HPInsight: The global HPI's top June headlines from 1922 through 2012

World War II was one of the defining events that drove innovation for the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI). During the 1940s, solutions were needed to resolve shortages of transportation fuels and a lack of natural rubber. From WWII, new refining technologies were developed to process 100-octane fuels. A wave of new refining capacity, funded by the US government, was constructed. Likewise, synthetic rubber (SR) manufacturing received a political push to construct new petrochemical capacity to support SR demand.

Yet, the HPI continues its cycle of overbuilding and flooding the market with too much product while demand declines from economic downturns. HPI companies have continued to follow a consistent quest over the last 90 years: to find new markets, to develop new products and uses for hydrocarbon-based materials, to improve operations, to increase safe operations, and to reduce operating costs.

Continuous improvement is a never-ending task for HPI companies, as demonstrated in the headlines from the past 90 years.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, June 2002:

Asian olefins: A new dawn. The Asian olefins industry has endured two onerous years. Yet, there is hope. The aftershocks of September 11, 2001, created many challenges. In particular, Asian economies that are high-tech oriented were more deeply impacted than others. Taiwan and Hong Kong have entered technical recessions. For the olefins industry, the largest effect was a sharp decline in re-export markets for polymer imports to China and the loss of polymer end-product exports from other Asian countries. However, a reversal is expected in 2002.

Polyethylene industry set to recover. The global outlook for the ethylene industry rests on the polyethylene (PE) market. In North America, the PE industry has had difficulties in recovering from the rapid rise in feedstock prices in 2001. The PE industry remains focused on cost reductions. PE processers are consolidating, and inefficient capacity is being rationalized. PE continues to replace traditional packing materials such as glass, paper and metal. The next wave of PE production capacity is estimated to begin in 2005.

Australia considers GTL projects. Australia continues to experience declining crude oil production, while demand for refined crude-oil based products increases. By 2005/06, it is forecast that this nation will not be self-sufficient in transportation-fuel production. Australia is investigating several gas-to-liquids (GTLs) projects to bridge this gap. The Australian government has formed a task to evaluate GTL prospects.

  Neste Oil’s Porvoo, Finland, refinery operates
  the world’s first stand-alone renewable diesel
  plant. Hydrocarbon Processing, February 2008.

  CITGO’s 167,000-bpd refinery at Lemont,
  Illinois, can process heavy, sour crude oils. A
  new 42,500-bpd ultra-low-sulfur diesel unit
  enables this refinery to process 15-ppm sulfur
  diesel. Hydrocarbon Processing, August 2011.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, June 1992:

First multi-plastics recycle facility opened. Union Carbide has opened the first US full-scale multi-plastics recycling facility. This plant is capable of recycling 84% of the plastics found in the average household. In the US, plastics recycling capacity is 925 million lb/yr. If the nation is to meet national targets of recycling 25% of its plastic waste by 1995, it must increase recycling capacity by 575 million lb/yr—double its present recycling capacity.

Carbon energy tax proposals contested in Europe. The European Chemical Industry Council (CEFIC), representing petrochemical and chemical manufacturers, and Europia, representing regional refiners, have filed anti-tax protests on proposed carbon taxes. Both organizations believe that the carbon tax would destroy the competitiveness of European producers in the global market.

Asia-Pacific refining capacity expanding. Present Asian refining capacity is 13.8 million bpd (MMbpd) with 1.5 MMbpd of new supplies to come online by 1995. Overbuilding in this region will be quickly absorbed by new demand growth in the second half of the 1990s. Growing demand is expected with China accounting for 48% of the regional energy demand.

Saudi Arabia focuses on downstream developments outside the Kingdom. By the late 1990s, Saudi Arabia downstream production is expected to reach 1.4 MMbpd to 2 MMbpd with a European facility purchase.

Brazil begins ‘privatization’ of HPI holdings. The Brazilian government has successfully auctioned a major petrochemical plant located at Copesul, Brazil, for $805 million. The shares were purchased by several buyers—no group holds a majority position. The next plan is the breakup of the Petrobras monopoly.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, June 1982:

Oil usage declined in OECD industrialized nations during 1981—by 6.3% compared to 1980. Net oil imports fell 13.4% according to a new study by the International Energy Agency. Of the 24 OECD nations, crude oil imports declined 708.3 million metric tons while oil production by OECD nations remained the same, approximately 700 million metric tons.

More taxes could threaten growth of energy industry. Members of the Independent Petroleum Association of America warn that proposed energy taxes designed to shrink the US national deficit could trigger larger future deficits. Income tax rates for oil companies have increased from 30% for 1953–1963 to nearly 50% in recent years. Present US gasoline taxes are 30¢/gallon.

Methanol as a transportation fuel would be expensive and difficult. According to the Synthetic Fuels Association, methanol as a motor fuel is slow to develop due to several reasons: 1) Excess petroleum-based fuels are available at lower prices than methanol; 2) Methanol is incompatible to the existing fueling distribution system; and 3) Lack of infrastructure that is compatible with methanol. Methanol as a motor fuel is used in token amounts. Coal will be used for long-term methanol production by the US and several other countries. Gasoline from methanol could be a future option to switch from petroleum-based fuels.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing, June 1972:

Thermonuclear fusion possible solution to future energy needs. A $3-million long-range research project will investigate the potential of high-power lasers to produce controlled nuclear fusion. Esso R&E and General Electric will work on the study in collaboration with the University of Rochester, Rochester, New York.

New process claims 99.9% efficiency for sulfur removal. The Alberta Sulphur Research (ASR) has developed a process that is claimed to remove sulfur compounds from natural gas streams at more than 99.9% efficiency. The ASR process has only been demonstrated in the laboratory. It uses an organic sulphoxide as a liquid catalyst to remove hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide from natural gas.

High-octane gasoline converted directly from heavy oils. The Kellogg-Phillips heavy oil cracking (HOC) process can produce high-octane gasoline from either atmospheric residuals (ARs) or vacuum residuals (VRs) without pretreating the heavy feeds. With the HOC process, refiners can eliminate hydrocracking and delayed coking of VR streams. The process acts like a fluid catalytic cracking unit and reacts only the gasoil portion of the VR. The first unit is operating at the Phillips’ Borger, Texas refinery.

Headlines from Hydrocarbon Processing and Petroleum Refiner, June 1962:

South Korea is building its first refinery. The 30,000-bpd refinery will be constructed at Ulsan, Korea, with startup planned by mid-1964.

New cost-efficient butadiene process unveiled. Shell’s French affiliate has developed a new butadiene process that is more cost-effective. The company is planning to build a 40,000-ton plant near Marseilles, France. The process uses a butane-dehydrogenation route to yield butadiene.

News for FCC catalyst announced. Sinclair has released a catalyst regeneration process that could reduce refining costs by 50%.

UN sees pressure on international oil market. The United Nations reported that slacking demand for commercial energy in Western Europe and the US during 1961 impacted oil and coal producers the hardest. Energy consumption via oil and coal has steadily fallen. Reasons for the slowdown are linked to the leveling off of industrial production in Western Europe and a lag in the upturn of the US economy, along with a slow recovery for fuel demand.

  New computer control system is installed at
  B. F. Goodrich Chemical Co.’s new vinyl
  chloride unit at Calvert City, Kentucky. The
  computer will exercise closed-loop control on
  the vinyl chloride monomer process. Petroleum
  Refiner, March 1960.

Headlines from Petroleum Refiner, June 1952:

New editor appointed for the Refiner. Dr. John J. McKetta, chairman of the chemical engineering department of the University of Texas, 1949-1951 is leaving his post at the university to take over the expanded editorial staff of the Petroleum Refiner. The expanded staff includes editors to cover process and construction along with several special assignment editors to cover the industry across the US.

New desulfurization announced. The Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. has developed a new catalytic desulfurization process, called Autofining. The process can remove sulfur from natural and straight-run gasolines through naphtha to gasoils. Removed sulfur is converted to hydrogen sulfide.

Shell completes postwar expansion in UK. Shell’s new fluid catalytic cracking unit at the Stanlow refinery is operational. The $22.4 million project included a new cracker as well as integration builds for the adjacent petrochemical facility, which started operations in July 1949. The expanded Stanlow refinery has an operating capacity of 3.25 million tpy.

New refinery nearing completion on Thames River. Vacuum Oil Co.’s new Coryton refinery is forecast to be online in early 1953. The most difficult part of the site construction is complete. The refinery will be eight feet below the level of the Thames River. The refinery will include two crude distillation units, a Thermofor catalytic cracking unit, a thermal reformer and a motor-spirits treating unit. The site will also have a lubrication plant.

  A 160-feet high and 300-ton crude splitter is
  being transported to the Shell Refinery at
  Stanlow (Cheshire, England). The reactor was
  moved 27 miles and required a complicated
  program to reinforce bridges and minimize
  traffic disruptions to move the splitter to the
  refinery. Petroleum Refiner, June 1952.

  New Houdriflow unit constructed at the
  Gewerkschaft Eroel—Raffinerie Emsland
  refinery in Lingen, Germany. Petroleum Refiner,
  September 1953.

Headlines from The Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, June 1942:

New catalytic cracking process developed. A new system for catalytic cracking, called the Thermofor Catalytic Cracking (T.C.C.) process, is being offered to US refiners to manufacture high-octane gasoline. The process provides several feed streams—aromatics (including toluene), butane-butylene gases for synthetic rubber, and aviation alkylate. The process uses a continuous, countercurrent moving catalyst bed. A 20,000-bpd unit is under construction at a Texas refinery. The process is being licensed by the Houdry Process Corp., The Lummus Co. and E. B. Badger & Sons Co.

New units designed for rubber production. Humble Oil & Refining Co. and Phillips Petroleum Co. are working on new capacity to provide feedstocks for the synthetic rubber industry at a cost of $400 million. Humble plans to construct butadiene units for the buna–type rubber industry, as well as styrene-butadiene rubber (SBR). Construction has begun for the Neches Butane Production Co. at its Port Neches, Texas, facility. This is the largest unit announced for the SBR program with a construction cost of $60 million.

  Side view of a thermal cracking unit from the
  1940s. Refiner and Natural Gasoline
  Manufacturer 1940.

  Wide view of the Odessa Butadiene Co.’s
  50,000-tpy butadiene plant nearing construction
  completion. The facility was designed and
  constructed by the Fluor Corp. Petroleum
  Refiner 1944.

  Gulf Refining Co.’s new polymerization unit will
  produce feed for high-octane gasoline. The new
  unit is part of Gulf Refining’s Cincinnati, Ohio
  refinery and was part of the $15 million
  expansion. Petroleum Refiner, January 1949.

Headlines from The Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, June 1932:

Economists forecast drop in gasoline demand. A survey conducted by committees from the American Petroleum Institute and the Federal Oil Conservation Board shows that gasoline demand will decline by at least 6% over the next year. Likewise, US gasoline exports are forecast to decline.

Global construction:

Europe. The USRR, at Grozni and Baku, is constructing two 10,000-bpd two-stage atmospheric-vacuum distillation plants and five 6,000-bbl single-stage vacuum distillation unit.

North America. Shell Company of Canada is building a 285,000-bbl storage and distribution facility at Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Plans are continuing for the construction of refinery in the near future.

Cities Services Co. plans to construct a new 3,000-bpd refinery near Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The facility will also include a cracking unit.

South/Latin America. The South American Consolidated Oil Co. is reported to be building a 10,000-bpd refinery in Venezuela.

Imperial Oil Co. is planning a $1 million refinery near Cartagena, Colombia. The project is contingent on tariffs and restrictions regarding oil imports to the US.

Huasteca Petroleum Co. has started construction of a new cracking unit at its Tampico, Mexico, refinery. The unit should be operational by year end.

Headlines from The Refiner and Natural Gasoline Manufacturer, February 1924:

Lubricants made from vegetable and mineral oil. Castor Oil Products of Houston, Texas, has patented a new process to manufacture lubricants. In the process, castor oil is distilled to remove the acid content. The refined castor oil is then blended with mineral oil under pressure so that the two oils are miscible. The new lubrication was field tested in an automobile, which was driven several hundred miles.

Natural gasoline manufacturers look for better year in 1924. In 1923, natural gasoline manufacturers struggled with low gasoline demand, lower prices for natural gasoline and a glut of product on the market. Crude oil refiners, likewise, increased processing and supplies to the market. All of the conditions have depressed prices, while demand flattened at the same time. A better year is anticipated as crude oil production declined over the second half of 1923. Thus, excess supplies should disappear, and demand for natural gasoline is more optimistic. HP

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