November 2017

Columns

Editorial Comment: Ingenuity out of necessity

One of the main focal points in this issue of Hydrocarbon Processing is the environment.

Nichols, Lee, Hydrocarbon Processing Staff

One of the main focal points in this issue of Hydrocarbon Processing is the environment. Over the past several decades, we have seen the hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) make great strides in reducing emissions, increasing energy efficiency and producing the highest-quality products imaginable to billions of people around the world. Whether it is to lower energy costs, adhere to government regulations or make products more desirable to consumers, these changes/improvements have been made out of necessity.

For example, one of the most prominent trends within the HPI is the move to a low-sulfur/zero-sulfur world. With the increase in demand for refined fuels, additional consumption equates to higher emissions and, in turn, more airborne pollutants. Dozens of countries have proposed or enacted legislation to lower levels of airborne pollutants. To adhere to government regulations, refiners around the world will be required to invest heavily in the production of low-sulfur transportation fuels. These investments aim to produce high-quality fuels that meet Euro 4, Euro 5 and Euro 6 specifications. These policies include Tier 3 in the US and Canada, National 5 and Beijing 6 in China, clean fuels projects in the Middle East and Russia, and the International Maritime Organization’s global sulfur cap, as well as the increased use of biofuels, and electric/hybrid and gas-powered vehicles.

The move toward a low-sulfur world is inevitable, and the industry must make the necessary investments to position itself at the forefront of this changing landscape. Industry leaders are working hard to effect this change. HPI producers have spent billions of dollars to upgrade and expand their facilities to meet the challenges posed by upcoming sulfur regulations. Over the past decade, dozens of countries have invested in new secondary units to produce higher-quality refined products for consumers, and the industry is far from finished.

According to OPEC’s World Oil Outlook 2016, desulfurization capacity additions represent the largest capacity increases among all process units to 2040. The report forecast that nearly 4 MMbpd of new desulfurization capacity will begin operations by 2021. However, an additional 13.7 MMbpd of desulfurization capacity will be needed by 2030, and more than 5 MMbpd will be required between 2030 and 2040. According to Hydrocarbon Processing’s Construction Boxscore Database, the majority of this new capacity will be located in Asia and the Middle East. These projects include expansions, upgrades and grassroots facilities.

According to the report, a breakdown of the 23 MMbpd of the market share for global desulfurization capacity additions includes:

  • Distillate desulfurization capacity—16.5 MMbpd (71% market share)
  • Gasoline sulfur reduction—4.2 MMbpd (18% market share)
  • Vacuum gasoil/resid processing—2.5 MMbpd (11% market share).

New regulations on fuel sulfur limits will have profound effects on the global HPI, a trend that will continue over the long term. This trend is a direct result of increased regulations on the amount of sulfur allowed in transportation fuels.

As environmental and fuel regulations change, the industry’s producers and personnel continue to tackle the challenges they pose. New regulations have spawned cutting-edge technologies that have increased operational efficiency and plant safety, and have created higher-value products. When the HPI must adapt, innovation arises to answer the call. Proof of this has been chronicled in the pages of this publication for nearly 100 yr, and will be, we hope, for 100 more. HP

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