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Higher margin from the bottom of the barrel

Treating slurry oil in an electrostatic precipitator helps refiners increase production and profits and reduce environmental impact when processing heavier crudes

Victor Scalco
General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems
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Article Summary
A recent meeting between the US Department of Energy and the Prime Minister of India discussed how to preserve cooperation between the two nations. The Foreign Ministry (MEA) asked the Petroleum Ministry to develop ideas and strategies that foster cooperation in the oil and gas sector and indicated that bilateral cooperation is the most fundamental issue pertaining to the field of petroleum and natural gas. The ministry has reached out to the US oil and gas industry to develop a list of areas relating to trade and technology where both sides can pursue their mutual interests.

General Atomics and its Gulftronic Electrostatic Separator (GES) has over 30 years’ experience in the downstream refining sector, with its largest installation in Jamnagar, India at one of the world’s most complex and technical refineries owned by Reliance Industries. With over 150 modules in operation daily, the GES produces over 33 million b/y of clarified slurry oil (CSO) for the oil and gas industry. Oil and gas ranks amongst India’s six core industries and looks for the opportunity to increase production, profit and reduce environmental impacts from refining. It is to this end that the following discussion will provide insight into the synergies around the GES and India’s crude oil processing.

India’s government promotes the country’s refining sector and controls the direction of growth for the Indian oil and gas sector. With just over 27 refineries to date, the growth of India’s refineries has placed it as the world’s fourth largest consumer of crude oil. Despite being a net importer of crude oil, India has become a net exporter of petroleum products by investing in refineries designed for export, particularly in Gujarat. In its 11th five-year plan (2007-2012), India’s government made it a priority to become the global exporting hub of refined products (see Figure 1). Diesel remains the most consumed oil product, accounting for 42% of petroleum product consumption in 2013. India projects an increase in the country’s refining capacity based on its current five-year plan (2012-17) to meet rising domestic demands and export markets.

The refining industry is an important part of India’s economy, and the private sector owns about 38% of the total capacity. At the end of 2013, India had 4.35 million b/d of refining capacity, making it the second largest refiner in Asia after China, according to FGE. The two largest refineries by crude capacity, located in the Jamnagar complex in Gujarat, are world-class export facilities. The Reliance refineries account for 29% of India’s current capacity. These refineries are close to crude oil-
producing regions in the Middle East, which allows them to take advantage of lower transportation costs.

The government of India projects an increase in the country’s refining capacity to 6.3 million b/d by 2017 based on its current five-year plan to meet rising domestic demand and export markets, although this projection hinges on all proposed projects becoming operational. Some refinery projects have faced delays in the past few years, and there is now greater competition within Asia from countries such as China which has built large refineries able to process more complex crude oil types. Two refineries, Paradip in Odisha and Cuddalore in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, are scheduled to be operational by 2015, adding 420 000 b/d of capacity. Even more critical is the effort of Indian refiners who have plans to upgrade several existing refineries to produce higher quality auto fuels to comply with more stringent specifications for vehicle fuel standards. These specifications will require greater concentration on processing heavier crudes and require a more technical approach in bottom of the barrel upgrading. Refineries have proposed several expansions to existing facilities and a few new refineries by 2020 to account for impending growth.

Even with the attention of the government and increased investment, the oil and gas industry of India cannot prosper without increased profit in the refining sector. There have been concerns about refining margins and the ability to increase profits from the bottom of the barrel.

Across the globe, the oil and gas industry is faced with shrinking margins and the need to increase profits. As the focus turns to processing heavier crudes, efforts at recovering value from the bottom of the barrel become more significant. Processing residual oils and recovering valuable hydrocarbons from upgrading slurry or main column bottoms (MCB) provides a challenge without the proper equipment in place. By increasing the value of residual slurries and decant oil, new markets can be supplied by the Indian refiner who opens the opportunity for millions in additional profit and savings.

With over 27 refineries in India there are only 13 currently using MCB filtration technology to remove fines and increase the clarity of their CSO.

Slurry oil yields and properties
Currently there are 17 fluidised catalytic cracking units (FCC) units, five of which are residual fluidised catalytic cracking units (RFCC), operating in India. Slurry oil yields from FCC and RFCC are a function of the severity of the operation and are generally inversely proportional to such factors as catalyst activity, temperature, catalyst to oil ratio, and so on, and directly proportional to the nitrogen, sulphur and asphaltene (or, alternatively, vacuum bottoms) content of the FCC/RFCC feed. Slurry oil yields ranging from about 1-2 vol% for paraffinic feeds to as much as 15 vol% on RFCC feeds have been observed. In the average FCC, this could amount to as much as 15000 b/d of MCB.

Particle size distribution ranges from a variety of slurry oils are shown in Table 1. Note that for these slurry oils, over 90% of the particles range in size from 0-25 microns in diameter. This means that very large holding tanks and long holding times are required to meet higher value product specifications. Some relief is obtained with the use of settling aids in this service. However, sludge from slurry oil holding tanks has been listed as a hazardous waste by the EPA, so frequent cleaning of these tanks becomes expensive.

Clarified slurry oil applications and markets
Worldwide FCC slurry oil (MCB) production is estimated to be about 750000 b/d. North America represents about 45% and Europe and Asia Pacific 42% of the total production.

Possible applications for slurry oil are:
• Recycle it to extinction in the FCC
• Charge it to a coker
• Use it as fuel in the refinery
• Market it as fuel oil blending stock
• Market it as carbon black feedstock or as a component of anode grade or needle coke feedstock manufacture
• Further refine it to higher value fuel products in hydroprocessing.
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