Rare earths are incorporated in the fluid catalytic cracking
(FCC) manufacturing recipe to achieve higher catalyst
activity and to improve hydrothermal stability. Rare earths
(REs) achieved these goals by enhancing catalytic activity
and preventing loss of acid sites during normal unit
operations. To address the specific needs of each FCC unit,
catalyst manufacturers have traditionally formulated
catalysts with various RE levels that allow for optimal unit
performance. The level of REs in a specific catalyst
formulation depends on the operational severity and product
objectives for the specific FCC unit. As gasoline demand
increased, refiners requested higher RE levels of their
catalyst formulation. RE levels gradually increased over
time, and at the end of 2010, the average was 3%, with
several refineries running in excess of the average.
Fig. 1 shows 2010 historical data for Ecat samples analyzed
by for REO. The data reflect all of the samples that were
received and analyzed in the fourth quarter of 2010 before the
RE price spike occurred. Although operational demands have not
changed within the industry, current RE market conditions have
put pressure on catalyst manufacturers, along with refiners, to
reassess the role of REs in the FCC industry.
Fig. 1. Distribution of
RE in FCC catalyst samples.
When looking at the catalytic options, it is critical to look
at the total value, and not just the cost, of
REs. Catalyst suppliers have actively helped their customers
analyze their operations and determine when a drop in RE levels
is beneficial. As will be discussed in this article, the
cost/benefits and possible performance deficits of this option
should be clearly understood before making a change.