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Worldwide Refinery Processing Review (Quarterly Issues)

Publication date:3Q 2009
Item#: B20903

This issue of the Review includes a thorough evaluation of state-of-the-art commercial technology, plant operations and design, and innovative research and development work for hydrocracking and catalytic reforming technologies.

Hydrocracking (HC) technology enables refiners to meet incrementally rising demand for distillate fuels; comply with stringent specifications on transportation fuels; cope with the greater use of heavy, opportunity crudes; conform to environmental regulations regarding site emissions; and function in a business climate requiring the implementation of lower-cost technologies and the optimum use of existing facilities. Hydrocracking is utilized either by itself or in combination with FCC to upgrade a variety of feeds, including VGO from conventional and heavy crudes, DAO, coker distillates, LCO, residual fuel oil, and atmospheric residues. It permits the refinery to increase the quality and output of fuel products as well as to adjust the balance of the product slate between distillates and gasoline.

Global hydrocracking capacity was up by 3.79% (almost 187.7K b/cd) from Jan. 2008 to Jan. 2009 according to Oil and Gas Journal's most recent Worldwide Refining Survey (Dec. 22, 2008). The growth in HC capacity from Jan. 2008 to Jan. 2009 was reportedly down 1.96% from the growth observed during the previous year (5.75%). The slowdown of hydrocracking capacity expansion is primarily attributed to the global economic crisis beginning in early-2008, the fuel efficiency standards for automobiles, and the escalated contribution from ethanol and other biofuels into the global transportation fuels pool. While forecasters believe the global economy has slowly begun to recover, it will still take some time for a full recovery and even then, demand is not expected to rebound to the all time highs seen before the recession.

More detailed information regarding hydrocracking in terms of supply and demand, capacity additions, and technology competition/development are discussed as part of the Market/Technology Trends and Opportunities section in this issue of the Review. This section covering HC technology features new catalysts, processes, and topics including:

Catalytic Reforming

The catalytic reforming process transforms naphthenes and paraffins into aromatics and isoparaffins. Catalytic reforming technology is utilized by refiners throughout the world primarily to produce a high-octane gasoline blendstock (reformate) and aromatics (i.e., benzene, toluene, and xylene) for petrochemical use. Hydrogen is also produced during the complex reactions that take place within a catalytic reforming unit, and the recent upward trend in refinery hydrogen demand due to increasingly has opened many new opportunities to maximize production of the 'byproduct.'

Regional factors will significantly influence the desired operating mode for the catalytic reformer to provide the strongest economic return on investment. Ranking only slightly behind the catalytic cracker in importance for gasoline production, the catalytic reformer contributes roughly 17-20 vol% of the gasoline pool in the US. In Europe where the outlook is one of a static demand for gasoline but increasing need for benzene, toluene, and xylene (BTX), operation of the catalytic reformer centers on increasing aromatic yields. In Asia, significant demand for aromatics has dictated that the majority of catalytic reforming units be installed primarily as aromatics producers.

Reforming processes are classified as semi-regenerative, cyclic, or continuous (CCR) depending upon the frequency of catalyst regeneration. Operating conditions, average cycle length, catalyst composition, and product slate can all vary depending on the type of unit that is used. Although the capacity gap between fixed-bed (semi-regenerative and cyclic) and CCR technologies appears to be closing, the fact remains that semi-regenerative units make up over 52% of catalytic reforming capacity installed in refineries worldwide; CCR reformers accounted for approximately 34% of worldwide capacity; and cyclic regeneration technology is used to process 11% of the total reformate produced. In total, global refinery catalytic reforming capacity was pegged at just over 11.48MM b/cd in Jan. 2009 following a 0.49% increase in capacity from the previous year.

The impact that supply, demand, and pricing for reformed products (i.e., aromatics and gasoline) will have on the market refined products and petrochemicals markets, and the future role for catalytic reforming technology are further examined in the Market/Technology Trends & Opportunities sections. Additionally, state-of-the art technologies, process operations and considerations, and research developments are presented. New products and topics include:

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