The measure of success
Elster-Instromet was formed in 2005 as the industrial gas metering branch of the Luxembourg-based Elster Group that arose from the former Ruhrgas-Industries holding.
Elster Group is a world leader in Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) and integrated metering and utilisation solutions to the gas, water and electricity sectors. The group incorporates companies that have been synonymous with high quality, innovative gas measuring and regulating for more than 150 years, its business competently meets the needs of the global gas industry.
Dr. Joachim Kastner, director of Elster- Instromet’s Gas Quality division, elaborates on the activities of the daughter company: “Elster-Instromet is specialised in the design and production of innovative gas measuring and regulating devices for gas transmission and distribution. Our product portfolio includes turnkey, integrated metering solutions, energy measuring systems, ultrasonic metering, and turbine, rotary and diaphragm metering. We also have gas regulators for low, medium and high pressure. Besides that, we have electronic volume correctors, station flow computers and supervisory systems.
“In the Gas Quality division, we have two measuring systems; one is the EnCal 3000, which is a gas chromatograph using MEMS technology to provide a detailed gas component analysis, and the second is a sensor system called gas-lab Q1. This is based on infrared and heat conductivity technology, and provides a flameless real-time analysis of the major gas parameters, such as calorific value, density, Wobbe index and methane number.”
Elster-Instromet’s target markets are everywhere that energy in the form of natural gas is required or produced. “The US and European markets are fairly stable, in Eastern European countries we have had growth, and the Middle East, China and India are very strong,” Joachim reveals. “Gas Quality metering is, in general, a smaller business than volume metering but it has bigger worldwide growth potential due to the international, growing gas trade. Our main clients are in gas production, transmission and distribution as well as big gas consumers. We work closely with our key accounts, especially in the application of gas quality metering as they have their own laboratories and highly specialised staff, so we participate in a creative, interactive exchange to keep the customer needs in focus.”
The company’s wide-ranging assortment of products is an obvious asset and Elster- Instromet boasts a high level of technical knowledge that benefits customers. “Our strength is our focus on Integrated Metering Solutions for total energy measurement – this is our core business, without being limited to one specific technology, so we have a big portfolio,” Joachim observes. “We know what it takes to have accurate and reliable measurements, with low risks and uncertainty. Elster can cover customer requirements from small metering projects to big gas stations, and gas quality is a significant component of the total energy measurement competence of Elster-Instromet.”
Explaining what the two gas quality measurement equipments do, Joachim adds: “Our gas chromatograph is based on MEMS (micro electrical mechanical systems) technology, and with this we achieve high repeatability and linearity. We also have the option to develop a wide range of extended analysis applications besides energy metering. So we have developed new and sophisticated features in combination with energy measurement, like odorant H2S and hydrocarbon dew point analysis. With our real-time gas analyser, gas-lab Q1, we recently increased the signal dynamics. Our current R&D is focused on an improved algorithm to cover a wider range of natural gas types with a single calibration, and we’re also working on algorithms to measure alternative fuels such as biogas. These developments increase the application range and can reduce the investment and operational costs of the customer by combining several measurement applications.”
Various factors have been identified as drivers for the gas quality metering business development. Expanding international gas trade, especially by LNG-transportation, results in a wider spread of gas qualities worldwide. Joachim explains: “Liberalisation comes into play; in some countries we’re still in the process of liberalisation and unbundling, and this has resulted in more trade partners, interfaces and measurement of the gas and its quality. Within this liberalisation coming from an oligopoly market with high technical know-how and staff levels, we’re moving towards smaller trading companies with less know-how and staff, which means we need easier to operate gas quality metering devices – so the trend slowly extends to more rugged and ‘plug and play’ quality metering devices.
“Another driver for the gas metering business is the long term growth of energy prices, which increases also the value of measurement and gas quality metering. Environmental requirements are also key drivers. There’s a trend towards higher energy efficiency and this requires more measurement and control, especially real-time measurement and control, to optimise processes and also profits. For example, with gas power plant turbines, if you have real-time measurement you are better able to control turbines and get a better trade-off between energy efficiency, mechanical stress and pollution.
“There is a general tendency towards more process measurement due to environmental requirements becoming increasingly important and we’re getting more questions from customers about whether our gas quality metering devices also ascertain carbon dioxide emissions potential.”
In terms of the company’s recent activities, Elster-Instromet was chosen by the Netherlands Meteorology Institute (NMI) as sole supplier for all reference flow meters and gas chromatographs for the new Euro Loop project in Rotterdam. This is a new world-class flow test and calibration facility, and the agreement is testament to the quality of its turbine and ultra sonic meters.
As the global recession continues, Joachim reveals that Elster-Instromet is in the fortunate position of being able to offset quieter areas of the business with more successful parts so that, on balance, the company remains profitable. “In the current economic climate we see two developments; the downstream part of the business especially utilisation is below target for the first quarter of the year but we have substantial growth in Asia and the Middle East, particularly in the upstream part of the business where we have bigger projects with much longer timeframes.”
Owing to this ability to counter negative trends, Joachim is optimistic about Elster-Instromet’s future: “In five years we see ourselves to be further strengthened in leading the world in metering technology and expect to establish Elster-Instromet as producing a wider range of high-end solutions, especially for gas quality metering applications for the future gas industry. In the Gas Quality division, we’ll develop further applications that are focused on the customers needs and particularly dedicated to sustainability and environmental impact.”
Services Integrated gas measurement solutions