Sweet Crude

October 31, 2011

PETROLEUM REFINING: Modular versus Conventional Refineries

By Jim-Rex Lawson MOSES
Oil refining is the process that takes us from crude oil to refined or finished products through an oil refinery such as high-octane motor fuel (gasoline/petrol), diesel oil, liquefied petroleum gases (LPG), jet aircraft fuel, kerosene, heating fuel oils, lubricating oils, asphalt and petroleum coke.

A petroleum refinery is therefore a factory where crude oil is transformed into petrol and hundreds of other useful products or a factory where crude oil is broken down into its various components, which then are selectively changed into new products like the ones mentioned above.

An oil refinery is considered an essential part of the downstream side of the petroleum industry.

Refineries come in various sizes. The range from small topping and reforming refineries to sophisticated complex refineries, but perform three basic steps which are Separation (fractional distillation), Conversion (cracking and rearranging the molecules), and Treatment.

A typical large [conventional] refinery costs billions of pounds to build and millions more to run and upgrade. It runs around the clock 365 days a year, employs hundreds of people and occupies as much land as several hundred football pitches.

A modular refinery as the name implies, is a refinery whose parts or equipment are constructed in modules designed to be transported quickly and easily anywhere in the world and comes in a variety of sizes with capacities that range from 500 to 20,000 barrels per day.

 

PREFERENCE FOR MINI REFINERIES

Mini Refineries are ideally suited for:

Remote locations

Rapid production of primary fuels (for consumption)and raw materials or feed (for the petrochemical industries)

Greater process flexibility (Refining units may operate independently or likewise be interconnected in combinationas determined by the processing needs).

Limited refinery project land space

Low or minimal nstallation cost (using skid-mounted during construction)

Quicker investment recovery

Two operators can restart the plant from a cold start and have the plant in full operation in a matter of hours.

Completely automated and once an operator sets all the controlling points, all product temperatures and flows can be controlled automatically.

Only a flat support area or concrete slab without anchor bolts is required to support the plant.

Fuel supply can be natural gas, naphtha, diesel, fuel oil or a combination of these fuels.

 

CONVENTIONAL versus MODULAR REFINERIES

 

CONVENTIONAL

Constructed in place (on site)

Configuration could be any of topping, coking, cracking, hydroskimming etc

Caters for all range of products

Could Process all crude types depending on processing severity

 

MODULAR

Skid-mounted on modules

Mostly installed as topping or hydroskimming plant

Product mostly restricted to production of middle distillates, naphtha, and lights.

Utilization of heavy crudes’ yield higher proportion of low value residual fuel oils