The oil refining industry is known for its resilience and adaptability, according to hydrocarbon processing online May 23.These features are crucial to help it weather a perfect storm brewing that will have a profound impact on the industry well into 2050.The elements of the storm were widely discussed at the 2019 European expo in Budapest, Hungary, on May 20th and 21st.The conference attracted 400 participants from refineries and suppliers around the world.
With the implementation of the imo Marine fuel regulations 2020, the storm will break out on January 1.But preparations for the milestone are already under way.Reports from two refineries, Galp in Portugal and Tupras in Turkey, show that they have entered an advanced stage of preparation and investment to ensure viability beyond imo 2020.The challenge is that shipping will start using more middle distillates and less heavy oil to reduce sulphur emissions.
Refinery upgrade investments are necessary to ensure that the product portfolio remains relevant and profitable.One option is to invest in a "delayed coking unit" that converts heavy fractions into coke and Marine natural gas (MGO). Another option for the heavy end is to treat them in gasifiers to produce syngas for IGCC power.This is an option taken by Saudi aramco's jazan refinery in their project to build a 2.4gw power plant to be combined with the refinery.
Looking ahead, the auto industry will also drive changes in the structure of refined oil and fuel.The growth of electric vehicles and the emergence of hydrogen and liquefied natural gas as transport fuels will gradually erode demand for diesel and gasoline.Increased capacity in Africa and the United States will dampen export markets for gasoline produced in Europe.Despite the growth of new automotive fuels, diesel shortages are expected to worsen in the European market, as diesel will remain the fuel of choice for heavy vehicles and will now be used in Marine applications as MGO.All this adds up to an uncertain product-mix dynamic, but it is clear that Europe has excess capacity for petrol.
Another way out of the surplus of light distillates in downstream Europe would be to convert them into higher value petrochemicals.This was the theme of several speakers who spoke at the conference to highlight the importance of refining and petrochemical integration.
A more distant target is the 2050 carbon dioxide reduction target set by the Paris agreement to slow climate change.Refineries and other industrial activities will need major changes in their operations in order to play a role in achieving this objective.One option is to increase the amount of biomass in refineries to produce renewable biofuels.A Nestor strategy in Finland explains that it has been implementing this strategy for many years with great technical and commercial success.
Some operators have reported a reduction of about 20 per cent in co2 intensity over the past five years through a series of process equipment upgrades and the implementation of basic best practices, such as the use of additional steam traps.Generating the electricity needed for oil refining through renewable wind and solar routes is also an emerging strategy for oil refining decarbonisation.More future mitigation strategies for climate action include redirecting co2 emissions to the production of chemicals such as polyurethane through polyols.The pace of catalyst innovation in the sector, and the recent sharp rise in the cost of carbon credits under the carbon dioxide emissions trading scheme, could allow technologies in the sector to be commercialised faster than many had thought possible.