Energy & Infrastructure

Midstream 101: Fractionation

Staff Reports
Harrison Hub facility in rural Ohio has a fractionation capacity of 135,000 barrels per day.

Harrison Hub facility in rural Ohio has a fractionation capacity of 135,000 barrels per day.

When I hear the word fraction, my mind sees a picture of a pepperoni pizza with two slices missing. You know, the one your third grade teacher showed you while teaching you fractions.

“If you have 8 slices of pizza and your little brother eats two, what fraction of the pizza did your little brother eat?” (The little pipsqueak ate a ¼ of the pizza for those of you scoring at home)

To explain fractionation, let’s leave your little brother and his greasy hands out of it.

Recently we discussed natural gas processing, where the natural gas liquids, or NGLs, and water are stripped from the gas stream leaving only the pipeline quality natural gas behind. It’s that pure gas that eventually flows to the oven in your little brother’s house where he can now make his own pizza and stop stealing yours. (Ok seriously, that’s the last mention of your thieving brother.)

As for the NGLs that are left behind after processing, they must be broken down to their base components to be usable. So, piece by piece (or fraction by fraction) the NGLs are broken down in a process called fractionation.

Fractionation is the process of boiling off the different hydrocarbons one by one. Each hydrocarbon has a different boiling point so as the temperature increases, the components separate.

First, NGLs go through the deethanizer which separates the ethane. Then, the depropanizer which removes the propane. Finally, the debutanizer that removes the butane. Clearly your little brother came up with these creative names.

Anyway, the fractionation process provides usable NGLs that have a variety of purposes from making fuel and plastics to rubber and refrigerants.

So now that you know the basics of fractionation, why not stop by your little brother’s house on the way home, remind him how smart you are and give him a noogie until he agrees to cook you a pizza.