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Saudi Arabia’s plan for near-zero-sulfur fuels

03.01.2013  |  Nichols, L.,  Hydrocarbon Processing

To comply with mandatory sulfur specifications for gasoline and diesel from 2013 to 2016, Saudi Arabia is spending billions of dollars to construct multiple clean-fuel projects.

Keywords: [refining] [clean fuels] [engineering] [construction] [Middle East]

Around the world, legislation mandating decreased emissions and lower levels of airborne pollutants is coming into effect. In response, refiners are implementing operational and processing changes to reduce sulfur levels in transportation fuels.

To comply with mandatory sulfur specifications for gasoline and diesel between 2013 and 2016, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plans to spend billions of dollars to construct multiple clean-fuel projects. Saudi Arabia has adopted European standards for fuel quality, as Europe has been the frontrunner on regulations for low-sulfur, “clean” transportation fuels.

Clean-fuel goals

Saudi Arabia is seeking to reduce sulfur content in diesel and gasoline to 10 parts per million (ppm) and to lower benzene content in gasoline to 1%. With these new fuel specifications, Saudi Arabian refining operations will comply with international standards. This will represent a dramatic reduction in sulfur levels from June 2012, when Saudi Arabia’s maximum sulfur level for diesel was greater than 500 ppm (Fig. 1). The planned upgrades and revamps are necessary to meet future market demand for higher-value, lower-sulfur transportation fuels.


  Fig. 1. Global status of maximum allowable sulfur in diesel fuel,
  parts per million (June 2012). 

Along with its joint ventures (JVs), Saudi Arabian national oil company Saudi Aramco will upgrade all of the Kingdom’s domestic refineries to produce lower-sulfur transportation fuels. Several projects—the Ras Tanura Refinery Clean Fuels and Aromatics project, the Riyadh Refinery Clean Transportation Fuel project, the Saudi Aramco Mobil Refinery Co. (SAMREF) Clean Fuels project and the PetroRabigh Clean Fuels project—are designed to accomplish the kingdom’s goal of producing near-zero-sulfur fuels by 2016.

Ras Tanura Refinery Clean Fuel and Aromatics project

The Ras Tanura refinery is Saudi Aramco’s most complex refinery. Located on the Arabian Gulf, Ras Tanura has a crude distillation capacity of 550 thousand barrels per day (Mbpd), a 305-Mbpd natural gas liquids (NGLs) processing facility, a 960-Mbpd crude oil stabilization facility and 75 crude oil storage tanks with a combined capacity of 5.8 million barrels (MMbbl). Most of Ras Tanura’s production is slated for domestic use.

The $3 billion (B) project is scheduled for completion in 2016. The project’s main goals are to produce cleaner fuels and to increase production of paraxylene, benzene and toluene. Annual production capacity could reach 1 million tons per year (MMtpy) of aromatics.

In May 2011, Jacobs Engineering’s Middle Eastern unit, Jacobs, Zumal and Turbag Consulting Engineers (Jacobs ZATE) was awarded the front-end engineering and design (FEED) contract under Saudi Aramco’s General Engineering and Project Management Services (GES+) contract. Jacobs acquired ZATE in 2008 to fulfill Saudi Aramco’s GES+ initiative. The GES+ initiative is designed to increase local content in Saudi Arabia for engineering services such as FEED, feasibility studies, procurement and project management services.

Jacobs will be responsible for FEED services for both inside and outside battery limits. These services include modifications to the refinery to comply with future environmental regulations and to increase diversity of petrochemical products. FEED should be completed in early 2013, with calls to tender for multiple engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) contracts scheduled for the second quarter of 2013.

Riyadh Refinery Clean Transportation Fuel project

Located in the central region of Saudi Arabia, the 124-Mbpd Riyadh refinery is supplied with crude oil from the East-West pipeline. In April 2011, Foster Wheeler and A. Al-Saihati, A. Fattani & O. Al-Othman Consulting Engineering Co. (SOFCON) were awarded the FEED and project management consultancy (PMC) services contracts for this project.

The $1 B upgrade project is designed to reduce sulfur content in diesel from 330 ppm to 10 ppm and to also decrease benzene levels in gasoline. It is the first brownfield project of this magnitude to be awarded by Saudi Aramco. The project scope includes:

  • Four new processing units—isomerization, naphtha splitting, sulfur guard-bed and diesel hydrotreating
  • Two debottlenecking operations on the hydrocracker and gas concentration units
  • Replacement of the crude and vacuum distillation tower internals.

Submission of bids for the EPC contract ended in October 2012. Saudi Aramco expects to award the EPC contract in early 2013 to Daelim Industrial, JGC Corp., Saipem or Samsung Engineering.

SAMREF Clean Fuels project

SAMREF is an equally owned JV between Saudi Aramco and ExxonMobil’s wholly owned subsidiary, Mobil Yanbu Refining Co. Located on the coast of the Red Sea, SAMREF’s Yanbu refinery is the world’s largest single-train refinery. This site processes 400 Mbpd of crude oil into fuels, of which half is consumed domestically.

SAMREF’s Yanbu refinery will undergo significant modifications to produce cleaner fuels by reducing sulfur levels by more than 98% in gasoline by 2013, and in diesel by 2016. The execution will be split into two phases. Phase 1 will begin during a 45-day maintenance shutdown in March 2013. A grassroots desulfurization train to treat 60 Mbpd of fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) gasoline will be installed. A revamp of the 98-Mbpd distillate hydrotreater and refinery utilities infrastructure will also begin. WorleyParsons is responsible for FEED and EPC of the facilities.

Phase 2 is scheduled to start up by the end of 2015. The scope includes a new high-pressure distillate hydrotreater, a hydrogen manufacturing unit, a sulfur recovery unit, and offsites and utilities infrastructure. The $2.5 B project is scheduled for completion in 2016.

PetroRabigh Clean Fuels project

Rabigh Refining and Petrochemical Co., or PetroRabigh, is an equally owned JV between Saudi Aramco and Sumitomo Chemical Co. of Japan. Located on Saudi Arabia’s west coast, the PetroRabigh complex is one of the largest integrated refining and petrochemical complexes in the world. With a capacity of 400 Mbpd, it is also designed to produce a total of 2.4 MMt of petrochemical solids and liquids.

To meet international environmental standards, the $1 B clean-fuels project is designed to reduce sulfur content in gasoline from 300 ppm to 10 ppm. At present, the FEED contract is in the bidding phase, with seven companies vying for the contract. The scope of the FEED contract includes designing the facilities, setting specifications for equipment required, evaluating potential licensors, adjusting capital expenditures and operating costs, and estimating labor and time frames for the EPC phase.

Other projects

Saudi Arabia is not the only Middle Eastern country with clean-fuels projects. Kuwait’s national oil company, Kuwait National Petroleum Co. (KNPC), is investing $31 B in a project to modernize the country’s Mina Abdullah and Mina Al-Ahmadi refineries, as well as to increase total crude oil throughput to 800 Mbpd.

KNPC will construct and revamp several units in both refineries to process environmentally friendly fuels with significantly lower sulfur content. Major units to be added include atmospheric residue desulfurization units, isomerization units, sulfur recovery units, amine regeneration units, vacuum rerun units, delayed coker units and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) treating units.

In mid-December 2012, Foster Wheeler was awarded a PMC services contract valued at $500 MM. Foster Wheeler will be responsible for all PMC services during the tendering phase of the main EPC contracts, along with management of the EPC contractors through completion of performance testing. EPC contracts are expected to be awarded in the second quarter of 2013. Overall completion of the project is set for 2018.

On the other side of the world, Lake Charles Clean Energy (LCCE), a subsidiary of Leucadia Energy, is investing $2.5 B in a state-of-the-art plant that will use advanced gasification technology to cleanly manufacture industrial products from petroleum coke. The LCCE project, located at the Port of Lake Charles, Louisiana, US, will provide clean fuels for the state’s domestic petrochemical industry and use carbon-capture technologies to enhance domestic oil production. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013.

Turner Industries Group is the constructor for the project, and KBR will provide design, engineering and procurement services. LCCE will acquire petcoke from Koch Carbon amounting to 7,000 metric tons of petcoke per day from US Gulf Coast refiners. LCCE will extract the beneficial energy from petcoke while avoiding harmful emissions and producing no waste.

In addition to limiting emissions, this plant is designed to capture, compress and sell 90% of its CO2 production. The 4.5 MMtpy of captured CO2 will be sold for use in enhanced oil recovery operations along the US Gulf Coast. LCCE is expected to be one of the world’s lowest-cost producers of methanol and hydrogen, as well as a low-cost producer of other products used in the chemical and refining industries. The LCCE project will be the first of its kind in the US.

Whether it is lowering sulfur content in transportation fuels or using gasification to manufacture cleaner fuels, refiners around the world are utilizing new technologies to create cleaner petroleum products for consumers. HP

The author

Lee Nichols is director of Gulf Publishing Company’s Data Division. He has five years of experience in the downstream industry and is responsible for market research and trends analysis for the global downstream construction sector. At present, he manages all data content and sales for Hydrocarbon Processing Construction Boxscore Database, as well as all corporate and global site licenses to World Oil and Hydrocarbon Processing. 

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I like to know the what is the sulphur content in diesel avaiable in saudi arabia


Dear Sir
Our company has a requirement to supply Sulphur free PET COKE .
Please can you suggest which companies are manufacturing such kind of fuel
Looking forward to your reply


We are team of Environmental Engineers. Kindly see our website www.envirocentre.in

Jim Soudriette

Impressive modification on their part. How long would it take to create this significant a change here in the US?
Overall I assume this will assure there fuel sales for a longer period of time as we eventually move to another energy source


Hey Dear General director,
Im coming to your high responsibility in order to ask if is that
possible for your company to supply petrol and Diesel in DRC at Matadi
harbor the quantity of 30.000 Metric tons,it means Petrol 18.000
Metric tons and Diesel 12.000Metric tons terms of delivery CIF
Matadi,this contract will be one (1) year if we succed on this first
deal then we sign for (5) five years contract,is the government
contract so is that possible the send me an invoive or quotation to
NRC KM 1561 M,
ID NAT:01-128-N54642P,
N 4 Avenue chemin Public,
Quartier Golf les battants.
Dear sir can ask you a favor can I receive a small commission on this contract?
If it succeed?If the price is good then it will be supply in the all
DRC,the quantity will be change,even you paymeny is RDLC Or SBLS
Hope to hear you son as you receive this mail,

My regards
Willy Neson

Gustavo Heins

Good, that means, there are many works to do


What an advanced technological lead by KSA for other OPEC countries to follow espercially my beloved country Nigeria. Quality improvement program for petroleum products must surely follow quantity programs in due course.

abbas saeidi

This is a big step toward environmental protection. Congratulations


KSA has surplus money to invest into such kind of projects. It does not have pollution problem.

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