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The growing importance of residue upgrading

The good old times of earning profit whilst producing important amounts of fuel oil are now a thing of the past.

Today, we see that competition in the petroleum refining industry keeps growing; hence refiners are looking to minimise fuel oil production by means of integrating deep conversion processes into their asset configuration. In today’s market simple refinery configurations are no longer competitive and residue upgrading is an essential design feature in any world-class refinery complex. This is true whatever the crude type processed.

There is plenty of criteria available, to help choose between various process options. On top of technical features it is important to factor in operational strategy of the plant as well as consider the business environment.

Technology options – from tried & tested to implementing new technologies

When it comes to converting oil residues, Delayed Coking (DCU) is the most popular process in the world. Yet it has some inconveniences: the need to hydrotreat the products produced and to arrange sales of petcoke. One way to overcome this is to consider a hydroprocessing unit instead of a delayed coker – these may be ebullated bed hydrocrackers or slurry hydrocrackers.

Over the past few years, refiners have commissioned numerous deep conversion projects and indeed, DCUs were the most selected solution to minimise fuel oil production. However, alternative deep conversion processes have also been considered and selected. For example in Russia at the Nizhnekamsk refinery the Heavy Residue Deep Conversion Complex is based on a slurry hydrocracker – the VCC process licensed by KBR.

In Bulgaria, Lukoil Bourgas have successfully started up an Ebullated Bed hydrocracker – the H-Oil licensed by Axens. Lukoil Bourgas are in a fortunate position to be able to select different types of crudes to optimise performance of their new unit.

There are also new technologies that are starting to emerge – at our recent Bottom of the Barrel conferences we heard from GTC on their new technology GT-SACT (JV with Sanju). It is a Slurry HCK based technology – there is currently a large demo plant online (156 kTA) and they have a number of plants to go online in the next couple of years. Early results are very positive.

In South Korea, S-Oil, owner of one of the world’s largest refineries, is realising a Residue Upgrading Complex Project and Olefin Downstream Complex. The deep conversion part of the refining section is represented by a combination of an atmospheric residue desulfurisation unit and a high severity fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU), both licensed by Axens. Project goal is to maximise production of petrochemical feedstock – light olefins & naphtha – this combination is applicable if the refinery is focused on gasoline production & low-sulphur bunker fuel.

These are only a few examples of residue upgrading projects but it clearly highlights the many different technological solutions available to refiners; Delayed Coking, Slurry & EB HCK, Solvent Deasphalting (SDA), Gasification, etc. The key is to select the right solution for the right plant and for the right market.

Increasing Conversion – an opportunity

From all these projects we can see that increasing conversion and, consequently, curbing low-value fuel oil production, is without doubt, the key challenge for many existing and grassroot refining facilities.
Yet, since there is a whole range of commercially proven deep conversion technologies, it is up to each refinery to select an optimum process configuration based on their specific features and requirements.

Get in touch with Euro Petroleum Consultants today for more information.