IRPC ’14: European refiners shift from gasoline to middle distillates

VERONA, Italy -- Further refinery closures in Europe would reduce a structural gasoline surplus in the region, but they could also cause a middle distillates deficit to increase, according to an executive with Italy-based Eni.

Giacamo Rispoli, executive vice president of research, development and projects at Eni, delivered his thoughts in the keynote address Wednesday at the 2014 International Refining and Petrochemical Conference (IRPC). The Italian executive explained that for the European refining industry to survive, major changes are necessary.

"The crisis in the European refining sector has become a structural feature that will not allow a return to conditions existing before 2008," he said. "To prevent this industry from disappearing in Europe, it is necessary to identify the pathways that constitute evolutionary breakthrough practices."

Rispoli cited his company's EST (eni slurry technology) project at the Sannazzaro refinery 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 simplified scheme, the EST capability would allow producers to make 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," he said. "It opens the possibility to radically modifying the existing refinery schemes."

The EST hydrocracking process is based on two unique features -- a nanodispersed (slurry), non-aging catalyst and a homogeneous and isothermal slurry bubble column reactor.

From there, the recycle of uncoverted heavy ends allows the total conversion of the bottom of the barrel to high-quality middle distillates. The feedstock conversion rate is over 97%, he says.

For Eni, the EST process offers easy handling of very heavy feedstocks, lower energy costs and a diesel-to-gasoline balance that is more in tune with the current European marketplace.

"In the European context, the application of this new scheme would enable the transformation of middle-size refineries, orienting them to the main production of diesel, simplifying the process cycle and decreasing specific energy consumptions," Rispoli said.

The Eni executive concluded his remarks by calling on the EUropean Union (EU) to support and promote similar research efforts across the industry.

"The EU should make the utmost effort to promote innovation in this field, as a prerequisite for the maintenance of employment and growth," he said. "Only strong innovation resulting from frontier research may create the conditions for the maintenance and development of industrial activities in the European field."

IRPC 2014 runs through Thursday. For more details, visit the HPInformer blog or the event website.

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