New technologies cut refinery costs to meet mandate

13 March 2012 01:32  [Source: ICIS news]

SAN DIEGO (ICIS)--A US government mandate in 2012 to reduce gasoline sulphur content will require significant investments at refineries for pre- and post-treaters, along with revamping the gasoline-making unit, an engineer said on Monday.

Refiners nationwide are reviewing the most cost-effective way for retrofitting operations to meet the upcoming "Control of Air Pollution from Motor Vehicles: Tier 3 Motor Vehicle Emission and Fuel Standards," which will address the impact of motor vehicles on air quality and health, said technology engineer Bill Flanders with Axens.

Axens is an international provider of advanced technologies for the energy industry.

The control specifications will include tailpipe emissions standards for nitrous oxides and air toxics, and sulphur standards for gasoline, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These regulations are pending.

The United Steelworkers union, representing oil workers, has said burdensome regulations, such as the low-sulphur gasoline rules pending, have contributed to refineries losing money and the recent shutdown of refineries on the US east coast.

In the last five months, Sunoco's 175,000 bbl/day Marcus Hook refinery in Pennsylvania and ConocoPhillips' 185,000 bbl/day Trainer refinery in Pennsylvania have closed, along with Hess' 350,000 bbl/day Hovensa refinery in the US Virgin Islands.

Sunoco also said its 330,000 bbl/day Philadelphia refinery in Pennsylvania will close by July if no buyer is found.

Flanders discussed methods for meeting these regulations with minimal investments and using existing refinery assets.

He made his presentation at the annual meeting of the American Fuels and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) in San Diego.

The primary method to reduce gasoline sulphur content is to reduce the sulphur in the catalytic gasoline, or light catalytic naphtha, produced from the fluid catalytic cracker (FCC), which is the gasoline-production unit, Flanders said. This is in addition to investing in pre- and post-treaters to strip out remaining sulphur.

The FCC contributes 30–40% of the total gasoline pool, but also contributes 90–99% of the total sulphur of the gasoline blending pool.

Refiners will attempt revamping of the units during the set turnaround periods for the FCC unit, Flanders said.

Refiners with a hydrotreating unit for vacuum gas oil, the feedstock for the FCC unit, can retrofit it for mild hydrocracking (MHC) operations with minimal investment, said Flanders.

MHC units convert 20–60% of vacuum gas oil to low-sulphur distillates and produce high-quality feedstocks for the FCC, according to Criterion Catalysts and Technologies.

Axens said an MHC cost a third of installing a new hydrocracking unit.

Refiners without a pre-treating unit should consider investing in MHC operations, Flanders said.

A post-treater can help with the fluctuations in the sulphur remaining after the pre-treaters and FCC as a result of differences in the grade of oil used at the refinery, said Flanders.

By: Sheena Martin
+1 713 525 2653

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