Balancing act of managing a refinery: New technology vs increasing revenue (ERTC 2023)

Refining management is a constant balancing act between investing in new technology and increasing revenue potential. The trend in European refining is toward utilising severe catalytic cracking technology to increase profits while taking advantage of the existing crack spreads.

GENERAL ATOMICS electromagnetic systems

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Article Summary

Increased crude prices, environmental compliance costs, and International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2020 regulation enforcement are causing the spread between lighter, less severe crudes and heavier, opportunistic crudes to become a bigger part of refining economics.

Exploiting fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) units’ capabilities to convert heavy atmospheric gasoils, vacuum gasoils, and atmospheric resids into more valuable gasoline and middle distillates can support more positive profit margins.

The Race for Profits
An FCC unit is one of the most productive and versatile technologies among the refining processes. Driving FCC technology into higher severity to meet increased propylene demand for petrochemical feedstocks is a growing trend. However, creating greater profits from FCC units can come at a cost. Along with fuel gas, C₃S, and C₄S, FCC units also produce a 650°+F heavy aromatic oil by-product known as slurry oil. Slurry oil refers to the catalyst fines carried over from the FCC reactor, which end up in these bottoms. Catalyst fines must be separated or settled out of the oil, resulting in a product commonly referred to as main column bottoms (MCB), decant clarified oil (DCO), clarified oil (CO), or clarified slurry oil (CSO).

The Challenge
Higher severity FCC units operate at critical conditions and concentrations in the production of higher ends for petrochemical feedstock supply. This makes the process more challenging, especially at the bottom of the barrel, where high concentrations of solids, contaminants, and catalysts undermine the possibility of upgrading the slurry oil stream. Upgrading FCC technology must coincide with increased efficiency, reduced maintenance costs, and improvements in the catalyst equilibrium cycle. Removing solids and increasing the lifespan of the FCC unit is directly related to incrementing the bottom line in refining.

CASE STUDY: Choosing the Right Technology to Increase Profits
An active European refinery is operating an FCC unit with a throughput of 80,000 BPD with an Electrostatic Separator System installed in the slurry rundown for clarified slurry oil production. The FCC unit has a slurry oil product flow of 6.0 vol% of feed, or 4,800 BPD at 0.0 API. The FCC unit uses an Electrostatic Separator to remove fines from 3,000 ppm to <20 ppm. This is equivalent to 3 tons/day of fines. Assuming there are 2 tons/day of sludge for every ton/day of fines, a total of 6.5 tons/day of sludge and fines would have accumulated in the storage tank. In one year, the accumulation would be approximately 2,372 tons.

The Electrostatic Separator adds value by upgrading the slurry oil quality for high- grade coke production. Assuming a product value increase of €6 per barrel of slurry oil, the added value is:

4,800 BPD Slurry Oil Product * 365 Days * €6.0/BPD = ~€10.5 million/Yr

The only meaningful process cost for the Electrostatic Separator is recycle. For this scale, the recycle flow rate would be 2 vol% of the effluent, or 100 BPD. At a cost of €1.0/BPD, this cost is:

100 BPD Recycle * 365 * €1.0/BPD = €36,500

Ignoring the labour and material costs of tank cleaning, consider the cost of landfilling the removed sludge. Assuming landfill is~ €1.0 /lb, the cost is:

1,600 Tons/Yr * €2,000/ton = €3.2 Million/Yr

The annual revenue increase is:

€10.5 Million – €0.4 Million + €3.2 Million = €13.3 Million/Yr

This short article originally appeared in the 2023 ERTC Newspaper, which you can VIEW HERE

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