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ExxonMobil to invest >$1B in Antwerp refinery to convert heavy, higher sulfur residual oil into diesel, other products

2 July 2014

ExxonMobil affiliate Esso Belgium, a division of ExxonMobil Petroleum & Chemical B.V.B.A., plans to invest more than $1 billion to install a new delayed coker unit at its Antwerp refinery to convert heavy, higher sulfur residual oils into transportation fuels products such as marine gasoil and diesel fuel. The new unit will expand the refinery’s ability to help meet energy needs throughout northwest Europe, despite what the company calls a challenging industry environment.

The investment addresses an industry shortfall in capability to convert fuel oil to products such as diesel. ExxonMobil’s annual Outlook for Energy projects that Europe’s demand for diesel fuel will remain high in the coming decades for trucking and other commercial transportation.

Coking is a refinery operation that upgrades heavier oil fractions from the atmospheric or vacuum distillation column into higher-value products and produces petroleum coke—a coal-like material. Exports of petroleum coke accounted for about 19% of the US’ finished petroleum product exports through October 2012 with most going to China and other Asian countries, notes the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

There are two basic types of coking processes: delayed coking and fluid coking. Both occur at pressures slightly higher than atmospheric and at temperatures greater than 482 ˚C that thermally crack the feedstock into products such as naphtha and distillate, leaving behind the petroleum coke. (Depending on the coking operation temperatures and length of coking times, petroleum coke is either sold as fuel-grade petroleum coke or undergoes additional heating or calcining process to produce anode-grade petroleum coke.

In the delayed coking process, two or more large reactors (coke drums), are used to hold, or delay, the heated feedstock while the cracking takes place. Coke resulting from the process is deposited in the coke drum as a solid. This solid coke builds up in the coke drum and is removed by hydraulically cutting the coke using water. To facilitate coke removal, the hot feed is diverted from one coke drum to another, alternating the drums between coke removal and the cracking part of the process.

The company, which will have invested more than $2 billion in the refinery in less than a decade, recently completed a 130 megawatt cogeneration unit and diesel hydrotreater at the Antwerp complex.

In addition to enhancing ExxonMobil’s strongly performing Antwerp facility, the new delayed coker unit will further strengthen ExxonMobil’s integrated downstream and chemical portfolio in northwest Europe to better compete in the challenging global industry environment. This investment will add to our product slate at the Antwerp refinery and deliver much needed cleaner diesel to our European customers.

—Stephen Hart, regional director of ExxonMobil Refining & Supply Company

Esso Belgium, a division of ExxonMobil Petroleum & Chemical B.V.B.A., Antwerp refinery has a production capacity of approximately 320,000 barrels per day and has been in operation since 1953.

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