What Are Multiphase and Virtual Flow Meters

A flowmeter (or a flow sensor) is type of flow instrument that is used to indicate the amount of liquid, gas, or vapor moving through a pipe or conduit by measuring linear, non-linear, mass, or volumetric flow rates in industrial processes. There are many different types of flowmeters that can be utilized depending on the nature of the application. 

However, oil and gas flow measurement is not a simple process. Multiphase and virtual flow metering technologies are designed to help. The fluid being measured may be a mixture of oil, gas – wet and dry, condensate and water, and therefore requires specialized technology to measure such a multiphase condition. The oil and gas production fields both onshore as well as offshore require specialized solutions to accurately measure the oil and gas production. Accurate measurement is an important part of the information systems used for production allocation and production accounting as well as flow control. Different sensing technologies are required depending on such factors as pressure and temperature, the density and composition of the fluid, and the mass/volume fractions of oil, gas, and water, as well as the condition of the oil that is being produced. 

Multi-Phase Flow Meters 

Multiphase Flow Meters (MPFM) are basically multi-sensorial systems, so that means typically 3 or more sensors that are integrated into a system using a flow computer and other kinds of software. They’re de-signed to measure oil, gas, water, and condensation, in one mixture. The term MPFM is used to define also the metering of wet gas streams (i.e. multiphase flow where the gas content is very high). Multiphase streams are typical of the Oil & Gas fields, since the producing wells normally generate a mixture of liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons with a variable quantity of water. Knowing single rates of gas liquid and water is crucial for the production industry in order to monitor the reservoir, to improve the well performance, and to optimize the production. The traditional solution is represented by the test separators, large vessels where the different phases are divided and then measured through standard singlephase techniques. However, MPFM are becoming more and more appealing to the O&G Upstream industry, proving as a valuable alternative to the test separators. 

Virtual Flow Meters 

Virtual Flow Meters are basically software-based solutions, which could be hydrodynamic, or data-driven. In other words, say that either can be first principal models or using artificial intelligence and machine learning. These systems and solutions are designed for upstream oil and gas only. A virtual flow meter is a mathematical model that uses process conditions to estimate flow rates instead of using a physical meter. Virtual flow metering is a special case of a broader class; “Virtual Sensors”. In order to create and calibrate a virtual flow meter you do indeed need flow but only for a while. Once calibrated, the virtual flow meter can then just use process conditions to make its estimates. Virtual flow meters do need to be maintained, because the wells change and the reservoir depletes over time. In mathematics this is called a “non-stationary process”, a process that changes over time.

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