Natural gas is one of the main energy sources in Bolivia and Peru. The two countries lacked measurement capacity for characterizing natural gas, which is important for the national supply and trade. As a result, it was not possible to guarantee the national traceability of measurements and the results of measurements of volumes and energetic values were not reliable. This created an obstacle for the regional integration with peer institutes and organizations of gas mining and distribution infrastructures. Based on the respective national strategies, national reference laboratories should be capable of determining the correct parameters of this energy source.
Towards a Solution
Management and control of natural gas resources are essential for the composition of the energy mix of a country. The project concept was based on a request from the National Metrology Institutes (NMIs) of Peru and Bolivia to improve their capacities to measure quantity and quality of natural gas. The NMIs of Mexico and Brazil offered to support the project through knowledge sharing and technical assistance in a South-South cooperation initiative.
The NMIs are responsible for providing precise and comparable measurements. In practice, this is achieved through an agreement on a globally accepted reference system, the International System of Units (SI), which defines the seven physical quantities as fundamental benchmarks. For natural gas this applies to the physical measurement of the volume of gas flow and the chemical measurement of energetic value. Peru and Bolivia wished to establish these capacities in their laboratories. The NMIs of Brazil and Mexico contributed with technical assistance, because they already had laboratories at an internationally recognized level and used the techniques and equipment that Peru and Bolivia would use.
To obtain comparable and recognized measurement values, there is a need for cooperation among different partners. This includes synchronizing measurement methods, supported by inter-laboratory comparisons. Laboratories in different countries measure a sample and compare results to determine the degree of equivalence. The desired result are reliable and comparable measurements – a prerequisite for transborder and domestic trade.
In a first phase, the measurement capacities for Peru and Bolivia were adopted, and staff were coached by the NMIs of Mexico and Brazil to respond to international criteria, so that the NMI of the beneficiary countries could subsequently provide a reliable national measurement service of flow and composition of natural gas to users.
The regional relevance of the harmonization and collaboration in the field of natural gas motivated Colombia, Chile and Argentina to share their needs and capacities with the project partners. Therefore, in the second phase, Argentina became involved as a coach for technical assistance, together with Mexico and Brazil in building the capacities of the laboratory staff throughout the region. Additionally, the Argentine NMI started as reference laboratory for the preparation of an inter-laboratory comparison among the participating labs. The comparison was concluded after the formal end of the project with funds from the participating NMIs. Colombia and Chile assisted the training and consultancy by their own means, and began to develop national plans to creating the know-how and technology to manage this energy resource on their own. The NMIs of Peru and Bolivia now operate as national authorities with their own laboratories that they continue to upgrade.
The project was highly successful as a result of the strong motivation of the partner institutes. It opened a platform for coordination and helped to strengthen the relationships and knowledge sharing between these institutes, which led to the establishment of continuous links between the countries. The participants appreciated learning from each other as equals through the cooperation with other institutes that face or faced similar challenges. Since all these countries and their institutes are also part of a regional organization, Sistema Interamericano de Metrología [Inter-American System of Metrology] (SIM), the project benefits are spread in the region.
The international acceptance of measurement results is a very important component of the quality systems that underpin commercial activities worldwide. Laboratory capacity provides the domestic market with exact measurements and enables customers to optimize their activities in the gas sector. It also allows to relate with the metrological community in the field of gas measurement and thereby to earn and maintain international recognition of their measurement capabilities. This recognition is based on, inter alia, continuous collaboration between peer institutes. Inter-laboratory comparisons and mutual reviews of quality systems and technical skills, as well as exchanges among technical staff are elements of sustainability. Through SIM, the countries of the region are reaching a homogeneous level of gas measurement that allows to consolidate the NMIs in the global context of metrology.