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Low Oil Prices Create Incentives to Upgrade Refining Process Technologies

Unitel Technologies says the recent drop in oil prices is encouraging many of its oil industry customers to take a fresh look at the entire field of hydroprocessing with special emphasis on hydrotreating (HT), hydrodesulfurization (HDS) and hydrocracking (HC). The underlying objectives are to develop and/or test new catalysts and optimize process parameters to improve profitability in an increasingly challenging environment.

Vertically integrated oil companies involved in both production and refining are looking to shore up refining profits in order to offset decreased revenues on the production front, while stand-alone refiners are more focused on the use of increased capital resources to prepare for the future when oil prices are likely to be higher and feedstock choices may include heavier and less desirable crudes.

“In any event, you want to be sure that you are on the right track before making multi-million dollar capital investments. A pilot plant is usually the best starting point to identify the most promising options,” says Dr. Ravi Randhava, Unitel president. “After that phase has been successfully completed, a demo unit sized for a feedstock rate of 50-250 BPD can be used to generate the necessary scale-up data.”

An eight-reactor hydrotreater (200 bar, 450C) being operated by a major US oil company is a good example of a refinery support pilot plant. This unit, designed and built by Unitel, is used to select the “best” catalyst for each incoming crude.

Dr. David Dayton, director of the biofuels program at RTI International, says his company recently started running a two-reactor Unitel hydrotreating system (200 bar) “for our catalyst and process optimization studies that involve a variety of feedstocks such as pyrolysis oils, naphtha and diesel.”

On a significantly larger scale, a US petroleum company followed its pilot plant program with a 142 BPD hydroprocessing demo unit provided by Unitel to prove the commercial feasibility of its proprietary technology for upgrading bitumen extracted from Athabasca oil sands, Uniel says.


David Dayton
RTI International
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