Rising US LPG production opens door for UOP aromatics tech

22 April 2013 17:21  [Source: ICIS news]

Rising US LPG production opens door for UOP aromatics techHOUSTON (ICIS)--Rising US production of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and tightening aromatics supplies are raising interest in UOP's Cyclar technology, which can convert propane and butane into chemical feedstock, said executives at the company.

In the US, aromatics production is being squeezed by changing refining economics and by crackers switching from naphtha to ethane feedstock.

Lighter cracker feeds produce fewer aromatics.

The other major source of aromatics comes from a refinery's catalytic reformer, which also produces hydrogen and octane-boosting blendstock for gasoline.

The bulk of the reformers in the US are involved in gasoline production, so octane demand is a key consideration in determining how refiners operate their reformers.

The US, however, is long in octane.

One reason for the long octane supplies is the nation's ethanol blending requirement. The US requires refiners to use ethanol as an octane booster, and this has lowered demand for reformer octane, UOP said.

Plus, overall US demand for gasoline has fallen, and it is expected to remain flat for several years.

Refiners have reacted to the long octane market by operating their reformers at lower severity. This helps refineries manage costs, but it also reduces production of aromatics and reformer octane.

The resulting tightening in aromatics supplies has already affected the US market. Benzene prices, for example, reached an all-time high in December.

Not only does Honeywell subsidiary UOP's Cyclar technology produce aromatics, it uses LPG as a feedstock. LPG supplies are growing because of the advent of shale gas.

Plus, the technology also produces hydrogen gas, which refiners use in hydrotreaters and in hydrocrackers. Hydrocrackers produce diesel, for which demand is increasing.

These long-term trends in feedstock and aromatics demand have increased interest in Cyclar technology, said Pankaj Shar, regional director, Americas, process technology and equipment for UOP.

"Its time might be around the corner," said Keith Couch, senior business leader in aromatics and derivatives for UOP.

So far, the technology is being used at just one plant in Saudi Arabia.

The company's Oleflex technology for propane dehydrogenation also sat on the shelf until Chinese demand for propylene and the advent of US shale gas caused a surge in demand, Couch said.

By: Al Greenwood
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