Special Report: New corrosion inhibition solution – transforming the refining markets

Thanks to a strategy focused on innovation and a passion for technological excellence, the Lyon-based company LA HARPE D'OR commits itself to continuously improve the flexibility and safety of oil refineries around the world.

 LA HARPE D'OR  the innovation in the service oil refining.
LA HARPE D'OR the innovation in the service oil refining.

Over the last few decades, the world oil market has changed dramatically. In this context, LA HARPE D'OR, a firm involved in real estate development and strategic projects in the energy sector, has recently obtained an international patent for a new and innovative corrosion inhibition solution for petroleum refining units – CRYSTAL-Guard™ – which is 100% ecological. It protects equipment by avoiding the use of chemical corrosion inhibitors that can have adverse side effects on oil refining facilities.

An ecological and sustainable solution against corrosion

Refining is experiencing a critical period (since 1992, the number of refineries in Europe has seen a 30% reduction), resulting in thousands of job losses and an ever-increasing reliance on imported refined products.

As a result, to survive, the refining sector must adapt to major changes. These changes concern especially the quality of the crude oils to be processed and in particular the growing share of so-called ‘opportunity’ crudes, which are for the most part acidic and corrosive, and cause damage to the refinery units.

Some refiners have no other choice but to refuse these or to use sulphur and/or phosphorus based corrosion inhibitors, which can generate side effects such as fouling or plugging of refining facilities or cause degradation of catalyst performance in downstream units.

In view of these preoccupying findings, CRYSTAL-Guard offers a real perspective to refineries and the opportunity to improve their profit margins by accepting all types of crude oils without fearing equipment deterioration.

CRYSTAL-Guard, a completely ecological solution, depends on the focused injection of steam in certain high temperature areas of the distillation unit, as real gateway to the refinery. The steam, if correctly dosed, will form a thin and crystalline protective layer (oxide based) on the equipment.

Equity investments to finance research

CRYSTAL-Guard is the result of a research programme carried out over five years by LA HARPE D’OR and financed with equity investments. This holding has made R&D its DNA, and has developed and implemented several innovative solutions, nationally and internationally, particularly in the oil and gas sector, with its subsidiary WINTECH Global.

“Right from the start, I made the choice to invest heavily in research to develop solutions that are systematically protected by international patents,” said Alain Partouche, general manager, LA HARPE D’OR.

Thanks to its technological innovations on one hand, and through new technical audit methods carried out by WINTECH Global on the other, LA HARPE D’OR offers its customers a global approach in a rapidly changing world oil market. “Within the next few years, we aim to create hundreds of industrial jobs by the exploitation of our three patents – WINTicare™, CRYSTAL-Guard and SalTrap™,” observed Partouche.

A changing oil market

For over 20 years, the refining industry has undergone profound changes. On one hand, the total number of refineries operating in the world has been reduced to 640 installations, including 140 in the US and eight in France (source: CPDP 2013). At the same time, there is a diversification of crude oils with over 150 different types of oil processed. The refiners are therefore obliged to adapt to this new situation.

In order to compensate the high volatility of the oil price and to optimise margins, the refining community is tempted to enlarge its supplies by including the so-called ‘opportunity’ crudes or by increasing the share of these oils sold at discounted prices. The market share of corrosive crude oil (high sulphur content and/or high organic acid content) is constantly increasing (North Sea, South America, Russia, West, etc.) and now accounts for almost 70% of the world production.

The treatment of these hydrocarbons can lead to equipment damage in refineries. To remedy this situation, refiners often are obliged to limit the acidity level of processed oils, to install costly and corrosion-resistant metallurgies or to inject corrosion inhibitors (sulphur and/or phosphorus based chemical compounds). However, all these solutions have their limits, related to a considerable implementation cost or to adverse collateral effects (fouling, plugging of filters, etc.).

The responsible companies must therefore find the best compromise between optimising the profitability of their sites and controlling the safety and reliability of their equipment. The unplanned shutdown of a refinery of 150,000 barrels per day capacity can result in daily losses of around $1mn.

In this tense and rapidly changing environment, CRYSTAL-Guard offers a real perspective to refineries and the opportunity to improve their margins by accepting all types of crude oils without fearing deterioration of high-temperature equipment.

“Our strategic commitment is to accompany the transformation of oil refining industry by proposing technological innovations to operators to ensure the sustainable performance of their facilities. In this, CRYSTAL-Guard is a true revolution of practical application,” explained Partouche.

LA HARPE D’OR obtained an international patent for CRYSTAL-Guard in April 2017. To deploy CRYSTAL-Guard on the world markets, LA HARPE D’OR favours partnerships. Partouche is therefore in the process of initiating relations with partners of international scope to deploy the solution on a global scale.

“We are already in contact with some of the biggest global players operating on behalf of oil refining industry, especially Americans,” revealed Partouche. Implementation will then take place in one or more refineries to demonstrate the effectiveness on an industrial scale.

“The world of refining is very conservative, so we have to do everything we can to reassure refiners with respect to the performance of our solution,” concluded Partouche. Then, depending on the type of partnership, the production of the industrial device could begin within the next two years.

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