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UOP, Albemarle and Petrobras to Cooperate on Catalytic Crude Upgrading for Heavy Oils

UOP LLC, Albemarle and Petrobras have signed a technology cooperation agreement to demonstrate and further the commercialization of UOP’s Catalytic Crude Upgrading (CCU) process technology. UOP developed the CCU process in 2005 as a cost-effective option to upgrade heavy crude oils and bitumen-derived crude.

Under the agreement, UOP will provide the technology, equipment and system design. Albemarle will provide an improved Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) catalyst to be used in the process. Petrobras, which has already run the process in its pilot plant, will offer knowledge and experience with FCC catalyst as well as heavy crude processing.

With the increasing demand for heavy oils and the decreasing availability of suitable, cost effective diluting agents, we believe that the CCU technology will be a key factor in meeting the world’s future demand for crude.

—Scott Martin, Albemarle Vice President of FCC

One of the issues in the production of unconventional hydrocarbons such as Canadian oil sands or heavy oils is their inability to be transported via pipeline due to low API gravity, high viscosity or high pour point.

There are four methods currently being used to bring such unconventionals to market in an economic manner:

  • Upgrade the material in the oil field, leaving much of the material behind as coke, and pipeline the upgraded material out as synthetic crude. There are several examples of this in operations in the oil sands.

  • Build upgrade facilities at an established port area with abundant gas and electric resources. The upgrading facility fractionates the VGO (vacuum gas oil) and lighter materials out of the crude and cokes the residue material. The liquid products from the coking operation are hydrotreated and mixed back with the virgin materials. (Virgin VGO, AGO (atmospheric gas oil) and diesel may also be hydrotreated in the complex depending on availability of natural gas and economic considerations. A pipeline from the upgrading complex to the oil field transports cutter stock to the oilfield in sufficient quantity to produce pipeline-acceptable crude. Examples of this kind of facility are in operation in Venezuela, enabling the production of heavy crude from the Orinoco River Basin.

  • Use traditional crude which is located in the general area to dilute the non-traditional crude to produce an acceptable pipeline material.

  • Build a reverse pipeline from a refinery to the oilfield as well as a crude pipeline. This can be a solution for high quality waxy crude as well as heavier crude oil.

UOP’s CCU process is a standalone upgrading process based on the UOP Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) technology. The CCU process takes a portion of the heavy raw crude oil and processes it to create cutter stock for the remainder of the produced crude oil. Mixing the cutter stock with the crude reduces its viscosity, allowing it to travel through the pipeline transport network without the use of external diluting agents.

The key attributes of the CCU process stem from the yield and selectivity benefits associated with a catalytic conversion system over those of a thermal system.

Transportation fuels produced from bitumen and extra heavy oil are estimated to generate as much as 1.4 times lifecycle GHG with current processing methods compared to fuels derived from conventional oil. Click to enlarge.

Use of oils sands bitumen and heavy crude with current processing technologies can significantly increase the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of vehicle fuel. According to the technical analysis published by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis in 2007 for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard, estimates of full lifecycle GHG for refined product produced from oil sands/heavy oil range 29.4 gCeq/MJ on the low end to 35.9 gCeq/MJ on the high end. Gasoline produced from conventional oil is estimated to have lifecycle GHG of 25.7 gCeq/MJ, and diesel 25.5.

The increase is entirely on the upstream emissions side. While gasoline and diesel from conventional oil are estimated to produce 5.6 and 4.4 gCeq/MJ respectively on the upstream side, estimates for fuels from oils sands/heavy oil range from 9.3 to 15.8 gCeq/MJ.



Henry Gibson

Nuclear heat can provide the energy needed to extract the bitumens from the tar sands and to provide steam to make hydrogen to upgrade the bitumen to pipeline standards. As an alternative, bitumen could be converted by gasification to methanol thence to gasoline that is shipped in pipelines. This is the fastest way of reducing CO2 production. The natural gas used now could be diverted to producing hydrogen for upgrading.

High temperature electrolysis with the high temperature provided by nuclear heat may also be a cost effective source of hydrogen.

Eventually it will be possible to convert very high temperature nuclear heat into liquid fuels by capturing CO2 to make first methanol then gasoline. The US could have saved a lot of money by having massive stores of methanol in salt caverns. ..HG..

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