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Fluid Catalytic Cracking

Because of its flexibility, the FCCU is known to perform "miracles" for refiners in meeting challenges of increasingly stringent fuel standards, changing market conditions, and competing technologies. These challenges that are consistently presented to refiners are what instigate evolution in FCCU design and operation. Changes in hardware, control schemes, catalysts, maintenance strategies, etc. are all driven by current or anticipated changes to the refining landscape. Over the years, the role of the FCCU has expanded from a gasoline machine to an olefins maker, a sulfur remover, a residue upgrader, and a ULSD feedstock contributor by maximizing LCO output. Furthermore, it is lending itself to two additional roles—biofeeds user and refinery CO2 emissions reducer—to alleviate growing concerns over energy security and global warming. Therefore, some in the refining industry said FCC should stand for "Flexible Catalytic Cracking."

How it will benefit you

The global refining market's needs have changed considerably over 2022 driven by several major factors. The recovery of refined product demand continued to be strong in 2022 and is projected to reach pre-COVID 2019 demand levels in 2023. Political conflict in Europe has created higher regional pricing and energy supply constraints leading to higher market prices for gasoline and diesel. Refining margins are projected to remain above five-year averages through 2023 with diesel crack spread driving the economics. Additionally, LPG olefins, particularly butylene, for alkylate production in the US remains important and propylene prices are depressed due to increased capacity in the market. Finally, the energy transition is a critical focus among several refining networks globally (carbon reduction, use of alternative feeds [renewables/recyclables], production of renewable diesel [RD]/sustainable aviation fuel [SAF], etc.). Against this dynamic landscape, FCC process licensors and catalyst manufacturers continue offer new innovations and optimized technologies and services to the evolving needs of FCC operators.

The flexibility of the FCCU to adapt to new feeds and produce new products is one of the reasons it has survived and thrived amid the ongoing energy transition. The FCCU has evolved considerably via developments in hardware, process, and technology transitioning from a unit designed to produce high-octane gasoline and raw materials for synthetic rubber production to a unit designed to yield a variety of products ranging from transportation fuels to PC feeds. In addition to processing petroleum-based feeds with API gravities ranging from 16-34°API, FCCUs are now processing renewable feeds derived from plants and forest products along with alternative feeds derived from waste plastics.

What does it include

The current study, completed in 4Q 2022, begins with an updated look at FCC market fundamentals including ongoing recovery in fuels and PCs demand from the COVID-19 pandemic along with ongoing efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the FCCU.

In addition to a comprehensive list of state-of-the-art technologies, recent innovations feature Shell's recently introduced Max Atomization Feed Nozzle technology; Albemarle's latest RiFT matrix which delivers enriched PoSD and supplementary acid sites, increasing total catalyst acidity by up to 20%; BASF's novel X3D additive manufacturing technology based on 3D printing; optimized versions of both of Grace's Pd- and Pt-based CO promoters dubbed Optimized CP P, a low NOX CO promoter that contains lower Pd levels while maintaining needed CO promotion activity; Sinopec Catalyst Co.'s ROC-1 catalyst that is designed to boost FCC gasoline make while also reducing the formation coke when processing heavier FCC feeds; Sinopec Catalyst Co.'s RFS09 high efficiency SOX reduction additive which uses integrated multiple technology platforms; BASF's new Fourtitude FCC catalyst designed to maximize butylenes from resid feedstocks; BASF's Maximum Propylene Solution – Resid (MPS-R) DMS catalyst for processing resid feeds with high propylene selectivity; Grace's MIDAS Pro catalyst for resid cracking in high iron applications; and Albemarle's proprietary SaFeGuard and ReNewFCC families of catalysts can deliver outstanding performance benefits for both conventional and unconventional feeds.

The study also includes extensive discussions of plant operations and practices that identify valuable operating experiences and daily trouble-shooting techniques shared by veteran refining professionals around the world. New information in the FCC plant operations and practices section includes benefits of using mesoporous zeolites in FCC catalysts and an expanded discussion and examples of coprocessing a variety of alternative feeds (e.g., recyclable crude oils, waste plastics) with conventional feedstocks within FCCUs.

To plot future directions of the FCCU the study gathers and reviews the latest patent applications and research papers regarding FCC innovations, including improving gasoline and diesel yield via process and catalyst improvements; light olefins yield enhancement via process and catalyst innovations; aromatics production; processing resid and biofeeds within the FCCU; FCC emissions abatement; FCC hardware improvements; process modeling and control innovations; and FCC catalyst recycling, rejuvenation, and reactivation.

Publication details

Publication frequency

Single publication

Publication format

Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file


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