The main technological challenges in oil refining today relate to thoroughgoing modernisation of refining facilities — something all Russian oil companies are now having to address. Under the auspices of national project, Gazprom Neft is putting in place new catalyst production facilities, developing unique innovative technology, and significantly improving safety levels in the production of high-performance, environmentally-friendly gasoline.
Developing new kinds of catalysts
All secondary refining processes require the presence of catalysts. Gazprom Neft is the only oil company in the CIS with its own production facilities for catalytic-cracking catalysts, with capacity of 3,000 tonnes per year. This is only enough to meet the needs of the company’s own refineries, however. The majority of other Russian oil refining facilities buy abroad, and catalysts for hydro-processing (hydrocracking and hydro-treating) are, pretty much,
Gazprom Neft is, to all intents and purposes, effectively creating a new industry in developing catalyst production at its Omsk Refinery — an initiative that has been awarded the status of a national project by the Ministry of Energy in 2015. Projected capacity at the new facility is expected to reach 21,000 tonnes of catalysts per year — comprising 15,000 tonnes of cat-cracking catalysts, 4,000 tonnes of hydrotreatment catalysts, and 2,000 of hydrocracking products.
Gazprom Neft has engaged leading Russian scientific centres in managing research and development under this national project, replenishing and re-inventing its range of cat-cracking catalysts with help from scientists at The Institute for Problems of Hydrocarbon Refining, Omsk (part of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS)).
“M”-brand catalysts, for example, have been tested at facilities at the independent Chemical Process and Engineering Resources Institute (CPERI, Greece), where they exhibited the best performance in the production of light petroleum products when benchmarked against foreign alternatives. Production of an improved version of the “Vanguard” catalyst — demonstrating better performance than any other brand hitherto produced there — is currently being embedded at Gazprom Neft’s Omsk facility.
The Boreskov Institute of Catalysis (Siberian branch, RAS) and the A.V. Topchiev Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis (TIPS, RAS) are currently engaged in the development of hydro-processing catalysts, with Siberian scientists having already created hydrotreatment catalysts for middle distillates, allowing the production of a product with sulphur content of less than 10 parts per million (ppm) — i.e., fully compliant with Euro-5 standards. These catalysts have successfully passed production testing at the Omsk Refinery. Development of catalysts for hydrocracking of vacuum gas oil is now in laboratory testing.
A unique pilot facility specifically for testing own-brand catalysts — fully comparable to industrial production facilities, albeit with lower capacity and on a smaller scale — has been launched at the Omsk Refinery.
Solid acid alkylation
As we all know from school chemistry classes, gasoline is a product of oil distillation. But straight-run distilled gasoline has a very low octane rating at about 50 or 60 — and efficiency at that level, obviously, is very low, with a gasoline yield of about 20 percent. Which is why gasoline production these days involves far more effective secondary processing — involving catalytic cracking and reforming.
Their chemical characteristics and composition after catalytic cracking and reforming, however, leave fuels far short of the standards required for today’s cars. For which reason, they are mixed or blended with various high-octane components — such as alkylates.
Two production technologies are used in producing alkylates today — sulphuric and hydrogen fluoride alkylation. These processes are effective, but not without risk. The catalysts in these are, respectively, hydrofluoric acid and sulphuric acid, working with which demands close adherence to specific health and safety regulation. The problem of improving the safety of technological processes is particularly pertinent for refining facilities located in urban areas, as is the case for all Gazprom Neft refineries.
Gazprom Neft specialists at the company’s Moscow facility, together with scientists from the Topchiev Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis (RAS) are developing a unique technology in solid acid alkylation with the application of a safe zeolite-based catalyst. As part of this project a catalyst has already been produced in sufficient quantity to allow approximately one day’s production processes. These new catalysts are now undergoing pilot testing at a facility with a capacity of 300 tonnes of alkalyte per day.
Downstream Efficiency Control Centre
Increasing efficiency is one of the most pressing strategic challenges faced by Gazprom Neft across all of its business operations. In order to respond to this challenge, the company has opened the Downstream Efficiency Control Centre — the only facility of its kind in the hydrocarbons sector — in St. Petersburg. The strategic objective of the project is to create a single digital platform for controlling efficiency throughout the value chain, from the delivery of oil to refineries to the sale of petroleum products to the end user. The challenge of increasing efficiency will be met through the use of such tools as predictive analysis, neural network technology, and artificial intelligence to create ‘digital twins’ of production facilities.
The Downstream Efficiency Control Centre will continuously process data transmitted from control instruments and sensors used in the automated monitoring of production processes, covering 90% of process-dependent variables and material flows. Monitoring and analysing the volume and quality of raw hydrocarbons and finished products at every stage of the value chain allows potential sources of deviation to be identified and the necessary corrections to be made promptly.