IRPC ’14: Eni lauds conversion of Venice oil refinery into green biorefinery


VENICE, Italy -- What are the options for a simple, smaller crude oil refinery during tough economic times? For Eni’s Venice refinery in Italy, the situation had only two options: innovate or close.

The bearish economic conditions placed small European refineries under extreme pressure. The only solutions were generally to convert to a terminal or shut down completely.

However, management sought out a unique solution for the Venice refinery, and that was to convert it from a petroleum refinery to a green biorefinery. Attendees of the 2014 International Refining and Petrochemical Conference (IRPC) had the opportunity to see the conversion project first hand.

Michele Viglianisi, director of the Venice refinery, shared the long-term plan for this refinery and eni. 

“The Venice refinery is leading the transition to a new era,” said Viglianisi. "The EU market is under crisis with stagnant demand and added problems of rising crude oil costs and pending EU requirements to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) mandates. The Venice refinery is the first example of an innovation strategy to produce renewable biofuels. 

The reusing of existing equipment and infrastructure reduced capital costs for the revamp/conversion of the Venice refinery. Also important, the project provided social benefits with lower CO2 emission and operating a refinery in an environmentally-sensitive area of Venice. 

Overall, the green refinery will satisfy 50% of the biofuels needs for the region.

The green refinery was the innovative solution to prevent the closure of this refinery. The original refinery was constructed in 1926 and was destroyed during World War II. The refinery was rebuilt in 1948 as a simple refinery with only a visbreaker as a secondary upgrading process and a reformer. As a simple refinery, it yielded high quantities of fuel oil and bitumen. As the EU market demand favored diesel over gasoline, this small refinery needed an innovative solution to avoid closure. 

In 2007, eni began working with Honeywell's UOP to develop the Ecofining process, based on a two-stage reaction. First is the hydrodeoxygenation of triglycerides (palm oil) contained in the biological feedstock, producing mainly a mix of linear paraffins and a propane rich gas, recovered as green LPG, followed by the isomerization of linear paraffins mix, in order to achieve the required cold flow properties for the green diesel, producing also green naphtha as by-product. 

Ancillary units and utilities of the former petroleum refinery have been adapted to the new process scheme with a two-stage reaction that converts triglycerides (palm oil) via deoxygenation to paraffins, which are isomerized in the second stage. The end products are green diesel, green naphtha and green LPG.  

Eni placed the green refinery on a fast-track after its project announcement in 2012, and the refinery was shut down in 2013 during the work. Basic engineering, construction, commissioning and startup were completed in 18 months, and eni was the E&C company for the project as well. 

Reusing existing hydrodesulfurization equipment aided in controlling costs for the refinery conversion, according to company officials.

“The Venice refinery conversion proves that innovation is a solution for the refining industry and similar refineries with limited options,” said Dr. Claudia Prati, eni's process manager for green diesel technology. "The green refinery meets social and environmental requirements. But more important, the innovation secures much needed jobs."

IRPC attendees toured the complex to see how an existing petroleum refinery can find a second chapter as a biorefinery. The hydrotreating reactors were repurposed as the hydro-deoxygenation with a catalyst change out. The existing reformer provides needed hydrogen for the Ecofining process. The first phase is hydrogen limit. The second phase includes plans to dismantle the crude distillation unit and construct a new reformer in the plot space. 

Overall, the new reformer will allow the Venice refinery to increase production of capacity to 500,000 tpy. 

“Eni used a very innovative approach to tackle tight margin conditions," said Kamal Kaushal, optimization and development manager at BP and a tour attendee. "Crisis often leads to innovation."

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

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