• What AI and data analysis techniques do catalyst and reactor technology developers offer refiners for higher yields while meeting near-zero emissions specifications?



  • Mark Schmalfeld, BASF Refining Catalysts, mark.schmalfeld@basf.com

    Over the coming decades, global market demand for refined products is expected to shift. Fewer transportation fuels will be needed (primarily gasoline as the market shifts to electric vehicles) while we see an increased demand for naphtha, olefins, and other petrochemical feedstocks. Also, besides the global trends, each refiner’s profitability can depend heavily on the regional economics, regional product demand, and integration setup to enable the use of petrochemical feedstocks (internal to the refinery or to supply to local customers).

    No specific catalyst or reactor technology in the market has emerged as the only option, but there are market-leading processes in use today. Steam cracking is still one of the largest unit operations to produce ethylene and propylene from naphtha. The FCC unit is generally considered the second-largest unit operation to produce propylene. Additionally, we see many processes supporting the market need with a variety of private licensors and governmental licensor designs introduced. These licensor designs include improvements to the FCC unit, modifications to the FCC unit approach (deep catalytic cracking [DCC], HS-FCC, residue fluid catalytic cracking unit [RFCC], INDMAX) to shift selectivity to chemicals, new integrated refinery design for crude oil to chemicals, steam cracker improvements, and other unit improvements (reforming units, propane dehydrogenation [PDH] units, methanol-to-olefin processes, and others).

    Each of these has specific process conditions and/or specific catalysts targeted for the units (from market catalysts to proprietary catalysts, and diverse types of materials/ zeolites – ZSM-5 (MFI), SAPO-34, Beta (BEA) and USY/REY (FAU) type zeolites) to meet specific refiner’s petrochemical yield targets.

    The BASF refinery catalyst team continuously focuses on understanding the new market needs to create technologies to support this transformation to create petrochemical feedstocks from the FCC and other refinery processes.
    Besides a market demand shift, we are also seeing a shift to using more alternative feedstocks (renewables, pyoils, recycled materials) to reduce the carbon footprint. From an FCC catalyst standpoint, BASF has introduced technologies to address the need for more petrochemical feedstocks (propylene, olefins) and to support the use of alternative feedstocks in these processes. Today, BASF has examples of using FCC catalysts (maximum propylene solution) in commercial units to maximise propylene with both resid, VGO feedstocks and using alternative feedstocks. Additionally, in North America and the Middle East, we see commercial use of new catalysts (Fourte, Fourtune, Fortitude, and newer materials) to drive both propylene and butylene yields.

    These catalysts help achieve both chemical and feedstock requirements for alkylation processes, supporting their fuel octane needs. The catalyst technologies needed for maximising petrochemical feed production from FCC units have emerged through rigorous research, development, and technology application improvements. From this work, BASF has found that FCC catalysts require an integrated design approach to the catalyst materials. Use of multiple catalyst zeolite types and different functional materials is essential for the best performance when targeting petrochemical feedstock production. Additionally, ensuring the flexibility of an FCC unit to accept changes to FCC catalyst formulation or to allow rapid adjustments in olefin additive (ZIP, ZEAL) use enables profit optimisation.

    Fourte, Fourtune, Fortitude, ZEAL and ZIP are marks of BASF.