Editor's comment: Catalysing the refining process

The refining industry aims at developing cost-effective technologies, which support compliance with industry specifications.

Martin Menachery, editor, Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.
Martin Menachery, editor, Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.

A catalyst can drive a differential performance for customers without much capex investments and the returns to the customers are huge. The role of catalysts in the downstream industry is mainly to help refiners achieve fuel standards, enhance operational efficiency, upgrade conversion and selectivity, and progress the green trends. The refining industry aims at developing cost-effective technologies, which support compliance with industry specifications. It is also important to note that elements originating from the economic, environmental, legislative and social fronts drive the downstream industry to produce catalysts that ensure higher quality fuels.

Honeywell UOP is the ‘Knowledge Partner’ (pages 32-33) for this Special Report on catalysts. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to Honeywell UOP for becoming our Knowledge Partner and sharing valuable information on the current trends and future potential of refinery catalysts. Through its column, Honeywell UOP demonstrates how it is an innovator and enabler in the catalytic processing of hydrocarbons. The company has the widest offering of licensed technologies for the refining and petrochemicals manufacturing industry. Its core offerings are for the refineries, integrated with petrochemical complexes in many cases, and aromatics and propane dehydrogenation (PDH) units.

Honeywell UOP also has many natural gas processing technologies to remove contaminants including sulphur, water, carbon dioxide and mercury. The company’s technologies also facilitate recovery of natural gas liquids for use as fuels and valuable petrochemical feedstocks. Honeywell UOP has been helping the downstream industry to achieve operational excellence for 11 decades. The company has typically done this in the historic service model in which it sends its service people to the customer sites. These service personnel evaluate the site to determine ways to improve uptime, reliability, and efficiency by the use of a new catalyst, or a process technology, or just by tuning the unit operations.

According to the latest market research reports, and as detailed in the ‘Market Focus’ (pages 30-31) column of this Special Report, the global catalyst market is booming and is forecasted to reach $33bn per annum this year. Developments in refining, petrochemicals and chemicals as well as environmental factors are increasing the demand for higher performance catalysts and catalyst producers are introducing enhanced products to meet this demand.

Catalyst producers are continuing to develop enhanced versions of their products to meet not only changing regulations, but also the landscape of the refining/petrochemicals sectors – changing feedstocks, higher quality products, higher unit output to maximise profit, to name but a few – the latest generation catalysts will help meet these new challenges.

Research by Euro Petroleum Consultants has shown that the refining catalyst markets in North America, Western Europe and Japan are maturing, although the continued introduction of new catalysts will sustain a growth. Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa are the developing markets with the highest growth rates offering great opportunities for new business.

As explained by Valentin Kotlomin of Euro Petroleum Consultants in the ‘Last Word’ (page 35) column of this Special Report, there is another group of catalytic processes out there that could, provided it gains traction among refiners, fundamentally change the catalyst market structure – the slurry processes. The process catalysts for these processes come in the form of fine powder, mainly made up of sulphides of transition metals, such as nickel, vanadium and molybdenum.

An unmatched advantage of slurry processes is that those provide very high – up to 95% – yield of light petroleum products from the heavy bottoms. The cost of the catalysts involved in these processes for refiners is not significant – only up to $1.5 per barrel of feedstock as per the estimates of process licensors. Nevertheless, should slurry processing become popular, the catalysts may take up a sizable share of the market. 

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