised to provide (in theory) infinite lifetime
independent of impact speed. This was achieved
by running full 3D FEM calculations of the spring
plate (including curvature). As a result, even if
the plate is compressed completely, no excessive
stresses violating the fatigue limit occur.
Furthermore, the use of the cushion plate
prevents a steel-to-steel contact of the moving
parts of the spring plate with the guard, thereby
eliminating another prominent failure mode of
existing valve designs.
Valve plate material

The valve plate is produced in a new and innovative way using a high-impact-resistant tailored
material (see Figure 8). All applied measures
lead to a much higher impact resistance than
PEEK materials.
Seat geometry and oil sticktion

Profiled seat lands exhibit lower oil sticktion


than standard seat lands due to the line contact
versus area contact situation. In the case of
profiled valve plates, another effect is helpful in
separating the valve plate from the seat: on the
micro scale, a profiled valve plate never fits
perfectly to the seat. A pressure differential of ~1
to 3 bar is needed to achieve a good sealing. This
slight initial preload helps to separate the plate
from the seat in the initial phase of valve opening and significantly reduces oil sticktion and
delayed opening.
Resistance to liquids

The mechanical strength of the valve plate was


optimised to provide superior robustness against
extra loads like liquid slugs. This fact in

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Figure 6 Effective flow area of new valve (CPs) compared


to typical plate valve (R-type)

combination with the optimized spring plate


(which by its unique design simply cannot be
overstressed) leads to a very reliable solution
especially in harsh environments.
Efficiency and opening impact:

Another major development goal was to significantly improve the valve efficiency to be able to
cope with future requirements. The effective flow
area of the CPs valve is typically 30 to 60%
larger than standard plate type valves (see
Figures 4 and 7).
The effect of valve efficiency on opening
impact speed was neglected for a long time.
Since advanced simulation models are available,
taking the instationary flow in the cylinder into
account, it can be seen that the pressure reduction in the initial phase of the valve opening
event plays an important role in the calculation
of the opening impact speed. Better valve efficiency leads to reduced impact speeds.2

Figure 7 Left: Optimised flow between contoured seat


lands and profiled valve plate; right: normalised valve
efficiency of different valve concepts depending on
valve lift. The CPs valve demonstrates the efficiency of a
profiled valve plate

not only provide outstanding flow performance,


they also have a significant effect on the tolerance to high closing impact speeds. The absence
of sharp seat lands (typically leading to local
crack initiation) allow up to two time higher
closing speeds compared to plate-type valves.
Valve plate material

Beside the seat geometry and springing concept,


the unique designed to application properties
of the sealing element material itself provide
significantly better reliability against high closing impact speed. Figure 8 shows the runtime of

Handling high closing impact speeds

The main design element to reduce high closing


impact is the spring plate design. To withstand
high-impact speeds is a question of seat geometry and valve plate material.
Springing element

The non-linear springing characteristic of the


spring plate starts the valve closing event before
the flow direction changes. This reduces the
probability of late valve closure even under high
lube rates.
Seat geometry

The contoured seat land and profiled valve plates

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Figure 8 Lifetime tester for accelerated life time testing


of valve plate materials. Lifetime comparison between
standard PEEK GF30 (Hoerbiger PK) and newly
developed material grade Hoerbiger HTCX3

October 2010 5

Figure 9 p-t trace of PET compressor, red curve with


original plate valves, green with new profiled valve plate
valve

Figure 10 p-V diagram simulation for high-speed


compressor in gas gathering comparison between
standard plate valve and new valve concept (CPs)

the used new material (HTCX) against standard


PEEK GF30 in our valve lifetime tester. The
tailored material achieves up to fives times
higher lifetime.

High differential pressure resistance is


achieved by innovative moulding, post-heat
treatment and finishing processes. The control
over the fibre orientation during the injection
moulding process provides a perfect fibre structure and fatigue strength in critical areas. In
addition, a high amount of 3D-fibre reinforcement increases the shear strength of the
polymeric material and thereby leads to high
differential pressure resistance. Figure 11 shows
a CPs valve running with more than 250 bar
differential pressure.

Valve efficiency and differential pressure


resistance
Figures 7, 9 and 10 demonstrate the outstanding
levels of efficiency achievable with narrowly
spaced profiled valve plates. Compared to the
first-type series (CP), the efficiency level at low
lift was further increased with the latest valve
version for the small sizes (CPs, s stands for
small diameters).
In a lift range of 2 mm, the valve reaches its
maximum flow area and a normalised efficiency
of 25% is reached. This means that 25% of the
available valve pocket area is used as effective
flow area! If highest efficiency is not needed, the
lift can be significantly reduced, while still
retaining a similar flow area as a plate valve (see
Figure 6), hence further increasing the lifetime.
Figure 9 shows the p-t measurement of a PET
compressor before and after the installation of
the new valves. The valve losses went down by
50% on average over all compression stages.
In Figure 10, a p-V diagram simulation of a
typical high-speed compressor in gas gathering
with standard valve equipment (90CT) is shown.
In order to achieve sufficient lifetime, the valve
lift of standard valves needs to be reduced to
1.2 mm. The new valve concept allows the utilisation of the full lift potential, leading to
significantly reduced valve losses (>60%) with
increased robustness and reliability.

6 October 2010

Field experience
Selection of field test

The new valve concept has been installed in the


field for three years. In the selection of the field
installations, emphasis was given on critical
applications where insufficient valve lifetime or
high energy consumption was reported.
Some of the installations in the field were done
together with the OEM, others were installed by
the end user himself.
In more than 40 different and demanding
installations, over 1000 valves are running
successfully. The applications cover natural gas
(gathering and storage), nitrogen, air reinjection,
high-pressure ethylene (see Figure 11), CNG, CO2
+ H2S In some of the installations, the lifetime
of the standard valve in use before was lower
than 10 days.

Valve inspection during field test


Almost all of the installed valves are working in
critical installations. Beside a small problem

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Figure 11 High-pressure CPs valve for ethylene. Running


since 2009

with the first prototype valves in one installation,


all of the valves are working successfully
making it difficult to inspect the running valves
because the user is so satisfied he wants to keep
them going.
Figure 12 shows pictures of a valve inspection
after 5000 hours of operation in a demanding
gas gathering installation in Canada. All the
parts are in perfect condition. There are no indications of wear on seat, guards and valve plates.
The high amount of lubrication can be seen on
the valve parts. High oil sticktion can be
assumed. Valves were reinstalled after inspection and will stay in operation until 16 000
hours are reached.

Summary and outlook


The trend towards higher compressor speeds is
still ongoing. Higher compressor speed means
better equipment utilisation, higher throughput,
lower footprint, flexible installation and altogether lower investment cost.
Natural gas is becoming more and more
important in safeguarding the energy hunger of
the world. The increasing production of gas from
so-called unconventional gas resources further
boosts the demand for more compression

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Figure 12 Valve inspection of a 90 CPs valve after 5000


hours of operation in demanding gas gathering
installation in Canada

equipment in the gas fields. In particular, the


latest boom in shale gas and coal bed methane
causes increased market need for small-sized,
high-speed compressors.
In many cases, operators are not satisfied with
the valve reliability and efficiency of todays
standard valve equipment. In order get better
reliability, which is especially important in
remote locations, the valve efficiency is often
sacrificed by valve lift reduction, leading to high
energy consumption.
It is not only the high compressor speed causing challenges for the valve designer. It is the
combination of high speed and the typical way of
operation, with over-lubrication and the extra
loads inherent with the application itself, like
frequent liquid slugs. A new valve concept needs
to be judged in respect to how it handles the
complex load spectrum.
A new valve design was presented based on
the latest know-how in valve design and material
science. The main feature is a narrow-spaced
profiled valve plate, providing outstanding flow
performance and allowing significantly higher
impact speeds. The critical valve springing situation is solved by using a newly designed spring
plate technology in combination with a non-

October 2010 7

metallic cushion plate that damps the impact on


the valve guard. The profiled valve plate is
produced in a unique process in order to ensure
highest impact resistance and a thermal expansion of steel. The used material was tailored for
the application and provides multiple impact
resistance compared to todays standard valve
materials.
The valve has been running successfully in
field tests for three years. In the selection of field
tests, emphasis was given to critical and
demanding applications where standard valves
reach their physical limits. In all cases, the valve
lifetime problems could be solved. Inspection of
the running valves revealed no indications of
wear on seat, guards or sealing elements.
The fundamental research in materials, flow,
oil sticktion and latest spring technology has
been transferred to a very innovative new product (Hoerbiger CPs valve). This product will
significantly increase the reliability levels of
high-speed compressors in all markets. The
concept provides further potential for the next
step in compressor speed without compromising
overall compressor efficiency.
Due to the impressive performance of the
valve concept, we are encouraged to extend the
underlying design principles to large diameters
and concentric valves. In addition, the high

8 October 2010

efficiency of the valve concept allows for a


change in design guidelines for compressor
cylinders and opens the door for new, innovative
compressor concepts.
References
1 Spiegl B, Machu G, Steinrueck P, The role of improved valve
technology in the utilization of natural gas resources, 5th EFRC
Conference, Prague, 2007.
2 Machu G, Pulsationen im Verdichtungsraum eine potentielle
Schadensursache?, Industriepumpen + Kompressoren 2, 2005,
70-73.
3 Spiegl B, Kriechbaum T, Steinrueck P, Material Design for Valve
Applications, 6th EFRC Conference, Duesseldorf, 2008.
4 Spiegl B, Machu G, Steinrueck P, New Technologies for Efficiency
Improvements in PET Air Compressors, 6th EFRC Conference,
Duesseldorf, 2008.

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