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Decarbonization of Refinery Operations

Given the ongoing energy transition that is being accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, global upstream and downstream players are announcing their transformation plans to decarbonize for long-term sustainability. The strategies of refiners to reduce their carbon footprints focus on Scope 1 emissions, which result directly from a company’s operations, and Scope 2 emissions generated during the production of energy purchased for use by the company, including electricity, steam, heat, or cooling. In the future, to meet net-zero goals, refineries will increase their efforts towards lowering Scope 3 emissions, which are indirect emissions from a company's value chain, e.g., those from the burning of fuel sold by a company, such as gasoline, diesel, heating oil, or jet fuel, as well as fuel oil for power generation and bunkering.

How it will benefit you

Several technology solutions have been developed for decarbonization while others are emerging as options for use in the future once engineering challenges are addressed. Most refiners are likely to utilize a multi-pronged approach implementing different technologies as the energy transition progresses. Because of the lower costs associated with increasing energy efficiency this option is likely to be the start of the path to decarbonization chosen by many. And it may become even more favorable economically as governments around the globe institute carbon pricing (i.e., carbon tax or emissions trading scheme) to combat climate change and meet emission reduction pledges under the Paris Climate Accord. Carbon capture provides another pathway to decarbonization. With this option, the required upfront investment cost needs to be financially justified and sufficient plot space must be available for the equipment. Another approach to decarbonization is to electrify certain assets in facilities, which may necessitate that the existing electrical infrastructure is upgraded. Electrification reduces the consumption of fossil fuels and lowers Scope 1 and 2 emissions. Refiners can also utilize renewable energy that they purchase from suppliers or generate on their own premises, and they can develop a plan to eliminate routine flaring. Zero- or low-carbon fuels will play an important role in decarbonization because the bulk of emissions that are generated are Scope 3. While green hydrogen is not widely used currently widely because of cost factors, it is expected by many to be the fuel of the future. On the other hand, the uptake of biofuels to replace petroleum-based fuels is gaining traction across the globe due to support from government policies. The co-processing of bio-based feeds in a refinery is also a viable option for lowering Scope 3 emissions as the carbon from these feeds will not increase global CO2 inventories like the carbon from fossil fuel sources.

What does it include

The current study, completed in 4Q 2022, begins with an updated look at current global GHG emissions and projections for these emissions as energy demand continues to recover from the pandemic as well as the net-zero carbon goals by country.

In addition to a comprehensive list of state-of-the-art technologies, recent innovations feature the CarbonSense solution from LivNSense Technologies to optimize furnace operations based on real-time data; Johnson Matthey’s CLEANPACE Technology suite for retrofitting SMR plants to enable them to achieve 95%+ CO2 capture; the Advanced Solvent Carbon Capture technology developed by Honeywell UOP and the Univ. of Texas for grassroots or retrofitted FCCUs; Chromalox’s DirectConnect medium voltage electric systems for process heating and steam generation; electrification for H2 production using catalytic microwave methane reforming developed by Nu:ionic Technologies; Methaforming for the conversion of existing hydrotreaters or naphtha reformers to lower CO2 emissions; and Axens’ BioTfuel, Gasel, Futurol, Atol, Dimersol, and Polynaphtha processes for biofuels production from biomass.

The study also includes extensive discussions of plant operations and practices pertaining to the areas of carbon capture from ethylene plants, the use of process analytical technology for biofuels production, leveraging Coriolis technology, energy optimization, FCC co-processing of bio and fossil feeds, and using H2 as a combustion fuel.

Publication details

Publication frequency

Single publication

Publication format

Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file


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