Managing life cycle assessment and life cycle thinking in refining

LCA and LCT facilitate the ability to quantitatively determine the impact on integrated environmental management benefits as demonstrated at 10 processing units.

Berkem Ç, Sarp Akarsu M and Esenboğa E E

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Article Summary

The environmental impact resulting from refinery activities is diverse and significant. The magnitude of these impacts depends on various factors, such as refinery complexity, technological level, processes, and implementation of environmental measures. Life cycle analysis (LCA) is a critical tool for understanding environmental performance.

When working on existing production processes and new projects or process changes in refineries, more sustainable options should be evaluated based on LCA results. This article examines life cycle management conducted at refineries, with the aim of quantitatively determining environmental impacts and introducing an innovative perspective on integrated environmental management.

Within this scope, all environmental impacts (acidification, global warming, natural resource consumption, impact on aquatic life, carcinogen formation) are being evaluated using the LCA method in both existing processes and planned or investment-related processes. Energy-saving measures and process improvements have been identified.

With the impact of the climate crisis being felt worldwide, the business world has started seeking clean technology alternatives. Simultaneously, the climate crisis has led to increased drought, more frequent environmental events, and changes in seasonal norms, resulting in increased societal awareness of environmental issues and a greater emphasis on consciousness of natural resource consumption.

Managing the environmental effects of existing products and production processes has become essential, along with evaluating the environmental dimension of all decisions made in project development and implementation processes. Evaluating the environmental dimension of product and production processes plays a critical role in ensuring environmental sustainability and efficient resource utilisation. LCA is widely used as an effective tool in this evaluation process.1

LCA, in essence, is a method used to determine, report, and manage the environmental impact of the entire life cycle, including the acquisition of raw materials, production, transportation, consumer use, and end-of-life disposal  of a product or service. Software programs have been developed to facilitate LCA.2 It is used for the following purposes:
• Measuring and managing the environmental performance of products and production processes throughout various life cycle stages
• Identifying significant environmental impacts at each stage of the product’s life cycle
• Identifying environmental impacts and contributing hotspots at each stage of the production process
• Assisting in the decision-making process for potential improvements and investments
• Comparing and implementing improvements in the environmental performance of products during production
• Optimising supply processes and gaining a competitive advantage
• Enhancing investment returns.4

Legislation published under the European Union’s Green Deal, a strategy towards sustainability goals, emphasises the importance of life cycle thinking and analysis (Net Zero Industrial Act, Taxonomy Regulation, Transition to Circular Economy, Sustainable Transport, Zero Pollution). As indicated in Figure 1, the legislation of the EU Green Deal focuses on LCT and LCA, taking a significant step towards achieving sustainability.

This approach will contribute to reducing environmental impacts, utilising resources more efficiently, and creating a green and sustainable economy. Moreover, some countries like Denmark make the completion of LCA studies a prerequisite for the declaration of ‘sustainability’.5 Investments planned to combat climate change are expected to align with the Taxonomy Regulation6 published under the Green Deal. It is stated that investments compatible with the Taxonomy Regulation can benefit from various funds under the Green Deal.7

Petroleum refineries are responsible for obtaining various petroleum products (such as gasoline, diesel, kerosene, jet fuel, and asphalt) from crude oil. Different components in crude oil are separated, refined, and processed to transform them into final products. Refineries play a critical role in the energy sector.8 The environmental impact of refineries is significant due to their operations. They can have various environmental effects, including air pollution, water pollution, and soil pollution.9

This analysis enables a detailed evaluation of energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, waste generation, and other environmental factors involved in the process of obtaining petroleum products. LCA also contributes to decision-making processes in addition to economic indicators during feasibility studies of an investment.

When working on new projects or process changes in refineries, more sustainable options can be evaluated based on the results of LCA, which have been conducted at several refineries in Turkey, revealing the refiner’s perspective and efforts regarding LCT and LCA. Those refineries where LCA studies were carried out in Turkey have a total crude oil processing capacity of 30 million tons at four different locations.

In line with the refineries’ Strategic Transformation Plan, a journey towards transforming into a carbon-neutral energy company with a balanced and diversified clean energy portfolio has been initiated by reducing emissions. The plan is built on four main pillars: sustainable refining, zero-carbon electricity, biofuels, and green hydrogen.

Efforts are underway at the refineries to manage the environmental impacts of operations and planned investments through an integrated approach using LCA, aligning with sustainable development goals and the 2050 carbon-neutral strategy.

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