Marcio Wagner - Petrobras
In the last decades, restrictive environmental regulations ally with the technological development of processes and equipment which require petroleum derivatives more environmentally friendly and with better performance reduced drastically the consumer market for residue streams. Nowadays, the capacity to add value to the bottom barrel streams represents great competitive advantage among refiners, especially considering the stricter regulations as IMO 2020 that imposes significant reduction in sulfur content of marine fuel oils (BUNKER), requiring even more capacity to treat bottom barrel streams, especially to refiners processing heavier crude oils.
In this scenario, process units called bottom barrel processing, able to improve the quality of crude oil residue streams (Vacuum residue, Gas oils, etc.) or convert them to higher added value products gain strategic importance, mainly in countries that have large heavy crude oil reserves. These processing units are fundamental for to comply with the environmental and quality regulations, as well as to ensure profitability and competitiveness of refiners through raising refining margin.
Available technologies to process bottom barrel streams involve processes that aim to raise the H/C relation in the molecule, either through reducing the carbon quantity (processes based on carbon rejection) or through hydrogen addition. Technologies that involve hydrogen addition encompass hydrotreating and hydrocracking processes while technologies based on carbon rejection refers to thermal cracking processes like Visbreaking, Delayed Coking and Fluid Coking, catalytic cracking processes like Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) and physical separation processes like Solvent Deasphalting units.
Considering the trend of reduction in transportation fuels demand, some refiners can adopt the non energetic production as an alternative to ensure added value to processed crude oil and the lubricant production through solvent route can be an alternative to refiners relying on solvent deasphalting units in the refining hardware, despite the contraction profile of market to Group I and II base oils.
Another advantage of solvent deasphalting technologies is the relative low capital investment when compared with other residue upgrading technologies, especially the hydrogen addition technologies like hydrocracking.