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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 them during processing. They all sell at substantial discounts that give refiners who can process them the opportunity to reap higher profits. Hence their name.

Note that phrase "who can process them". It's not easy. Opportunity crudes can cause severe problems in the desalter, crude heat trains, fired heaters, atmospheric and vacuum towers and downstream process units all the way to waste water treatment facilities. Every piece of equipment can be at risk. Yet some of these crudes, such as Grane have a very flat TBP curve in the vacuum gas oil boiling range. High vacuum gas oil yield is the opportunity for those with a properly designed deepcut vacuum unit.

More important than any chemical treatment program is the flexibility that must be built into the basic process design. It must have the necessary resilience to accommodate varying crude characteristics. Proper metallurgy is critical but selection must depend as much on metal availability and cost as on specifics of corrosion resistance. Desalters have to handle not just brine and sediment but surface active molecules that tend to form stable emulsions. Wash water systems must be able to deal with different salt chemistries. Fractionation sections must concentrate refractory sulfur species without downgrading valuable distillates. Vacuum unit fired heaters must be specially designed to minimize coking.

No combination of measures can eliminate all these problems but put together in a rational and coherent process design they can extend refinery runs from months to years providing refiners with the opportunity to profit rather than suffer from the vagaries of the uncertain and skittish crude Market.

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 ...