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Siberian Technology

Siberian Technology

Interview with Gazprom Neft Omsk Refinery General Director, Oleg Belyavsky

Gazprom magazine Oleg Belyavsky

General Director of the Gazprom Neft Oil Refinery Oleg Belyavsky answers our questions.

— Oleg Germanovich, how has your product range changed over the past two years?

— Our plant has transferred to production of highly environmentally friendly products: our entire output of diesel fuels is now fully compliant with Euro-5 standards, and gasoline with Euro-4 and Euro-5. This has been possible through the introduction of hydro-treatment technologies — we’ve had two installations built — with 80 percent of the equipment for both of these supplied by Russian manufacturers. Concurrently with this, we’ve also moved to production of low-sulphur-content heavy fuel oil.

As is well known, from 2016 Russian refineries are obliged to transfer to the exclusive production of fuels of Euro-5 ecology standards. Our plant will complete construction of a CT facility in November 2015, after which all gasoline production will be fully compliant with Euro-5 standards.

— Are you reducing production of mazut?

— The modernisation programme does envisage the end of mazut production. Instead of this, we will be producing more fuel oil, as well as coke and bitumen.

Joint efforts

— How is research and development (R&D) handled at your plant?

— R&D is integral to the work of our refinery. But the resources of the Omsk Refinery alone aren’t enough for the serious pursuit of R&D, and we have to engage the support of scientific institutions, who come to us with interesting proposals. Apart from which, it sometimes happens that we ourselves commission investigations we deem to be important to the company. We then review the economics, evaluate the potential of one R&D priority or another, and also consider the possibility of our licensing this: because a licence of that kind can, subsequently, generate additional economic benefits.

A full R&D programme for 2015–17 has been developed, covering the implementation of various objectives at the Omsk Refinery. The key objective here being to increase refining depth, and to develop our own production of catalysts for catalytic cracking and hydrogenation processes. All of which is very knowledge-intensive, demanding the sort of fundamental knowledge our partners (scientific institutions) have at their disposal.

— What scientific institutions are helping you in this?

— We are fortunate in being able to work with the Institute of Hydrocarbon Processing under the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In particular, together with this institute, the Omsk Refinery has been able to develop technology for the manufacturing of specialist cracking catalysts that boost the octane ratings of gasoline, as well as increasing output. Production of these commenced in 2012. The introduction of a new bizeolite catalyst has resulted not just in higher gasoline production (and greater octane ratings) but also lower sulphur content.

This catalyst is also used at the Moscow Refinery. The Omsk Refinery has the only catalyst production facility in the country producing micro-spherical zeolite cracking catalysts.

This synergy of science and industry produces excellent results — you make an effort in a highly specialist area (in this case, catalyst production), but the outcome improves efficiency throughout the entire enterprise.

We have reached a level in catalytic cracking now that I am confident allows us to compete with the best producers in the world. A short while ago we had our product tested at an independent laboratory in Greece: results showed that our catalyst outperformed the best international alternatives, on a range of indicators.

Our catalysts are for everyone

— How well are you supplied with your own catalysts?

— In terms of catalysts for catalytic cracking we are supplied with our own products in full; as regards hydro-processing agents we are still, to a certain extent, dependent on foreign producers. We are striving to improve our own capabilities in catalyst production and to increase sales of cracking catalysts to third-party enterprises — we’re looking to extending the range of our products to meet their specific needs. We plan to take part in competitive tenders for supplying catalysts in line with customers’ own raw materials and production goals.

We plan to build a 6,000 tonne-per-year capacity production line for the manufacture of supported hydro-treatment catalysts at the Omsk Refinery. On that basis, it will be possible to supply catalysts to Gazprom Neft enterprises at cost, and to third-party customers — at highly competitive rates.

Today, we lead the domestic market in the production of catalytic cracking catalysts. In addition to which, last year we completed research and development into an effective catalyst for isodewaxing of diesel distillates, something that has led to an increase in production of winter diesel fuels — essential in our harsh climatic conditions. By October 2015 the refinery plans to start developing technology for the production of high-performance catalysts in oil refining through laser electro-dispersion, and to test these in gas-purification processes (afterburning of carbon monoxide), in hydro-isodewaxing of diesel fuel, and in the hydrogenation of olefins.

Thus far, we have collected a number of patents for various type of catalysts, with four patents obtained in 2014 — a very positive move, since it gives us some financial return on R&D.

— To what extent?

— If we’re talking about developing cracking catalysts and bringing them into production, then the financial impact of this amounts to a pre-tax profit of RUB610.7 million per year. This is the result of cost-reductions in catalyst production as a result of improved technology, and increased production of high-octane gasolines.

Remember, the Russian refining industry modernisation programme envisages the construction of new hydro-cracking, hydro-treatment and de-waxing facilities — which means demand for catalysts is going to increase.

Putting the pressure on gas

— What else are you doing to improve refining depth?

— We’re currently trying to find a catalyst to increase the output of propane-propylene fraction.

Total production at two of our cracking facilities currently amounts to 200,000 tonnes per year. In this context, we are continuing our cooperation with the Titan Group (Gazprom Neft has a holding in Poliom — a subsidiary of the Titan Group). We supply that enterprise with our entire output of propane-propylene fraction, for production of polypropylene.

The refinery’s plans envisage increasing capacity of the alkylation unit from 300,000 to 370,000 tonnes per year, as well as construction of a new methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) production facility, which will require increasing the extraction of butane-butylene fractions at the catalytic cracking units.

All of these are high-octane components, which means we will be able to produce more environmentally friendly motor fuels.

Specialists from the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) offered us a technology which allows, using a single process, the refining of low-octane components of the secondary processes. In which context, depending on production requirements, it is possible to obtain high-octane Regular 92 gasoline or a concentrate of aromatic hydrocarbons. We’ve now reached agreement on simulating various processes to conduct pilot tests in 2015 using raw materials from the Omsk Refinery — after which we’ll take a decision on using this process commercially.

We’re also running a project on the replacement of tetraethyl lead in aviation fuel, as well as the development of lead-free aviation gasoline — which is currently 100-percent imported. Tetraethyl lead (an extremely toxic substance, previously used as an anti-knocking agent), is prohibited in Russia. But small aircraft need aviation gasoline — which, in turn, is necessary for the development of internal traffic.

We now have an absurd situation in which flights to neighbouring Siberian cities often go through Moscow. But large aircraft for regional flights are practically never necessary. We, together with a range of scientific institutions, have developed a new aviation gasoline, and have already put together the basis on which to develop the production of components.

— When will you go into production?

— In 2015. Nobody else in Russia is doing this yet: Gazprom Neft will be the first.

—Could projects in polymer-modified bitumens (PMBs) implemented at your company be viewed as R&D?

— Certainly. PMBs increase the useful life of road coverings. We’ve already been producing PMBs for over a year, with field tests conducted on roads throughout the Omsk Oblast. Results, thus far, are promising. Apart from this, we are constantly improving production efficiency and improving the quality of PMBs. Our bitumens have received approval not just in Russia but also in Kazakhstan.

Basic training

— I understand you have set up a basic training department? Tell us about that.

— I see the establishment of a basic training department within Omsk State University as a major step forward in the training of personnel — not just for the refinery, but for the company as a whole.

Now we can develop precisely the specialists we need — without having to retrain new graduates entering the company. This department will be training petrochemicals specialists in two key areas — “Machinery and equipment in chemical industry” and “Chemical engineering for natural energy resources and hydrocarbons”.

Lecturers at Omsk State University, together with our own specialists, have developed a specialist educational programme, combining deep theoretical training with the practical skills needed by enterprise in the oil refining and petrochemicals industries. Anyone completing the course will have a thorough grounding in everything they need to know regarding the application of new technologies and the utilisation of cutting-edge equipment.

Within our own factory we have made use of decommissioned plant to set up a dedicated area for practical training, with lecture halls, and laboratories for the simulation of technological processes. A young person can try out various processes, and see how the equipment works, on-site. On going on to work in the plant he will be completely prepared, since he will have developed his skills in conditions as close to real life on the shop floor as we can make them.

On leaving education, young professionals will be qualified for two blue-collar professions, meeting entry requirements as stipulated by Rostechnadzor (the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service of Russia) and able to find work in Gazprom Neft’s refining facilities in Omsk, Moscow, Yaroslavl and Serbia.

— How much did you have to invest in setting up this training facility?

— More than RUB40 million. Added to which, Russian developers had to set up all the necessary programming and software.

— And will this facility only be used for basic training?

— Any specialist higher educational institution or company interested in studying mechanics or technology is welcome to approach us.

Waste management

— What work would you particularly like to highlight here?

— “Minimising the use of ammonia in demineralised water for boiler feeds and technological installations” — which has led to our changing the technology used in preparing demineralised water. Adjustments to the quality of feed water, steam and condensate are now made using a mix of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and the reagent Nalko 72310. Thanks to the introduction of this technology we have been able to ward off the formation of spontaneous emulsion in diesel fuel as well as process condensate in section 001 in installation KT-1/1, and have also been able to reduce losses at the plant. We are also involved in the plasma-induced splitting of hydrogen sulphide.

Traditionally, hydrogen sulphide is burned, rendering it into elemental sulphur. Using plasma means pure hydrogen can also be obtained from hydrogen sulphide — a far safer process in terms of the environment. We will, in the near future, test a pilot facility capable of processing 100 cubic metres per hour. The resulting hydrogen can be used in hydro-treatment processes. The implementation of plasma technologies in producing hydrogen reduces costs by a factor of 1.8 in comparison with the traditional Claus method of sulphur recovery units. Refining becomes more efficient, and less energy intensive. We are committed to a policy of establishing energy-efficient and low-waste manufacturing.