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Worldwide Refinery Processing Review (Quarterly Issues)

Publication date:2Q 2016
Item#: B21602

Hydrocracking, and Lube Oil Production


Hydrocracking (HC) is utilized in refineries to upgrade a variety of feeds that range from coker naphtha to various heavy gas oils and residual fractions into lighter molecules. The hydrocracking process has emerged as the primary diesel producer in many refinery configurations, and as environmental regulations on transportation fuels continue to tighten, the hydrocracker will be one of the tools available to refiners to meet new product specifications. Unlike FCCU processes, hydrocrackers can effectively yield ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) streams whereas middle-distillate range FCC products (i.e. light cycle oil, LCO) will regularly require additional treating to meet product blending specifications.

Hydrocracking units offer improved flexibility to shift production modes between gasoline and diesel products based on process selection, operating conditions, and catalysts used. The severity (e.g., temperature, H2 partial pressure, LHSV, process configuration, catalyst type, etc.) of the unit is set based upon the composition and properties of the feedstock processed and the desired conversion level and/or product distribution. Certain feeds (e.g., paraffinic) may be difficult to crack and thus require a higher operating temperature, while others (e.g., aromatic feeds) may have a high tendency for coke formation and, thus, require special catalyst formulations. Hydrocracker operators have been looking to increase the profitability of the unit by processing heavier feedstreams, including heavy vacuum gas oil (HVGO) and resid feeds, while minimizing hydrogen consumption and shifting production away from gasoline and towards diesel-range fuels. Residual feeds present the problems of increased H2 consumption, lower product yields and quality, and reduction in cycle length. Technology developers have been searching for methods to allow for hydrocracking units to continue normal operation while processing these difficult-to-handle feeds. These optimized parameters include higher liquid-gas distribution and reactor volume efficiency. Along with optimized process parameters, catalyst companies are also developing novel formulations that aim to increase process performance while dealing with these challenging feeds. These novel catalysts may be paired with state-of-the-art reactor internals to maximize performance.

Process designers and catalyst manufacturers are feverishly developing cost-effective and energy-efficient hydrocracking technology and revamp options to satisfy the refining industry around the world. Hydrocracking technology licensers are looking at new ways to remove heavy polynuclear aromatics (HPNAs) from the unit as the buildup of HPNAs can lead to increased catalyst deactivation and fouling. Multiple-phase hydroprocessing units have also been developed to minimize hydrogen consumption while also reducing unit severity. Finally, the utilization of hydrocracking technologies to upgrade resid and/or renewable feeds to produce additional supplies of high-quality liquid products has been covered extensively through commercial projects and R&D work over the past several years.

Additionally, the hydrocracking section features the latest trends and technology offerings, including:

Lube Oil Production

Two general methods for producing base oils are solvent- and hydroprocessing (hydrocatalytic)-based processes. Hydroprocessed (hydrocatalytic) base oil production essentially has taken over the industry over the past decade. Increased demand for higher quality product with fewer impurities was the main driver for this shift. In addition, it is possible to integrate hydroprocessing equipment, such as a hydrocracker or hydrofinisher, into a solvent-based configuration to yield premium quality base oils (hybrid configuration). These oils contain lower sulfur and have a higher viscosity index than the same solvent refined base oil without the added hydroprocessing would have contained.

Around the globe, an overwhelming trend to supply cleaner, high-quality products dominates the refining industry. The problem of greenhouse gas emissions has continued to gather attention in both political and social arenas, resulting in considerable pressure to use oil products as efficiently as possible. Although lubricant oils are not combusted, and therefore are not a direct source of harmful emissions, lubes still have a significant carbon footprint through production and use. This is mainly because the final lube products are most often used in either cars or industrial machinery, and each is a significant source of CO2, SOX, NOX, particulate matter (PM), and other harmful emissions. High-quality lubricants will improve fuel efficiency in automobiles, ultimately reducing hydrocarbon fuel demand.

These increasingly stringent automobile efficiency requirements are pushing manufacturers to seek ever better automotive lubricants, and lubricant producers are responding by rapidly building out capacity in Group II and III base production, and at the same time reducing Group I production capacity. The shift to high-quality Group II and Group III base oils has also led to almost all new lubes production capacity being added being hydroprocessing-based, with solvent-based technologies being phased out unless in a so-called hybrid configuration with hydroprocessing capacity.

Additionally, the lubes production section features the latest trends and technology offerings, including:

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Keywords:hydrogen, hydrocracking, middle distillates, diesel, ULSD, heavy oil, tight oil, ebullated-bed, slurry-bed, fixed-bed, single-stage, two-stage, two-stage with recycle, jet fuel, kerosene, gasoil, gas oil, coker gas oil, coker naphtha, DAO, VGO, HVGO, LCO, mild hydrocracking, resid hydrocracking, renewable hydrocracking, renewable jet fuel, renewable diesel, biodiesel, dewaxing, cold flow properties, cloud point, pour point, cetane, platinum, palladium, NiMo, CoMo, NiW, heavy polynuclear aromatics, HPNAs, Fischer-Tropsch, F-T, lubes, lube oil, base oil, base oils, base stock, base stocks, polyalphaolefins, PAOs, Group I, Group II, Group III, Group IV, Group V, Group VI, hydroprocessing, solvent, polymerization, bright stock, viscosity index, VI, pour point, synthetic lube, Fischer-Tropsch, F-T, gas-to-liquids, GTL, bio-lubricants