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May-2022

Decarbonisation is a leading opportunity to drive oil plant competitiveness

It is well established that changing customer and production requirements led by a focus on achieving a net-zero future are shaping the oil sector.

Uwe Boltersdorf
Sulzer Chemtech

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Article Summary

By leveraging advanced separation technologies, companies can turn this into an opportunity and adapt their existing equipment to future-proof operations, improve environmental footprints, and create new revenue streams. Understanding the benefits of the available solutions and which ones are most suitable are key steps to thriving in an evolving market.

The decarbonisation of hydrocarbon processing plants should not be seen solely as a requirement that is expected to meet net-zero targets. In fact, there are multiple options for emissions reductions that offer key opportunities to advance and intensify existing processes.

Cutting energy use and emissions

With separation activities being among the most energy intensive, oil facilities should first look at how to improve them in order to cut their environmental footprint. Perhaps the most intuitive step that can be taken is increasing the efficiency of these processes, which can be easily achieved by leveraging the latest generation of mass transfer components within columns.

For example, the replacement of third[1]generation structured packing with fourth[1]generation alternatives, such as Sulzer Chemtech’s MellapakPlus, can maintain the same energy consumption rates while increasing capacity by 30-50% within existing manufacturing footprints (Moser & Kessler, 2000). Similarly, the upgrade from third-generation random packing to fourth-generation rings, such as Sulzer Chemtech’s NeXRing, can expand column capacity by 10% without increasing energy usage (Ausner, et al., 2018).

When these most recent solutions are used to replace even older equipment, plants benefit from much greater improvements. Ultimately, with limited capital expenditure, even already energy-efficient plants can achieve more while enhancing their throughput.

Taking this to the next level, companies committed to larger investments can go carbon neutral by building post-combustion carbon capture facilities, which are able to prevent up to 90% of produced CO2 from entering the atmosphere. These units remove CO2 from flue gases by leveraging chemical separation methods, thus the same considerations on mass transfer components apply here.

To deliver optimum performance in these columns, Sulzer Chemtech has developed MellapakCC structured packing, which was designed specifically for carbon capture applications (Sulzer, 2022). More precisely, this cost-effective technology increases efficiency by 20% compared to conventional structured packing.

Adapting oil processing operations

Oil processors can also modify their existing facilities to process more sustainable feedstocks effectively. Advanced separation solutions can help plants process more economical alternatives to crudes as well as renewable, plant-based oils or upcycle waste materials, which typically feature higher concentrations of impurities and harsh chemicals.

In addition to handling new input materials, advanced separation solutions can help hydrocarbon processing facilities deliver highly profitable petrochemicals, making the entire downstream sector more sustainable. For example, pyrolysis gasoline (pygas), a byproduct from steam crackers, can be used to extract styrene monomers from renewable resources.

All these enhancements drive eco-friendly practices while developing flexible operations, leading to quick returns on investment (ROI). Even more, they often require limited, economical adjustments to existing separation columns, maximising profitability.

Thanks to its extensive expertise in cutting[1]edge mass transfer applications, Sulzer Chemtech is helping refineries worldwide convert their existing facilities and upgrade them with custom processing equipment to drive up their sustainability and competitiveness.


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