Catalyst technologies for enhancing profitability in the energy transition

Fuels derived from fossil sources have been the dominant global energy vehicle for several decades despite making inroads into alternative fuels.

Alex C Pulikottil, Madhusudan Sau and SSV Ramakumar
IndianOil Corporation Limited

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Article Summary

However, due to growing environmental concerns and stricter policies, increase in demand for fossil fuels is expected to taper down in the coming years and decline beyond 2040. In contrast, a continual increase in demand for petrochemicals is anticipated in the foreseeable future. With this emerging scenario, refiners need to focus on valorisation of their existing assets while expanding product slates towards producing chemicals to sustain profitability. Operating an existing refinery unit with higher energy efficiency and productivity will be imperative to increase sustainability and profitability in operation.

Fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) and hydroprocessing (hydrocracking and hydrotreating) technologies are the mainstay of modern refineries worldwide to produce value-added light olefins, clean fuels meeting regulatory norms, and many other petroleum products for fulfilling ever-increasing societal demands. Technological interventions in the past enabled continued adoption of these technologies for profitable operation of refinery units. FCC and hydroprocessing technologies must be aligned to the needs of an emerging market driven by the energy transition.
IndianOil has dedicated two decades of research to the development and deployment of customised refining catalyst technologies, resulting in a wide spectrum of advanced catalyst solutions to suit the changing needs of refineries. These proprietary FCC catalysts and additives and hydrotreating catalysts allow refiners to operate their respective units optimally and integrate with petrochemical productions pending the imminent slowdown in demand growth of fuels. This article describes the performance of IndianOil’s catalyst platforms for FCC and hydrotreating applications.

Maximising Petrochemicals
Currently, petrochemicals like light olefins (ethylene, propylene, isobutene) are mainly produced through steam cracking and FCC processes. The FCC process features attractive options for tuning product selectivity to offer better flexibility for producing different olefinic products with lower energy intensity. IndianOil’s IndMAX process has been designed to maximise the production of olefins (ethylene and other lighter olefins) by converting feedstocks with a higher residue fraction. This technology has been adopted by several Indian refineries for refining-petrochemical integration, and new installations are in the pipeline.

Traditionally, the FCC catalyst system comprises a primary cracking component based on Y-type zeolite and a secondary shape-selective cracking component made of medium pore pentasil zeolite like ZSM-5 zeolite. ZSM-5 additives greatly increase propylene yield by selectively cracking olefins in gasoline range hydrocarbons. However, excessive quantities of conventional ZSM-5 additives in catalyst inventory result in a reduction of overall cracking of feed molecules, leading to depletion of olefins in gasoline and lowering propylene yield. IndMAX catalysts have been specially customised with ultra-high intrinsic activity for substantially converting gasoline range olefins to maximise propylene and ethylene, simultaneously maintaining the concentration of gasoline olefins by selectively cracking the heavier feed molecules.

The product yield benefits of several IOCL cat cracking catalyst and additives (IMX Series) over commercial reference catalysts are shown in Figure 1. IMX Series catalyst exhibits substantial improvements in yield of light olefins, coke selectivity, and bottoms upgrading with high resistance against thermal and hydrothermal deactivation. The IMX platform can be customised to the process objectives and feed properties required by a refinery unit.

FCC additives for harnessing operational flexibility of FCC units
i-MAX Series ZSM-5 additives for producing LPG and propylene are available in i-MAX Premium, i-MAX Supreme, and i-MAX Ultra, customisable to meet the needs of refiners. These additives are based on a stabilised and tailored ZSM-5 zeolite, employing a patented methodology embedded in the additive microsphere with a unique matrix technology to retain the crystalline structure of the zeolite. Figure 2 shows the efficacy of different i-MAX Series ZSM-5 additives for propylene. They can be customised to the needs of the refiner, and have enabled several Indian refiners to tweak their product slate to maximise profitability.

Residue Upgrading Additive (RUA) is designed with large pore matrix technology to crack heavier feedstock and produce more valuable distillates. This customised additive improves bottom upgrading and coke selectivity in the FCC unit. Eco-MAX CO Combustion Promoter increases combustion efficiency in FCC regenerators, converting more than 95% of CO at appropriate operating conditions. It is designed for longer retention in the unit with high active-metal dispersion for maximum efficiency, even in high severity FCC units.

Hydrotreating catalysts for capturing margin advantages
Hydrotreating processes will play a pivotal role in the changing landscape of refinery operations, be it the feed treatment to produce cleaner feedstocks that will positively impact subsequent process units or to produce cleaner products like gasoline and diesel.

With a focus on hydrotreating catalysis, over the years IndianOil has developed and commercially deployed its high-performance diesel and VGO hydrotreating catalyst platform (IndiCAT Series), as depicted in Figure 3. The catalyst platform features functionalities tailored for the removal of various hetero-atoms, sulphur, nitrogen, and oxygen, as well as for the deep hydrogenation of aromatic and olefinic compounds in the feedstocks for meeting fuel specifications like sulphur and nitrogen content, density, distillation end point, and cetane number. The diesel hydrotreating catalyst system can also be designed with high hydrogenation functionality to boost volume swell of the product. The catalyst technology tailors the nature of active sites (NiMoS phase) through unique metal chemistry employed with support characteristics. IndiCAT Prime catalyst, an advanced version recently launched for hydrotreating heavier gasoil stream, has shown excellent performance during commercial runs for meeting BS-VI/Euro-VI specifications.

IndianOil’s R&D catalyst portfolio for FCC application delivers convenient solutions for flexible unit operation, ensuring improved profit margins. The hydrotreating catalyst platforms offer customised catalyst solutions to handle varying feedstocks, adaptable for better productivity and reliability with cost competitiveness. Advanced FCC and hydrotreating catalyst technologies will help refiners leverage existing FCC and hydrotreating units to meet the energy efficiencies and changing product slates demanded in the era of energy transition.

This short article appeared in the 2022 Refining India Newspaper, which you can view HERE


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