Equipment and technology improvements can be sound investments.
by Dave DePasquale, Siemens Industry, Inc.

A refinery operated by one of the largest integrated energy companies in the U.S. has become an example of efficiency, cost savings and streamlined operation.

Located in the Midwest, the refinery is a vital component to the company’s operations, with a gross crude oil processing capacity of 306 million barrels per day (MBD). The refinery processes a mix of light, low-sulfur and heavy, high-sulfur crude oil. It receives domestic and foreign crude oil by pipelines and produces a high percentage of transportation fuels—such as gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel—in addition to other products, such as petrochemical feedstocks and asphalt.

The 2,200-acre site has been in continuous operation since it was constructed in the early 1900s. In 2007, the company announced a $1 billion investment to upgrade production operations at the refinery. 

Upon completion of the upgrades in 2015, the plant will become one of the top-five largest refineries in the U.S. The refinery will also produce natural gas and sulfur-rich coke, which will be used as an energy source for area power plants.

“The refinery has become central to our North American operations, as our downstream partnerships will bring crude oil from the fields northeast of Alberta, Canada, to our operations for refining,” says the company’s global electrical team leader. 

The heavy crude found in the oil sands takes longer to refine using a repeated process of heating and cooling to separate its parts for different uses.

“As a 24/7 operation, the refinery must maintain a high level of reliability, productivity and safety to ensure that we maximize efficiencies,” the team leader says.

Catalytic Cracking Unit Upgrade

With 30-year-old equipment nearing the end of its life-cycle, upgrading the four existing 4,500-horsepower motors that power dual catalytic cracking units (CCUs) was necessary to increase reliability, lower maintenance costs, and most important, provide uninterrupted service for 5 years. 
As part of the refining process, the CCUs accept chains of hydrocarbons and break each into smaller ones in a chemical process called cracking. This allows the facility to make more products, such as gasoline, asphalt and aviation fuel. 

As crude oil contains a variety of hydrocarbons, the CCUs are able to separate these chains of hydrocarbons using an extremely hot catalyst such as Zeolite, bauxite, silica-alumina or aluminum hydrosilicate. Both oil and catalyst in the CCU are then moved to another distillation column where the catalyst will be reused.