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EPA Revising Rules to Allow Refineries to Recycle Oil-Bearing Hazardous Waste by Gasification

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is revising the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act’s (RCRA) oil-bearing hazardous secondary materials exclusion to allow for the recycling of materials generated by the petroleum industry—such as sludges or other byproducts—when they are gasified at a refinery for the production of synthesis gas fuel.

Gasification will join distillation, catalytic cracking, and fractionation as recognized petroleum refining processes. This exclusion is conditioned on there being no land placement and no speculative accumulation of the material prior to re-inserting into the petroleum refining process. EPA has also finalized a regulatory definition of gasification specific to this exclusion.

In August 1998, EPA promulgated an exclusion from the definition of solid waste for hazardous oil-bearing secondary materials generated at a petroleum refinery, that are recycled by being re-inserted into the petroleum refining process. In 2002, EPA proposed a separate conditional exclusion for these same materials that added gasification to the list of recognized petroleum refining processes. This current action amends and finalizes the 2002 proposal.

Petroleum refineries use gasification for the conversion of low-value fuels and/or secondary material, such as petroleum coke, visbreaker tar and deasphalter pitch into synthesis gas. Synthesis gas can then be converted to usable products, such as hydrogen, ammonia and other chemicals, and/or used as a fuel to produce steam and electricity. In petroleum refining operations, electric power generation is a preferred use for the synthesis gas.

EPA has identified four gasification systems operating at petroleum refineries in the US, one of them an IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) unit. The agency found 16 gasification systems operating at petroleum refineries outside the US.

While petroleum refinery-based gasification units are currently in limited use in the US, interest in developing these systems is on the rise. Many factors may be contributing to this interest, but we believe it is most likely related to the increasing cost of natural gas, an increasing interest in maximizing efficiencies in the petroleum refining process, manufacturing cleaner fuels, and reducing the generation of waste. Although limited in number, petroleum refinery-based gasification systems have demonstrated positive economic returns, while providing more flexible operations to address increases in raw material costs. These facilities have shown that gasification systems can process lower value fuels or material commodities (e.g., petroleum coke and other petroleum secondary materials) into higher value fuels or chemical commodities. These systems have also demonstrated how well gasification fits into petroleum refinery operations and the advantages of doing so.

—from the text of the final rule, 20 December 2007



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