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Worldwide Refinery Processing Review (Quarterly Issues)

FLUID CATALYTIC CRACKING AND LIGHT OLEFINS PRODUCTION (QUARTERLY ISSUES)
Publication date:4Q 2011
Item#: B21104

Fluid Catalytic Cracking and Light Olefins Production

Fluid Catalytic Cracking

The fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) is a main refinery conversion process and is responsible for producing a large amount of the refinery gasoline pool along with diesel, light olefins, and LPG. Having been introduced in the 1940s, the FCCU is also one of the most mature technologies in the refinery. Recent global economic concerns and market conditions (i.e., shift from gasoline to diesel, strict environmental regulations, lower refinery utilization rates, processing of more heavy crudes) have caused a number of analysts to declare that the FCC is an "obsolete" process. While the FCC may need to alter its operating strategy, it is hardly obsolete.

Continued FCC technology developments have focused on widening the boiling range of the feed that can be processed in the unit, maximizing diesel and light olefins yields, and providing operational flexibility in order to allow the unit to take advantage of favorable market opportunities to maximize unit profitability. Additionally, the implementation of highly integrated refinery-petrochemicals complexes, with the FCCU serving as a key processing unit, is another option being explored to maximize production margins. To ensure that the FCC process remains a viable refiner conversion technology for the coming years, future work will involve the introduction and development of novel processing schemes, hardware designs, and catalyst formulations to enable the processing of residual and renewable feedstocks while allowing for flexibility and optimization in the FCC product slate. Novel catalyst formulations and production methods will be oriented towards handling increasingly difficult feedstocks with improved activity and selectivity while coping with skyrocketing prices of rare earth materials. Also, fuel reformulation and sulfur reduction and advanced emissions control technologies are being developed so that the process remains capable of meeting regulatory targets concerning both fuel quality standards and environmental emissions. The fluid catalytic cracking section features the latest trends and technology offerings, including:

Light Olefins Production

The production of light olefins—ethylene, propylene, and butenes—is garnering attention around the world as demand for petrochemical products is on the rise in many regions. Propylene has typically been viewed as a byproduct of steam crackers, as ethylene has historically seen higher demand and loftier prices. However, starting in 2001, the price difference between ethylene and propylene gradually narrowed to the point that, by 2Q 2010, propylene was priced higher than ethylene in Europe for the first time. As a result, propylene is now seen as a coproduct and, in some cases, the primary product from steam cracker operations.

Continued light olefins production technology developments have focused on both FCCU and on-purpose technologies. Strategies to improve propylene production from the FCCU include adjusting process operating conditions, changing process configurations, and implementing novel catalyst and additive systems to selectively crack FCC range feeds to propylene. Additionally, several FCC based processes for on-purpose propylene production are available. Typical FCC propylene yield is about 5% with various adjustments able to push propylene yield to 7-8 wt% range and even as high as 10-12 wt% in some cases.

The use of on-purpose production technologies has been suggested by several engineering firms as a way to ease the current strain on propylene supply. On-purpose processes, such as cracking of heavier olefins, metathesis, propane dehydrogenation (PDH), and methanol-to-olefins (MTO), give a higher yield of propylene relative to naphtha crackers. The commercialization and installation of these on-purpose technologies will depend on a number of factors, including the speed at which lighter feeds, particularly shale gas, are more readily available for use in steam crackers as well as the comparative economics of on-purpose technologies and FCC propylene maximization options. The rise of shale gas production outside of North America is expected to take several years, and could delay the widespread commercialization of alternative propylene production technologies, though the technology innovations bring on-purpose techniques closer to global deployment every day. The light olefins production section features the latest trends and technology offerings, including:

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primary conversion process, gasoline, diesel, LCO, propylene, 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, ethylene, propylene, butene, butylene, FCCU, on-purpose propylene, PDH, metathesis, MTO, methanol-to-olefins, integrated refinery-petrochemical, steam cracking, naphtha cracking, polymer grade propylene, FCC catalyst, FCC additive, dual riser, downflow reactor, propane-propylene splitter, cryogenic separation, propylene from offgas, alkylation, etherification, heavy olefins, paraffin dehydrogenation, zeolite, ZSM-5, phosphorus additive, membrane separation, absorption