IRPC ’14: Refiners seek upstream collaboration to adapt to heavier crude

VERONA, Italy -- Improved collaboration with upstream operators is necessary for modern refiners to adapt to changing crude slates, according to two downstream executives with Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC).

Ahmad al Majed, team leader of process engineering at KNPC, delivered a presentation in the refining track of the 2014 International Refining and Petrochemical Conference (IRPC). In his remarks, he outlined a road map for designing and maintaining a heavy crude refinery.

"In the past, refiners typically chose sweet and light crudes to avoid configuration complexity," al-Majed said. "But such choices are becoming limited now. Crudes are trending heavier, due to pricing and a general lack of availability.

The KNPC leader went on to say that the 21st century "belongs to heavy crudes", with increased production from tar sands as direct evidence.

For refiners to adapt to heavier crudes, communication with upstream operators could be essential, he said. This includes understanding production plans by year and field, as well as organizing for test wells and sampling per blend.

Another step KNPC is taking is regular study work on the revised crude slates. The company currently has plans to undertake those studies in 2015, 2020 and 2025.

"Knowing your crudes well is the name of the game," al-Majed said.

Going forward, KNPC says it will continue to examine the characterization of crude and untreated products through continuous lab analysis while also developing the capability to addess catalysts for ARDs/DHTs through pilot plants.

An additional challenge is to better understand a new heavy crude known as HC-2, on which production has yet to start and data availability is limited. But with more of HC-2 to be processed in the future, more coordination with the upstream is needed.

"Refiners are forced to design for heavy crudes out of necessity," al-Majed said.

Refiners should also undertake revamp studies after every 3 or 4 years of operation, he said, and be prepared to implement revamps as needed.

"Heavier crudes generally are expected to have more of sulfur, metals and asphaltenes compared to lighter crudes, making them difficult candidates for handling and processing," he said. "Hence, the need is for us to differently design the refineries."

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

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