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he refining industry is faced with

many challenges that may signifi-
cantly affect refinery processing
schemes over the next five years and
beyond. First, the recommendations of
the European Auto-Oil I and II pro-
grammes have resulted in unprecedent-
ed gasoline and automotive diesel fuel
quality requirements (Table 1).
In 2005, the maximum automotive
diesel sulphur level will be reduced to
50ppm. Sulphur levels as low as 10ppm
will be the rule in some countries. At the
same time, the specified cetane number,
polyaromatics, specific gravity and 95 per
cent distillation point will also undergo
changes. These will directly affect the
refinery diesel pool formulation.
The probable reduction of 10C to
20C of the diesel 95 per cent distillation
point will impact on the refinery diesel
output. For example, a 10C reduction
in diesel cut-point will diminish the
diesel pool volume by about 5 per cent.
Second, as a result of increasing road
transport in Europe and the success of
diesel automobile engines, particularly
in France, the projected demand for
diesel fuel shows an increase of at least
18 per cent over the next 10 years, and
even more in some scenarios, while the
market share for naphtha is expected to
decline slightly (Table 2).
Jet fuel demand is also climbing
rapidly (+40 per cent) due to the expan-
sion of air transport. Demand for
domestic fuel oil continues its long-term
decline. European refineries must there-
fore adapt their product slate signifi-
cantly, considering that diesel
production capacity is already bottle-
necked while the previously projected
diesel end-point specifications will
result in a 5 to 10 per cent loss of current
These long-term trends will compel
refiners to modify their processing con-
figurations in order to increase higher-
quality middle distillate production. In
the past, the prevailing market forecasts
and economics led refiners to invest in
FCC complexes to satisfy the more
immediate gasoline
needs, which is why
most European refinery
conversion schemes
were limited to FCCs
and visbreakers.
To produce high
yields of high-quality
middle distillates from
vacuum gasoil (VGO),
refiners will have to
invest in hydrocrackers
to meet future market
demand. Although they
are not likely to shut
down FCC operations on the sole
premise that FCC units do not produce
high yields of high quality middle distil-
lates, they will have to implement some
reduction in FCC throughputs. A realis-
tic case study will include an FCC unit
and a hydrocracker.
Hydrogen management is another
key point to consider when comparing
technical solutions in addressing the dif-
ficult problem of diesel quantity and
quality. The optimum overall scheme
will be one that selectively adds hydro-
gen into the diesel pool.
Case studies
The European refinery case studies
detailed in this article processes 10
megatons/year of a North Sea crude. The
refinerys bottom-of-the-barrel units
An FCC plant
A vacuum residue visbreaking unit
A diesel HDT plant, sized for year
2000 specifications (not shown in the
figures that follow).
The residue from the visbreaker is
used for production of 40cSt fuel oil.
The effects of adding the follow-
ing hydrocracking technologies were
Mild hydrocracking
High pressure hydrocracking
IFP hydroconversion technology
The study draws upon information
gathered from over 40 industrial units.
The results, primary product distribu-
tion, diesel and domestic fuel oil pool
constitution, and main product charac-
teristics prior to hydrotreatment, are
given in Tables 3 to 5.
A hydrocracking strategy
for a competitive market
A description of a novel hydrocracking technology that offers refiners a cost
effective way of complying with European 2005 diesel specifications, taking
into account new configurations necessary to meet capacity and quality targets
P Marion D Due E Benazzi
www. ept q. c om
1996 Current 2005
Sulphur, ppm max 500 350 1050
Cetane number, min 49 51 5254?
Polyaromatics, wt% max 11 16?
Sp. Gr, max 0.860 0.845 0.825 0.845?
ASTM D-86 360 340350?
95% vol, C max
Table 1
Diesel oil specifications in Europe
Current 2005 (expected) 2010 (expected) Ten-year difference
MTPA Market MTPA Market MTPA Market MTPA Market
share,% share,% share,% share,%
Naphtha 166 38 171 37 177 37 11 -1.6
Jet fuel 41 9 49 11 57 12 16 +2.4
Diesel 142 33 156 34 168 35 26 +2.1
Domestic 84 20 82 18 80 16 -4. -2.9
fuel oil
Total 433 100 458 100 482 100 49
Table 2
European demand and market share for middle distillates
Base case
Refinerys year 2000 configuration
(Figure 1)
The refinery produces slightly more
naphtha and less diesel than European
demand. With a cetane number of 49
and a sulphur content of 2400ppm, the
entire diesel pool must be sent to a deep
HDS plant where the specifications of 51
cetane and 350ppm sulphur are easily
obtained with the North Sea crude oil.
The domestic fuel oil (DFO) charac-
teristics are close to the specifications.
To obtain the minimum cetane number
required for this stream, one third of the
domestic fuel oil will be hydrotreated.
The deep diesel HDS flow is therefore
2.82 MTPA for the refinery's crude oil
throughput of 10 MTPA.
Case 1
After 2005 (no change in configuration)
The impact of year 2005 specifications
on refinery performance was studied.
Primarily due to the reduction of diesel
oil ASTM D-86 95 per cent point from
360C to 340C, diesel fuel production is
reduced from 30 per cent of the total
napht ha- pl us - mi ddl e- di s t i l l at es
obtained in year 2000, to 27.9 per cent
in year 2005.
Considering the market share of 34
per cent given in Table 2 for the same
year, the gap between refinery produc-
tion and market need for 2005 will have
more than doubled compared with that
for the year 2000.
By 2005, with the same refinery con-
figuration, the FCC throughput will
have been increased by 12 per cent,
which, of course, does not fit well with
the need to increase both diesel pool
quantity and quality (Figure 2). Because
of the increased light cycle oil (LCO)
production, the cetane in the pool is
also deeply affected.
Diesel oil cetane number before
hydrotreating is only 47.9, which repre-
sents a gap of 4 to 6 points compared
with the expected 2005 specifications.
With this type of feedstock, such an
increase in cetane number requires
extremely severe operating conditions
that cannot be achieved in the existing
HDT plant, even after revamping. In case
a minimum cetane number is required
for the domestic fuel oil, the entire DFO
oil pool must also be deeply hydrotreat-
ed. In these conditions, the total middle
distillates hydrotreating throughput is
increased by 24 per cent, and a new
high-pressure HDT must be installed.
The average naphtha pool sulphur
level will be 270ppm, which implies
adding high-severity, post-treatment
units to attain the required sulphur lev-
els of 1050ppm. This level of severity
will be accompanied by some octane
loss, which means that, in some cases,
the octane balance could well become
tight and will require more investment.
Case 2
Mild hydrocracker
Based on preliminary studies, the addi-
tion of a high-pressure hydrocracking
unit was not an economic solution due to
the high investment requirement and
high hydrogen consumption. In the alter-
native case, a mild hydrocracker
(designed for 30 per cent conversion and
a residue maximum sulphur content of
0.05 wt%) is added to the refining scheme
upstream of the FCC unit (Figure 3).
The advantages of this configuration
on FCC operation are well known:
Reduced FCC coke, slurry and LCO
yields in favour of LPG and naphtha
Increased LCO cetane number
FCC naphtha sulphur levels reduced to
Reduction in FCC SOx emissions.
Future 2005 with
Future 2005 MHDC and
Current Future (2005) with MHDC Hytail
wt% wt% wt% wt%
Diesel DFO Diesel DFO Diesel DFO Diesel DFO
Straight run 78.4 12.0 71.4 13.2 66.1 57.0
Kerosene 13.8 73.3 20.2 66.2 11.7 71.6 9.4 60.3
LCO 14.7 20.6 5.7
VB diesel 7.8 8.4 7.0 6.4
MHDC diesel 15.2 22.7 - 39.7
Hytail diesel 27.2
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0
Table 4
Diesel and domestic fuel oil pool constitution
Future 2005 with
Current Future (2005) Future 2005 MHDC and
with MHDC Hytail*
Naphtha 3.17 41.0 3.32 43.5 3.07 38.9 3.26 37.3
Jet fuel 0.73 9.4 0.82 10.7 0.84 10.6 0.93 10.7
Diesel 2.32 30.0 2.13 27.9 2.57 32.6 2.98 34.1
Domestic 1.50 19.4 1.36 17.9 1.41 17.9 1.56 17.9
fuel oil
Total 7.72 100.0 7.63 100.0 7.89 100.0 8.73 100.0
* Including 1.2 MTPA of imported atmospheric residue
Table 3
Refinerys product distribution (crude =10 MTPA)
Figure 1 The refinerys current situation
Adding a mild hydrocracker signifi-
cantly increases the diesel-to-naphtha
ratio and the refinery product slate
almost matches market requirements.
The results from the refinery simula-
tion in this configuration show that
most of the LCO produced by the FCC
can be used to control fuel viscosity.
Under these conditions, the cetane
numbers in the diesel and DFO pools are
significantly increased (Table 5).
With a cetane number of 39 and a sul-
phur content of 600ppm, the DFO
meets specifications without further
hydrotreatment, even in countries
where a cetane number of 40 is speci-
fied. In this case, a small amount of
cetane booster will be added to the pool.
The diesel fuel, with a cetane number
of 48.2 before HDT, will still require
severe hydrotreating to attain a mini-
mum of 52. The necessary cetane gain of
3.8 points cannot be accomplished in
the existing unit without revamping.
Depending on the case, the cetane gain
can be achieved in a new high-pressure
HDT plant (preferably), or in the most
favourable cases, in the existing plant
after extensive revamping.
Total HDT throughput is 9 per cent
lower compared to the current situation.
A sulphur level as low as 15ppm in the
FCC naphtha will result in a diesel pool
well below the most stringent foresee-
able specification of 10ppm, achieved
with virtually no octane loss.
Case 3
New technology
Hytail is a new IFP hydrocracking tech-
nology specifically developed to solve
European refining problems (Figure 4).
It is optimised for cracking heavy atmo-
spheric gasoils or light vacuum gasoils
that will be in excess in refineries in
2005 after reducing diesel 95 per cent
point specification. Because it operates
under much milder operating condi-
tions than a conventional hydrocracker,
and the process flow scheme is much
simpler, this unit investment cost is
remarkably low, and the economics are
The key feature of this process is that
it operates at pressure levels and requires
capital investment comparable to those
of a mild hydrocracker, but still offers
the high conversion levels and the high
diesel quality of a high pressure hydroc-
racker. If we plot diesel quality (ie, poly-
aromatics in this example) as a function
of hydrogen partial pressure for the
same conversion level of 80 per cent, a
zeolite catalyst can be used, enabling the
unit to operate at a 25-bar lower hydro-
gen partial pressure, for the same level
of quality (Figure 5).
This is explained by the zeolites
greater activity, which requires a much
Future 2005 with
Future 2005 MHDC and
Current Future (2005) with MHDC Hytail
Sulphur, ppm 2400 2300 2100 1900
Cetane 49.1 (spec 51) 47.9 (spec 52) 48.2 (spec 52) 50.7 (spec 52)
Sulphur, ppm 2100 2600 600 500
Cetane 37.7 37.0 39 40.7
Naphtha sulphur, ppm
FCC naphtha 250 250 15 15
Naphtha pool 105 110 <10 <10
Diesel HDT overall Base Base + 24% Base 9% Base 23%
Diesel HDT Existing Existing plus Existing plus Revamp
new HP unit probable new HP existing unit
Table 5
Main product characteristics prior to hydrotreatment
Figure 2 Refinery situation after 2005
Figure 3 Adding a mild hydrocracker
lower operating temperature, and which
in turn favours more efficient hydro-
genation. Zeolite catalyst systems
appear as the best choice in Europe
where the emphasis is on maximum
quality diesel fuel.
Moreover, selecting a light feedstock
(LVGO or HGO) instead of the usual
hydrocracking feed (HVGO) makes pos-
sible an additional 20- to 25-bar reduc-
tion in hydrogen partial pressure.
The result is that, in the Hytail pro-
cess, which basically cracks light feed-
stocks on a zeolite catalyst, the
operating pressure can be about 50 bar
lower than in conventional plants. The
process offers the same product yield
slate and quality as the HP hydrocrack-
er, but with a much lower hydrogen par-
tial pressure resulting in a lower
investment cost (Table 6).
Another characteristic of this low
investment process is that its
flowscheme is simpler than that of an
HP hydrocracker. It is similar to a diesel
HDT plant with an additional column,
the dieselresidue splitter).
The combination of these features
results in attractive economics (Table 7).
Hytail investment cost is only about 40
per cent of the investment of an HP
hydrocracking unit, while H
in the unit is only 28 per cent of the HP
The last case in this study concerns
the addition of a Hytail plant having
previously installed a mild hydrocracker.
Feedstock to the Hytail plant is the
lighter third of the total vacuum gas oil
(TBP cut: 350410C), while feedstock to
the mild hydrocracking unit is the 410-
565C cut. Taking into account the con-
version in the mild hydrocracker, the
FCC throughput is reduced to 55 per
cent of design. To maintain a minimum
FCC feed rate at 70 per cent of design,
an extra 1.2 MTPA of atmospheric
residue was imported.
Owing to the high quality of diesel
fuel from the Hytail unit, the diesel pool
and domestic fuel oil pool cetane num-
bers are increased to 50.7 and 40.7,
respectively, before the HDT step. The
domestic fuel oil meets specifications.
With such a high quality level, the
diesel fuel can be reasonably upgraded
to the sulphur specification by the
revamped diesel HDT plant.
Taking into account that Hytail diesel
is sent directly to the diesel pool, the
new HDT units throughput is only 77
per cent of its original design.
Table 8 provides the results of an eco-
nomic comparison between a mild
hydrocracking unit, a mild hydrocracker
plus a Hytail unit, and an FCC unit plus
an upstream high pressure hydrocracker
that replaces the Hytail and mild hydro-
cracking units.
The high pressure hydrocracker con-
version level is adjusted in order to
obtain a refinery material balance and
Figure 4 The Hytail process
Figure 5 Comparison of zeolite and amorphous catalyst performance
Hytail pressure
Crude oil Brent Brent
Feedstock TBP 350410 350565
cut points, C
Unit capacity, BPSD 23000 73000
Conversion Full Full
Operating pressure, bar P50 P
Residence time, h
0.80xBase Base
ISBL capital 95 235
investment, 10
consumption, TPA 21400 75400
Table 7
Hytail economics
Hytail pressure
Crude oil Brent Brent
Conversion Full Full
LPG, wt% 3.00 3.10
Naphtha, vol% 34.7 35.5
Diesel, vol% 77.8 78.3
consumption, wt% 1.85 2.05
Diesel properties
ASTM D-86, 340 340
95% vol, C max
Flash point, C 70 70
Cetane number 56 55
Sulphur, ppm <10 <10
Polyaromatics, wt% <1 <1
Table 6
Product yields and
product quality pattern equivalent to
those obtained with a mild hydrocrack-
er plus a Hytail unit. Because both
Hytail and mild hydrocracking units
operate at much lower pressures, the
investment for these two units is lower
than the investment for a high-pressure
hydrocracker of the same capacity.
The hydrogen consumption is much
higher in the HP hydrocracking case
because this unit operates at higher pres-
sure and hydrogenates the residue that
is sent to the FCC to a high degree. In
the mild hydrocracking-plus-Hytail
scheme, hydrogen is selectively added
to the diesel fuel with as little hydrogen
as possible going to the unconverted
residue being sent to the FCC.
Hydroconversion, whether or not com-
bined with some degree of reduction in
the FCC throughput, is the key option
for European refineries when their objec-
tive is to meet diesel 2005 specifications
and production requirements. While
diesel sulphur specifications are often
achievable by revamping existing diesel
HDT units, the required cetane level (a
characteristic that is not easily improved)
appears as the refinery bottleneck.
Mild hydrocracking is a cost effective
option that will solve part of the prob-
lem. It also leads to very low sulphur
content in the FCC naphtha, enabling
the most stringent sulphur specification
in the naphtha pool to be met.
Hytail is a new hydrocracking tech-
nology that fits well with the European
constraints. When the mild hydrocrack-
er is combined with a Hytail unit, the
refinerys diesel-to-naphtha ratio
increases to meet the projected Euro-
pean yield slate, while the total produc-
tion of naphtha, jet, diesel and domestic
fuel oil is increased by 14 per cent.
In that case, the diesel oil pool prop-
erties attain values that enable them to
meet the 2005 target, using the existing
diesel HDT units, after a moderate
The comparison between the com-
bined Hytail-plus-mild-hydrocracking
units and a stand-alone high pressure
hydrocracking unit, operating at par-
tial conversion and offering the same
refinery material balance and product
quality, shows that Hytail-plus-mild-
hydrocracking is the more effective solu-
tion in terms of capital investment and
hydrogen management.
MHDC plus Stand-alone
MHDC Hytail at HP hydrocracker at
full conversion 50% conversion
VGO capacity, MTPA 2.88 3.68 3.68
ISBL capital Investment, 10
US$ 119 214 235
consumption, t/year 22000 39100 59600
Table 8
Hydroconversion, whether
or not combined with some
degree of reduction in the
FCC throughput, is the key
option for European refineries
when their objective is to
meet diesel 2005