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Designing deepcut vacuum units that really work

Every barrel of vacuum gas oil (VGO) you can save from being reduced to coke in the delayed coker unit is a barrel more that can go to the FCCU. That’s a good reason to raise HVGO cutpoint. But how to do it? Some people think the job can be done just by running computer models in the engineering office, relying on vendors and their data sheets for a clue to true equipment performance. Experience, however, shows it just ain't so. For either a grass roots project or a revamp, designing a deepcut vacuum unit to handle heavy sour crudes that are becoming more common today demands a lot more.

It takes personal experience in doing tube-by-tube design of the fired heaters and knowing where and how to inject coil steam, managing the hydraulics of the heater including critical two-phase flow in the tubes and transfer line, how to deal with corrosion and fouling in heat exchangers, balance the intricate details of tower internals and vacuum ejectors- and above all, mate these interdependent components into a fully integrated system that reliably and consistently maximizes VGO yields low in microcarbon and vanadium.

Difficult? Not a job, certainly, for anyone who only sits in the office doing nothing but running simulations. This isn’t to say that models are not important. They are. But to produce anything of real value these process and equipment models need to have been tested and checked against actual measured pressures, temperatures, flows and stream compositions. And the person who runs the simulations must always keep in mind the dictum of one of the grand old men of refining: "Fluids obey the laws of physics and not the whims of the process designer." In these times when every barrel of crude needs to be converted to highest value products, one must look to the expertise not just of the engineers who run the models, but of those who also wear Nomex® and get dirty measuring real unit performance.

Other Literature

Oil sands crude – profits and problems?

Canadian bitumen production currently runs about 1 MMbpd, with some being sold as Synbit and Dilbit. Over the next 10-12 years output is expected to increase to 3.5 MMbpd and more refiners will begin investing to process it and come to depend on the Synbit and Dilbit for a significant part of their supply. ...


Nasty stuff

Heavy crudes are here to stay. As longs as oil prices remain high, Canadian, Venezuelan, Deep Water Gulf of Mexico, Mexican and other low API gravity crude oils will play an ever more important role in supplying world refineries. And prices promise to remain high because gainsayers notwithstanding, Hubbert ...


Designing deepcut vacuum units that really work

Every barrel of vacuum gas oil (VGO) you can save from being reduced to coke in the delayed coker unit is a barrel more that can go to the FCCU. That’s a good reason to raise HVGO cutpoint. But how to do it? Some people think the job can be done just by running computer models in the engineering ...


A time for grass roots thinking ?

Within the past year or two spiking crude prices and surging refinery margins have led to overheated talk about increasing refinery capacity worldwide. Plans for construction of as many 60 grass roots refineries have been discussed. But stretched out lead times for major equipment and inflated prices, ...


A single integrated vacuum system

Failure to design the vacuum unit as an integrated system will invariably result in unsatisfactory yield and poor product quality (high vanadium, nickel, microcarbon, or asphaltenes), and ultimately, an unscheduled shutdown. To avoid these revamp problems the charge pump, fired heater, transfer line, ...


Is pinch enough?

Back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s when fuel gas prices were high, energy utilization assumed major importance. A new method of calculating heat exchanger networks was developed. It was called Pinch Technology. Today pinch has been rediscovered by engineers who have access to fast computer ...


Opportunity knocks

A group of interesting articles* deals with opportunity crudes, a mixed breed that includes very heavy, sour and high total acid number types as well as those with unexceptional naphthenic acid content but which do have significant concentrations of aliphatic acids or possess the ability to generate ...


Processing heavy Canadian crude

Reducing crude oil cost is the major incentive driving crude and vacuum unit projects to handle heavy Canadian crudes. But such crudes–Albian Heavy, Christina Lake, MacKay River and others derived from oil sands–today present refiners with a unique set of problems not just because of extra-low ...


Why do many crude/vacuum units perform poorly?

In many cases it’s because the original design was based more on virtual than actual reality. There is no question: computer simulations have a key role to play but it’s equally true that process design needs to be based on what works in the field and not on the ideals of the process simulator. ...


Why produce diesel from the vacuum unit?

Look ahead five years. The economy is likely to keep tightening and the rush to control pollution will inevitably be accompanied by demands for greater energy conservation. Consequence? A growing market for diesel which yields more energy per unit volume. Yet many continue to believe that producing diesel ...