Catalyst best practices – lessons from resid FCC units in the Middle East

The Middle East expansion into the refined products market is driving large-scale, highly complex refinery projects. These projects include some of the world’s largest capacity FCC units, generally processing very challenging feedstocks.

Nathan Ergonoul and Maria Luisa Sargenti
Grace Catalysts Technologies / ART

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Article Summary

Operating large FCC units on challenging feedstocks inevitably means that the choice of FCC catalyst will have a big impact on overall refinery profitability. In addition to performance considerations, logistics becomes critical to handling the large volume of fresh FCC catalysts and additives, which can be an order of magnitude larger than an average FCC unit. Along with that comes a considerable volume of spent catalyst that is generated.

The solution is a combination of performance; the right catalyst and experienced local technical service support; proven logistics capabilities, including supply logistics for the management and handling of a large volume of fresh catalysts and additives; and logistics for the environmentally friendly management of a large volume of spent catalyst (see Figure 1).

The Market in the Middle East
Originally commissioned in 1981, the Abu Dhabi Oil Refining Company (Takreer) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), recently completed an expansion project with the aim of increasing production capacity by 417,000 bpd, taking the existing capacity from 400,000 bpd to 817,000 bpd. The core unit in the new configuration is an Axens IFP R2R™ RFCC. The new Takreer RFCC unit is one of the largest FCC units, and the largest RFCC unit in the world, processing heavy residual feedstocks with a design throughput of 127,000 bpd.

Grace is the global leader in resid catalyst and the preferred local catalyst supplier in the Middle East. Grace supplies catalyst to more than 60% of the resid catalyst market, and represents 80% of the Middle East catalyst demand. To support our local commitment in the region, Grace is building the first FCC catalyst manufacturing facility in the Middle East near Abu Dhabi, in a joint venture project with Al Dahra Agriculture. The first phase of construction on the $150 million facility was completed earlier this year with the commissioning of a catalyst logistics silo terminal.
Detailed engineering has begun for Phase II of the project, and operations are expected to begin in 2018.

Optimum Catalyst Performance
To enable maximum performance of Takreer’s RFCC unit, Grace proposed a finely tuned resid FCC catalyst that exhibits high zeolite stability due in part to a state-of-the-art vanadium trapping functionality. The catalyst also incorporates advanced nickel tolerance and a balanced mesoporosity to achieve the optimum level of coke-selective bottoms cracking. This will allow the refinery to achieve its FCC product objectives while helping to mitigate the contaminant metals present in their resid feedstock.

One of Takreer’s specific performance objectives is to increase LPG olefins production. Grace maximises light olefins production with low hydrogen-transfer activity. In addition, propylene production will be enhanced further by Grace’s OlefinsUltra® HZ light olefins additive, a patented technology used in more than two-thirds of FCC units targeting maximum propylene.

Maximising the performance of the catalyst-additive system also benefits from compatible physical properties of the catalyst and additives that Grace has engineered to complement each other. Both the FCC catalyst, Nektor™ ULCC, and the additive exhibit industry-leading attrition resistance, a hallmark of Grace technology. Grace’s superior attrition resistance minimises losses from the FCC process.

Technical Support
Realising the full value from the catalyst requires a highly experienced technical service team. Grace’s engineers bring experience from across the industry with design, operation, and troubleshooting expertise. Supported by comprehensive analytical service capabilities, Grace’s technical service team ensures that the value of the catalyst is optimised through regular performance reviews, benchmarking, and continuous optimisation of the catalyst formulation and unit operation.

The Grace technical service team is highly experienced in refining, especially in the field of FCC design and operation. Based on this experience, Grace’s team is able to provide expert advice on a broad range of FCC and refining topics; for example, FCCU operational and mechanical troubleshooting. Grace technical service engineers regularly visit refineries to review unit operating data, evaluate catalyst management and unit performance, and provide specific recommendations to optimise unit operations.

Grace regularly assists with troubleshooting service around issues that impact FCC performance, including cyclone performance, stripper efficiency, catalyst circulation and aeration, slurry circuit fouling, and unit erosion.
In addition to regular follow-ups, Grace provides independent critical review services, which allows for a health check on FCC operations. Throughout the history of fluid catalytic cracking, these services have been relied upon by many oil companies for unit optimisation, shutdown planning, and capital expenditure planning.

As the market leader in FCC catalysts, Grace has built up an extensive, unique pool of FCC experience and know-how. Grace shares this accumulated knowledge with customers in semiannual workshops specifically designed for FCC process engineers. These workshops cover such topics as catalyst fundamentals, feedstock characterisation, heat balance, mass balance, unit optimisation, and troubleshooting strategies. The workshops are offered at customer sites and regional locations, as well as our major manufacturing plants, research centers, and headquarters in the United States and Germany.

Catalyst Handling
To handle the large amount of FCC catalyst and provide security of supply for Takreer, and to maintain Grace’s position as the leading supplier in the region, Grace has invested significantly in local production. Phase 1 of a new grassroots FCC catalyst manufacturing plant was completed in 2015. Phase 1 provides Takreer with secure supply, with storage and handling facilities for a large volume of fresh catalyst and additives, as well as the expected volume of spent catalyst.

Another benefit of having logistics facilities close to the refinery is to allow FCC catalyst delivery by bulk truck rather than in smaller packaging; for example, super sacks. Delivery in bulk trucks helps limit the risk of environmental and operator exposure to the catalyst by eliminating dust emissions associated with the use of bags.

Working with Grace’s local FCC catalyst production plant enables Takreer and other Grace customers in the region to make rapid catalyst reformulations to meet changing operational or product objectives. Local facilities benefit refining companies in the region by reducing reformulation time from approximately two months to just a few days.

Spent Catalyst Disposal
The disposal of large amounts of spent catalyst (Ecat) in an environmentally friendly way is an important consideration for refineries. Grace has a permit to collect, store, handle, reprocess, and re-sell Ecat and fines generated from Grace manufactured FCC catalysts.

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