Oil Refining Library
Petroleum Refining, Vol 2 Separation Processes - by Jean-Pierre Wauquier
About this Book (Preface):-
The eighties and nineties were a period of considerable change for the refining industry in the world and in Europe in particular.
It was during this period that the very basis of the industry, which was entering its mature phase, was critically re-examined. The tried-and-true expressions such as maximum flow, standard products, and "bigger is better" were gradually replaced by optimum choice of feed, added value, energy savings, products suited to the market, refinery hinterland, niche effect, etc. The consequences were considerable, since in France 23 refining sites dwindled to 11 in the space of a few years, with consumption going from a forecast 200 million. tons a year to some 80 million tons. The same story could be told all over Europe in general or in the United States. The special case of the Far East with its double-digit development figures, or of the former Eastern bloc in the midst of social and economic upheaval, should not make us forget that our industry has today reached maturity and that it must be dealt with as such.
Finally, how can we fail to mention the recent phenomenon that refiners have been somewhat defenseless in dealing with: what is termed the "paper" market? It means that players with no connection to our industry (mainly large financial operators) involuntarily influence the refiner's margin, multiplying or dividing it by a factor of three or even seven in the space of a few months, sometimes a few days.
How can refiners respond to this three-pronged challenge?
• Technical: manufacture products that are more and more "suited" to the market and as disconnected as possible from the major international quotations.
• Economic: invest massively in strategic choices with a highly volatile future looming ahead.
• Financial: generate enough cash-flow over a ten-year period to finance the huge needs of this atypical industry that is both massive and specialized.
There will probably never be a definite solution to this equation and this is where the refiner must focus his thinking: how to make the transition from the certain or almost certain universe of the engineer and the economic forecaster to the moving fuzzy logic universe of the futurologist and the strategist? The change is already underway and the only ones who survive - probably very successfully - will be those who have identified the parameters they have to control soon enough.
Although there are no guarantees, in this connection responses or even habits exist that pave the way for just about any scenario:
• Avoid assumptions such as: processing heavy and high-sulfur crudes is the trend for the future.
• Prioritize a great degree of flexibility in industrial facilities, possibly at the expense of the sacred cow of economic optimums.
• Reduce costs intelligently while avoiding any adverse effect on flexibility, reliability or operational safety.
In the background fortunately - or unfortunately for some - is the refiner's technique and skill that can provide a lot of answers.
Does he want to consolidate his margins and manufacture high added-value products? He knows how to couple up the olefin-producing catalytic cracker and a high-quality distillate-producing hydrocracker.
Does he want to reduce costs? He knows how to install advanced control to run his refinery automatically, implement preventive maintenance methods to space out his maintenence operations or process less "noble" feed than crude oil.
Does he want to lessen his impact on the environment? He knows how to treat his effluents, manufacture increasingly purer products, optimize energy consumption and even make less noise.
Last but not least, does he want to improve safety? Although the refining industry is considered hazardous - and rightly so - it is one of the most well structured in its approach to safety problems. The latest developments in management methods, which no longer consider safety as a separate subject but integrate it into a concept of loss control, have made considerable progress in the approach to operating problems that is in complete harmony with safety concerns.
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