By Ben DuBose
MILAN, Italy -- The European refining industry needs a technology breakthrough to face new challenges such as rising demand and production in nearby regions such as Asia and the Middle East, an executive with Italian energy major eni said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the IRPC 2012 conference, Giacomo Rispoli - executive vice president of research and development (R&D) and projects for eni Refining & Marketing - said Europe "must be reindustrialized in a different way" to survive non-EU competition.
"Refining is considered a technologically mature sector," said Rispoli. "The last significant development was in the 1960s with modern hydrocracking. The industry desperately needs a technology breakthrough."
Rispoli noted that a rationalization process has been underway in Europe since 2009, with nine refineries closed (about 1 million bpd of combined capacity) and another 11 still at risk.
In eni's own practice, the company's refinery in Venice, Italy, was shut for six months during 2011, he said.
However, Rispoli cited his company's EST (eni slurry technology) project as an example of a possible new refinery paradigm.
In his view, EST can evolve from one plant at present to an entirely new refinery scheme. In that fresh, simplified scheme, the EST capability would allow the company to produce fuel gas, LPG, naphtha and gasoil, he says, taking crude oil from a distillation unit and natural gas from a hydrogen plant.
"It reduces feedstock costs, traditional investment and energy consumption, while increasing yields of light products," Rispoli said.r
EU refiners must continue to make such innovations to stay ahead of the curve, Rispoli said. Otherwise, the majority of investments will be made in locations such as Asia and the Middle East with a greater proximity to demand.
IRPC 2012 runs through Thursday. For more details, visit the HPInformer blog or the event website.