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Worldwide Refinery Processing Review (Individual Technology)

Publication date:4Q 2017
Item#: B1008

Just Published. Fluid Catalytic Cracking


Change is not new in the refining world, but the magnitude and speed of oil price collapse for over 70% from the middle of 2014 to early 2016 caused by oil glut—Brent futures plunging from over $110/bbl in June 2014 to below $30/bbl in Jan. 2016—is significant. At the end of 2017, benchmarks Brent and WTI futures recovered to $66.87/bbl and $60.42/bbl respectively. In an interview with the Financial Times newspaper in early Nov. 2017, Spanish oil firm Repsol's CEO Josu Jon Imaz said, "The only certainty in the oil market is volatility." At present, oil market volatility and supply uncertainty because of OPEC/non-OPEC production cuts and Mideast political tensions present many challenges and opportunities for refiners around the world while global synchronized economic recovery has driven fuel consumption, particularly gasoline, that has benefitted many gasoline-producing FCCUs. The surge in gasoline demand is a "sea-change" for the FCC industry.

Many technology developers and also refiners have held a strong belief over the past decade that FCCUs must produce more light cycle oil (LCO) to meet the global "dieselization" trend. Well, the dieselization trend is not expected to happen soon for several reasons.

First, advancement of hybrid motor engines has increased fuel efficiency that matches that of diesel vehicles. According to Toyota, it expects its sales of gasoline hybrids in the region to jump by 40% in 2016, accounting for more than half of its total European sales. Toyota's gasoline hybrid is reported to have a fuel efficiency of 54 miles/gal (23 km/L) in city and 50 miles/gal (21 km/L) on highway. In comparison, diesel-powered passenger car's fuel consumption is about 40 miles/gal (17 km/L).

Second, the hybrid vehicles emit lower CO2 in addition to no exhaustion of soot and particulate matter as associated with diesel engines.

Third, Volkswagen's diesel emission scandal unfolded in Sept. 2015 that the car company used a so-called "defeat devise" software to cheat CO2 and NOX emission inspections for many years has tarnished the image of "clean diesel" and lost consumer confidence in diesel vehicles. Before the news broke that the company had cheated on emissions tests, there were occasional rumblings against diesel—officials in Paris talked of banning diesel cars from the city, for instance—but many doubted that anything would come of it. Now, tighter regulations seem much more likely: Athens and Madrid, as well as Paris, have all promised phase out diesel by 2025, and they now seem much more likely to have the political capital to follow through.

Fourthly, increasing sales of gasoline-driven cars instead of the diesel version in China, India, and the US have so far made a convincing case that gasoline is the most preferred transportation fuel. If so, the unit should lean toward making gasoline and also C3-C4 olefins for alkylate, petrochemical and polymer productions. In this case, where are the outlets for LCO as current technology developments have been focusing on maximizing LCO yield? On the other hand, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules that ban high-sulfur fuel oil (above 0.5%) used by 2020 worldwide may provide market opportunity for diesel fuels and LCO. Is FCCU is at another crossroads in its development path since the first unit was installed in 1942?

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, its role 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."

Additionally, the fluid catalytic cracking section features the latest trends and technology offerings, including:

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The Review is sold for the exclusive use of the subscriber. No other use, duplication, or publication of the Review or any part contained therein is permitted without written consent from Hydrocarbon Publishing Company, P.O. Box 661, Southeastern PA 19399 (USA).

Keywords:primary conversion process, gasoline, diesel, LCO, propylene, butylenes, light olefins, LPG, fluidized bed, riser, ULSD, ULSG, ultra-low sulfur, rare earth, dieselization, SOX, NOX, slurry oil, fuel oil, fuel specifications, gasoline benzene, reformulated gasoline, RFG, CO, particulate matter, mild FCC, dual-riser, multiple riser, ZSM-5, additives, zeolite, matrix, co-catalysts, RFCC, biofeeds, catalyst regenerator, power recovery, advanced process control, opportunity crudes, energy efficiency, electrostatic precipitators, ESP, flue gas scrubber, tight oil, residual feeds, butylenes