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Worldwide Refinery Processing Review (Quarterly Issues)

Publication date:4Q 2013
Item#: B21304

Fluid Catalytic Cracking, and Visbreaking & Thermal Cracking

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 via increased aromatics production. 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 tight oil 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. 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:

Visbreaking and Thermal Cracking

Visbreaking is a thermal conversion process introduced in 1939, offers refineries an option to enhance residue conversion with moderate capital investment compared to alternative conversion processes. The process converts atmospheric or vacuum residues to gas, naphtha, distillates, and visbroken residue to reduce the quantity of cutter stock required for fuel oils and increase overall distillate yield. With the growing demand for lighter products and subsiding demand for fuel oil, the role of the visbreaker in a refinery has been minimized. Bunker fuels, a subset of fuel oil used for powering shipping vessels are facing an uncertain future due to new sulfur regulations, high prices, and competition from other sources of fuel (diesel, LNG), further decreasing demand for fuel oil and casting even more doubt over the future viability of the visbreaker. As a result, numerous refineries have cut back on visbreaking as supported by the five year trend of decreasing capacity. In trying to keep up margins, refineries are investing in other heavy oil technologies to maximize light product yields. Still, integrated processing schemes, optimization, hardware, and fouling control including the use of chemical additives are all available for refiners looking to enhance the profitability of the visbreaking unit. Additionally, while the visbreaker may be falling out of a favor within a refinery environment it may see some niche applications in being applied for in-situ upgrading of very heavy crudes at upstream oil fields such as those in the Canadian oilsands and in the Orinoco Belt in Venezuela. 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).

primary conversion process, gasoline, diesel, LCO, propylene, light olefins, LPG, aromatics, BTX, paraxylene, PX, 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, visbreaking, resid, fuel oil, thermal cracking, chemical additives, heavy crude oil, upgrader