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Worldwide Refinery Processing Review (Quarterly Issues)

Publication date:4Q 2016
Item#: B21604

Fluid Catalytic Cracking and XTL

Fluid Catalytic Cracking

Change is not new in the refining world, but the magnitude and speed of the oil price collapse of over 70% from the middle of 2014 to early 2016 caused by oil glut is significant. The change has had a positive impact on fuels, particularly gasoline consumption worldwide that has benefitted many gasoline-producing FCCUs. The surge in gasoline demand is a "sea-change" for the FCC industry.

The ongoing shale boom in the US has provided FCC technology licensers the opportunity to tailor technology solutions for processing these light, sweet paraffinic feeds. In spite of the current dieselization of the world, FCCU profitability is still at its best when serving as a primary gasoline producer, making the unit that much more valuable. However, a number of challenges are presented when dealing with this feedstock. The light paraffinic nature of tight oil leads to coke generation issues within the unit, where insufficient coke leads to heat balance issues in the regenerator. Additionally, the paraffinic nature of tight oil leads to an 8-10 number decline in the octane value of FCC gasoline. New metal contaminants, mainly iron and calcium, are also present, which contribute to catalyst deactivation. Many companies are taking actions to find the best technologies and practices towards solving these dilemmas.

The importance of the FCCU as a gasoline producer cannot be ignored, and as a result, there continues to be technological improvements made to improve the production as well as the quality of this fuel. Two major drivers for advancements in this field are the desire to improve olefinicity (and consequently octane) and to reduce product sulfur. However, there is also increased interest in LCO, olefins, and aromatics (BTX) production, the processing of resid feeds, and in lowering emissions due to concerns about global warming.

The FCCU is also lending itself to an additional role as biofeeds user to alleviate growing concerns over energy security. As global fossil fuel demand continues to grow and with world oil reserves gradually depleting, the development of alternative energy sources is needed. Stricter environmental legislation will also accelerate biofuels development. The processing of biofeeds, specifically cellulosic materials and triglycerides, in the FCC to produce biofuels and petrochemicals is currently being investigated. FCC technology is well established in refineries and renewable FCC technologies can be implemented with minor modifications.

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


Interest in XTL (biomass- and/or gas-to-liquids) technology continues to grow worldwide as energy demand increases, driven by non-OECD nations. New fuel sources will be needed as light sweet crude deposits continue to dwindle around the world. Heavier "opportunity crudes" are available, but these reserves are more expensive to upgrade due to higher contaminant levels, equating to more processing capacity and intensity being needed to transform them into high-quality transportation fuels. Also, with pending GHG emissions regulations being put in place by numerous countries and regions, these opportunity crudes are coming under scrutiny in terms of environmental impact. A number of areas (i.e., the state of California) are implementing low carbon fuel standards which may result in penalties for processing high carbon intensity crude oils in refineries.

Biomass- and gas-to-liquids processes are able to yield high-quality products (e.g., middle distillates, naphtha) with improved properties (higher cetane number, improved pour point, lower sulfur content) when compared to petroleum-derived fuels. These processes also offer energy security to countries that have abundant supplies of natural gas and/or biomass feeds. From a refinery perspective, existing hydroprocessing equipment can be utilized to upgrade Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) derived synthetic crudes into high-quality products. Oil firms may look into joint ventures with companies that can reform the natural gas and process it through a F-T reactor to yield a synthetic crude, which can then be shipped to a refinery for further upgrading.

A number of factors have contributed to the lack of widespread implementation, including economics of construction and operation, regulatory directions, and technology development and demonstration. Companies are continuing to focus on process and catalyst improvements to make these processes more attractive and competitive with traditional upgrading equipment. Going forward, XTL technologies may be an attractive alternative route for companies looking to supplement fuel production and/or expand operations into new markets. As countries around the world look to curb GHG emissions, BTL is an option for producing diesel with low carbon intensity, as BTL-derived diesel has been estimated to have life cycle CO2 emissions of ‑3 g/MJ.

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

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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, XTL, gas-to-liquids, GTL, natural gas, stranded gas, methane, CO2, GHGs, biomass-to-liquids, BTL, Fischer-Tropsch, F-T, synthetic fuels, synfuel, middle distillates, diesel, jet fuel, gasoline, naphtha, hydroprocessing, hydrocracking, hydroisomerization, reforming, gasification, biomass, syngas, syngas conditioning, lubricants, lubes, low carbon fuel standard