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Petrochemicals: Resource Efficiency

How to Improve Resource Efficiency in the Petrochemical Industry

| Editor: Anke Geipel-Kern

(Source: ©mimadeo - stock.adobe.com)

More from less — that was the slogan of the More project, whose goal was the definition of real-time indicators for more resource efficiency in the process. But how to monitor the complex production processes of a cracker? The two consortium participants Ineos and S-Pact developed a ready-to-use feed stream analyser based on Raman Spectroscopy. A real success story paid off in cash.

The Petrochemical Industry is not the common suspect for being extremely innovative and environmentally friendly. No surprise, since the public perception is still that of a smoky, polluting, and archaic type of industry, turning over large quantities of non-appealing blackish stuff.

Energy Cost as a Key Efficiency Factor

But obviously, this is not quite the truth. In modern times of resource shortness, high prices for energy, and a public interest in clean and green processing, optimising resource efficiency is an intrinsic interest for all major players in the field. In particular, the very first links in the petrochemical value chain like crude distillation, steam cracking, or steam reforming are large consumers of energy, with economic success strongly depending on efficient use of resources.

“Energy cost is one of the key factors for our site operation, so we are forced to reduce every bit of energy and to run our processes as close to their efficiency optimum as possible”, stresses Stefan Krämer, former Site Energy Manager at Ineos in Cologne, one of the main suppliers of feedstocks and base chemicals for Chemical and Petrochemical Industry in the Rhein-Ruhr area in Germany.

Accordingly, Ineos is participating and contributing to many innovation activities in the field, including Advanced Process Control, Real-Time Optimisation or Site Logistics.

Optimising Resource Efficiency for Petrochemicals

In this context, the European Commission-funded R&D project “More – Monitoring and Real-Time Optimisation of Resource Efficiency in Integrated Processing Plants” out one of the fundamental processes at Ineos to optimise the overall resource efficiency through improved monitoring of the plant operation. A thorough balancing of the energy and material flows into the plant, as well as a critical assessment of the degrees of freedom of the plant operation pointed at a lack of real-time information about the feed composition.

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“We knew from past experience that a real-time analysis of the complex product stream including condensates, gases and liquids was unrealistic. So, we ended up with the demand for a reliable feed analysis,” confirms Stefan Krämer. “Our process and plant models are sound enough to predict the product stream from feed composition and operational parameters.” Hence, a good setting for increasing the resource efficiency by closely keeping track of the process.

Raman Spectroscopy to Replace Gas Chromatography in the Petrochemical Industry

But next, what would be the most promising approach for an automated, real-time, low-maintenance analysis of a highly complex liquid hydrocarbon mixture of far beyond 100 molecular species? For consortium partner S-Pact, service and solutions provider in the field of Process Analytical Technologies (PAT) with a focus on molecular spectroscopy, Clemens Minnich suggested: “We know that traditionally process gas chromatographs (GCs) have been applied.

However, with the situation we encounter – the need for fast response, high specificity, and non-destructive sampling – we definitely see Process Raman spectroscopy as the way to go.” Well, that’s a start.

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Consequently, a project plan was rolled out that systematically aimed at a ready-to-use feed stream analyser:

  • 1. Definition of the method space, i.e. the components of interest, concentration ranges, condition of the stream etc.
  • 2. Qualification of suitable analytical methods, e.g. Raman, NIR, … with the help of series measurements on large sampling sets.
  • 3. Training of the selected method to reliably deliver the composition parameters.
  • 4. Working out a ready-for-process system for the implementation in the existing plant and control system environment.

Petrochemical Analysis in Theory and Practice: What About Real Life?

“Our team did a great job in working up and re-analysing all these material samples we identified as being necessary for the chemometric modelling,” claims Ingo Pelz from the Cracker Optimisation Team at Ineos. By the way: Simulating the future measuring point by a lab rig that circulated the liquid feedstock (cf. scheme) allowed to cover a significantly larger composition space than what would have been possible with the regular process samples in the same time.

Schematic view of a circulating lab rig for Raman training measurements of petrochemical feed samples. Numbers indicate the flow sequence.
Schematic view of a circulating lab rig for Raman training measurements of petrochemical feed samples. Numbers indicate the flow sequence. (Source: Ineos)

So far, so good – but still a useful and well-performing analysis technique needs to stand a real-life testing. Thanks to the collaboration with Kaiser Optical Systems, leading supplier of Process Raman equipment, the instrumentation for optimum transferability was selected from the very beginning.

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Carsten Uerpmann, Sales Account Manager for Kaiser points out: “Our RXN gear is designed to meet the highest demands from the customer side, even in challenging environments. And we know that customers don’t appreciate duplicate work for method training, so our lab equipment shows the same resistance and robustness.”

Do efficiency measures in the petrochemical industry really pay off? See for yourself, as the validation is put to the test on page 2!

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