Catalysts: better, cheaper – and our own

Gazprom magazine

Andrei Kleimenov

Interview with Andrei Kleimenov, Head of Scientific and Technical Development, Oil Refining Directorate, Gazprom Neft

Gazprom magazine

Regeneration of catalyst activity

— Andrei Vladimirovich, tell us about Gazprom Neft’s priorities in terms of R&D. What’s on the agenda, first and foremost?

— As is well-known, we have approved strategic guidelines in place to 2025. By which time, we should be the market leader in the catalyst business, implementing our own technologies and established as a leader in developing fundamentally new products and technologies — including in catalytic cracking catalysts, hydro-treatment catalysts, and in reactivation technology.

— What do you see as the company’s key advantage in developing its catalyst business?

— The fact that we don’t just develop, but also test all technologies, ourselves, at our own assets. This means we can be confident of the high reliability of the outcomes we obtain, and that new technology will deliver greater production efficiencies. We obtain objective information, in testing, as to how promising a technology is, and how quickly it can be implemented in production processes.

— Tell us about the oligomerisation catalyst. What is its main advantage?

— This catalyst has been developed by specialists from Gazprom Neft and UNISIT LLC. Pilot testing was successfully completed this year. The test run demonstrated that — in terms of technical characteristics — it exceeds the performance of similar catalysts available on the Russian market. The catalyst developed is guaranteed to show regeneration cycle on average 2.5 times longer than competitive products. The oligomerizate yield was up 30 percent.

Added to which, the octane rating of the oligomerizate was more than 93.

— Is it already possible to assess the economic impact of using this catalyst?

— Yes. According to provisional assessments, the economic impact achieved at one facility at the Moscow Refinery totalled more than RUB180 million over the course of one year. It’s also important to note that a typical oligomerization catalyst, after a month-long run, requires regeneration in order to restore its catalytic activity. The catalyst we developed has a usage cycle of 55 days between regenerations. The average catalyst service life has been increased from 2.5 to five years. All of which has a significant impact on technological efficiency.

Experiments at the Omsk Refinery

— Tell us about aroforming. What kind of technology is this?

— Aroforming is making strides all over the world — similar technologies are being intensively developed in China, the UAE — and in the USA, in particular (in Houston, for example). You have to understand here that era of inventions has now long gone — it’s difficult to invent something new. So sometimes it makes more sense to adopt pre-existing and effective technologies available on the market and, in exchange for being introduced to the patent holders, to bear the costs of commercialisation and promotion. That turns out to be the case with aroforming.

In the long term, the aroforming facility at the Omsk Refinery will be able to produce 450,000 tonnes of high-octane blending component for motor gasoline every year.

— And this will be known as “Aroformat”? What are its main technological advantages?

— Yes. “Aroforming”, by the way, is a registered trademark. It’s important to specify, straight away, that the aroforming catalyst contains no platinum-group metals. There is a possibility that we’ll be able to use raw materials from our catalyst plant as co-formers for this catalyst. The pressure is lower — between five and 10 atmospheres, several times lower than in reforming. The equipment is lighter, and cheaper. The aroforming catalyst processes fractions with a predominance of C7 hydrocarbons, which are not suitable for processing by classical methods such as catalytic cracking or reforming. They’re low-margin, because there are no viable methods for processing them. They have to be poured into straight-run gasoline, in which there are many low-octane components, which makes subsequent processing difficult.

And aroforming means you use a low-margin product to obtain high-octane commercial gasoline, with a low benzene and low sulphur content. Low-octane fuel like this can’t be processed with other technologies.

One hundred percent recovery

— Talking about those cat-cracking and hydrotreatment catalysts most in demand, what’s the outlook for these, going forward? What are the priorities in terms of R&D?

— The main priority are cat-cracking catalysts (FCC), market-ready, with a genuine economic impact. We will be moving towards reducing products’ sulphur content, and towards Euro-6 standards — possibly even beyond that.

Developments in terms of these standards are already ongoing, worldwide, and we have to be ready for this.

Varous plants have certain specific advantages — and FCC catalysts can enhance these, where it makes sense to adapt catalyst composition in line with customer needs. Suppose we developed and specifically selected a catalyst for Serbia’s NIS that delivered less gas and gasoline, but more kerosene and diesel fuel. That, without a doubt, would be in demand on the Serbian market, and would improve economic viability.

We are also proactively developing hydro-cracking catalysts. We’ve had very positive initial results — matching internationally competitive products. We’re going to continue moving forward on this, including in providing batch-mode catalyst loading in two-stage hydrocracking, which is becoming widespread, worldwide, and which will be happening throughout major Russian plants, in the future.

— And talking about hydro-treatment catalysts?

— We’ve seen a good outcome in hydrotreatment, using catalyst reactivation technology for a diesel hydro-treatment catalyst developed by the company in conjunction with the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis. We took a spent catalyst from the hydro-treatment unit at the Omsk Refinery, and conducted oxidative regeneration — that is, the removal of carbon compounds precipitating on the surface of the catalyst during the process of hydro-treating diesel fuel. The reactivation procedure was then carried out — the regeneration of active centres by specialist agents. A commercial batch of the diesel deep hydro-treatment catalyst, reactivated using the technology developed, showed a high level of effectiveness — at the levels achieved using fresh catalysts — when used at the Omsk Refinery’s L-24-6 unit as part of the production programme. Between May 2016 and April 2017 the reactivated catalyst demonstrated the necessary stability, durability and reliability under variable production specifications and variable feedstock characteristics (up to 11 percent of catalytic gas oil being used in the feedstock), resulting in the production of Euro-5 diesel fuel.

A service life of up to eight years

— Technology was developed recently for a fixed-bed reforming catalyst. Tell us about that.

— This was developed by the Institute for Problems of Hydrocarbon Refining (IPHR), Omsk (Russian Academy of Sciences). The first pilot batch of this catalyst — 15 tonnes — will be produced at the Angarsk Plant of Catalysts and Organic Synthesis, in 2018. The main advantage of this catalyst is a four- to five-percent reduction in aromatic hydrocarbons in comparison with domestic alternatives. The start-up operational temperature is also significantly lower, by 10 to 15 degrees. The octane rating is at 95 to 96. On which basis, the quality of the gasoline produced is improved, total aromatics are reduced, and the output of reformate remains at the same level as imported alternatives.

An international patent application has now been submitted in order to secure the company’s rights on the international market (across 150 countries). Reforming catalysts have a service life of up to eight years. A pilot production run is planned at the Moscow Refinery’s L-35-11/300 unit in 2019.

— Would you say your experience of working with the IPHR has been successful, overall?

— The IPHR is a strategic partner in the processing, production and usage of cracking catalysts. Thanks to this partnership, Gapzrom Neft is able to regularly update its cat-cracking catalyst product range, meeting growing market demand. During a meeting of Gazprom Neft’s Logistics, Processing and Sales Division’s Scientific and Technical Council in December last year a general agreement was signed between the IPHR and Gazprom Neft, the Gazprom Neft Omsk Refinery, and Gazpromneft Catalytic Systems, regarding cooperation in developing high-performance cat-cracking catalysts for the company’s refineries and its catalysts business to 2025.

Niche catalysts

— Gazprom Neft facilities offer not just hydro-treatment processes, but also feedstock hydro-skimming?

— Absolutely. In October the Omsk Refinery began a pilot test run of the new GIP-14 isodewaxing catalyst, developed in the course of R&D activities for the production of winter and Arctic diesel fuels. As part of the production programme, this catalyst facilitates the production of winter diesel fuel, corresponding to GOST 55475-2013, with a filtration breaking point of −42...-44 °С (at a norm of −38°С). This project was undertaken as part of the import-substitution programme currently in hand in cooperation with OAO VNIPIneft — the Research and Design Institute for Oil Refining and the Petrochemical Industry. The catalyst produced contains no precious metals, and produces a diesel fuel with the low-temperature properties required under milder conditions, in contrast to imported alternatives.

— And what’s your view on so-called “minor” or niche catalysts?

— If we could, for example, develop a catalyst that would deliver twice as much paraxylene as xylene, that would be marvellous!

Summing up, you could say that we are committed to ensuring that, in just a few years, the company is almost entirely self-sufficient in providing its own catalysts. That, ultimately, domestic oil refining is closer to being independent of external suppliers for the most important catalysts.