Virtual Flow Meters and Natural Gas Industry Applications

 In Gas Flowmeters and Water Meters

What is a virtual flow meter (VFM), and how is it used in the natural gas industry?

In this post, we explore the concept of virtual flow meters (VFMs) and consider how they relate to actual flow meters. We also explore their advantages and disadvantages and discuss how the natural gas industry may use them.

virtual flow meters in the natural gas industry

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Remember that an actual flow meter (Coriolis, turbine meter, ultrasonic flow meter, thermal mass flow meter, diaphragm meter, rotary meter, magnetic flowmeter, and others meters) is the gold standard. The virtual flow meter estimates flow with lower accuracy than a physical flow meter. However, VFMs have some real applications in the natural gas industry.

What is a virtual flow meter (VFM)?

Virtual flow meters (VFMs) are a unique technological solution in the natural gas industry. They are mathematical tools that estimate flow rates without physical hardware, using data-driven algorithms powered by artificial intelligence. This innovative approach is particularly beneficial in scenarios where installing meters is challenging.

A VFM relies on existing field instrumentation process data (pressure, temperature, and fluid properties) and mathematical models to inferor estimate flow rates. They apply correlations that relate flow rate to pressure and temperature drop through the system. The inference of gas flow is familiar to traditional meters, as the orifice meter also infers gas flow by measuring the pressure drop over an obstruction.

What does Artificial intelligence (AI) have to do with VFMs?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is pivotal in Virtual Flow Meters (VFMs), enhancing their accuracy and scalability. AI empowers VFMs, making them economical and valuable tools for continuous multiphase flow measurement in the natural gas industry.

3 Advantages of Virtual Flow Meters

  1. VFMs are cost-efficient because they don’t require investments in a meter, eliminating the expense of the meter, its installation, and lifetime maintenance and repairs.
  2. VFMs have rapid deployment. They can be implemented quickly, especially in retrofit situations.
  3. VFMs offer remote monitoring, enabling real-time monitoring without physical access.

3 Applications of Using VFMs in the Natural Gas Industry

Virtual flow meters (VFMs) offer a cost-effective means to estimate multiphase flow rates in the natural gas industry. They provide real-time flow rates based on existing sensor data, making them valuable tools in the natural gas industry. Here are three applications and examples:

  1. Process Control: VFMs regulate processes by monitoring fluid flow within the system. For example, in natural gas pipelines, VFMs help maintain optimal flow rates for efficient energy distribution.
  2. Leak Detection: VFMs identify leaks by monitoring flow rates. Sudden deviations can indicate potential leaks. Detecting leaks in a gas pipeline using VFMs ensures timely maintenance and safety.
  3. Energy Efficiency: VFMs contribute to energy savings by optimizing flow rates and minimizing waste. Monitoring natural gas flow in industrial processes ensures efficient resource utilization.

5 Drawbacks or Limitations of VFMs

Virtual flow meters (VFM) offer many advantages and are making a name for themselves within the natural gas industry. Still, they are not comparable to the reliability of an actual flow meter.

  1. Accuracy: VFMs provide estimates, while actual flow meters offer precise measurements. There is no comparison. VFMs can achieve less than 10% deviation from measured gas flow rates, whereas an actual meter is more reliable. For example, a Coriolis meter may achieve 0.1% to 0.5% accuracy (see table below).
  2. Validation: VFMs require periodic validation against actual flow data. In comparison, a real flow meter is calibrated against a standard to ensure accuracy.
  3. Application Context: A real meter is ideal for critical applications where performance, repeatability, and reproducibility are needed (e.g., custody transfer, industrial processes, etc.). In contrast, the VFM is suitable where cost-effectiveness and flexibility matter (e.g., remote monitoring).
  4. Risk Tolerance: Using an actual meter is less risky due to its established accuracy, while the VFM is more risky, and deviations may occur.
  5. Sensitivity to Contamination: VFMs are unsuitable for applications involving contaminated flow media. Foreign particles or inclusions can interfere with measurement accuracy.
  6. Unsuitable Low Flow Velocity: VFMs are ineffective in very low flow velocity situations. Consider other flow meter types (e.g., thermal mass flow meters) in low flow conditions.
Technology Accuracy Potential
Coriolis Flow Meter 0.1% to 0.5%
Positive Displacement Meters 0.1% to 2.5%
Turbine Flow Meters 0.5% to 1.5%
Ultrasonic Flow Meters 0.7% to 1%
Vortex Flow Meters 0.7% to 2.5%
Thermal Mass Flow Meters 1% to 3%

While VFMs offer advantages in specific scenarios, actual flow meters remain the gold standard for accuracy and accountability. Actual flow meters have a history of performance, robustness, and trustworthiness.

Virtual flow meters (VFMs), on the other hand, estimate flow rates based on existing process data (e.g., pressure, temperature) without physical hardware. They are cost-effective alternatives in specific scenarios where installing physical meters is impractical.

Who manufactures virtual flow meters?

Some key suppliers/manufacturers of VFMs include:

  • Emerson Automation Solutions
  • Haimo Technologies
  • Pietro Fiorentini
  • Schlumberger
  • TechnipFMC

Natural Gas Flow Meter Manufacturers

At Linc Energy Systems, we carry the finest manufacturers of natural gas meters of various types and brands. Let us know if you need assistance with your next project.

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