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Refinery water management

Waste minimisation and loss prevention for improving effluent water quality
and rendering more water suitable for reuse are discussed

Gert-Jan Fien KBC Energy Services

ore refiners are finding reason to ration- Greater public awareness of environmental
alise their water consumption. However, issues Often, public sentiment urges the reduc-
so many issues impact the amount and tion of water consumption and effluent.
quality of water required that most are unaware The availability of fresh water and the licence
of their own performance and of the opportuni- to discharge effluent directly both affect sustain-
ties to improve. A 360-degree approach to able operation and are, therefore, worth much
improving water management in oil refineries more than the annual cost of water import or
has therefore been implemented, ranging from disposal.
benchmarking issues to typical inefficiencies
encountered in water usage and incorporating Benefits
best practice improvements. This approach has Better water management may enable expansion
been successfully applied to several refineries. or higher throughput by freeing up fresh water. It
can also improve effluent quality due to reduced
Changing conditions contamination, better waste water segregation
Compared to other industries, oil refiners have and longer residence time in treatment units. It is
had relatively few concerns about water usage. also likely to reduce operating costs associated
However, the situation is changing. Factors with water purchase, pumping, treatment (chemi-
contributing to a growing need for better water cals, resin, air compression) and heating (steam
management are: use, boiler blow-down).
Processing dirtier crudes With specific gravities Possible additional benefits include less fouling
closer to water, (slop) oil is harder to separate from and corrosion in process equipment, better
(waste) water and desalting is more difficult. Sour desalting of crude oil, colder cooling water
crudes cause more waste water contamination (better vacuums, higher LPG recovery) and an
Clean fuels production More desulphurisation improved public image.
can overload sour water strippers and sulphur
recovery units, thus impacting waste water quali- Challenges
ties. Often, deeper conversion requires site With the proprietary WaterPinch methodology
expansion and increased water consumption and software, KBC Energy Services carried out
Stricter emissions regulations There are more water minimisation projects in many branches of
gas flows to scrub and more waste water contam- industry, including oil refining, which presents
inants to remove particular challenges due to:
Climatic changes Increased rainfall can reduce Distribution of water consumption Typically,
residence time in waste water treatment (WWT) cooling towers and steam generation account for
and even overflows, whereas reduced rainfall can 8085% of water consumption. Most other users
mean less dilution of final effluent are relatively small and widespread
Less rainfall, falling ground water levels and Complex water chemistry Refining processes
higher municipal and/or agricultural consumption release a great variety of contaminants, each of
These factors can also reduce fresh water which can determine the reusability of water for
availability certain applications and cause problems with PTQ Q4 2008 1

neglect of water-related systems,
BFW this also hinders numerical analysis
Vents/losses Relatively low cost of water This
can make it hard to justify water-
Demin. Deaerator Boilers Steam saving projects
down Generally conservative attitudes
Weve always used this amount/
rtm. type of water, so we must need it.
Service With water becoming a bigger
Evap./drift water
Water issue, a good methodology is needed
intake Clarifier/ Cooling
filter towers
to benchmark water efficiency and
analyse where improvements can
Fire water/
realistically be made.

WWTP Waste
Quantitative benchmarking of a

Storm water
Tank water/
refinerys water consumption implies
flares the calculation of objective water
efficiency and compares this to a
database of results from other refin-
Figure 1 Water-related utility systems in oil refining eries, such as the KBC Best
Technology (BT) analysis for energy
usage. Ideally, as in the case of BT
analysis, it should also provide an
BFW objective refinery-specific best prac-
tice target in terms of tonnes of
Reformer Amine
Desuperheating water imported per barrel of crude
& waste-heat
boilers processed. To do this, the calcula-
coking/ SRU tions need to account for differences
Washing, CDU/VDU/
pump seals, visbreaking HDS in:
Cooling water systems Once-
through cooling water, as opposed
to make-up for a circulating system,
is normally not counted in the water
Steam SWS consumption per tonne of crude oil
and should therefore lead to a lower
SSW Refinery configuration Clean fuels
Cond. Spent production requires more contami-
rtm. Process caustics
condensate nant removal. Coking processes are
dirty and cause swings in waste
water water production, while downstream
(chemical) processes add their own
Figure 2 Generic water consumption in oil refining processes Quality of imported water (for
example, saline or potable) The proc-
effluent discharge. Contaminant interactions ess of preparing water for use in boilers and
pose threats of VOC emissions, scale formation, processes gives reject flows that depend in size
corrosion, bio-fouling, sludge build-up and more, on the quality of imported water.
making the application of quantitative tools very Water usage is further affected by:
difficult Crude types processed (sweet or sour, light or
Poor metering Usually caused by relative heavy) This determines how much contamination

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ends up in waste water and how
hard it is to treat that water
Climatic conditions (tempera- Process name
ture and precipitation) Effective Water in feed 0 Feed = t/h FI-130 5 Condensate export
handling (and reuse) of rain Steam
Steam import 15 use 8 0.5 To atmosphere
water can offer opportunities, HP/MP/LP FR-101
while optimal air cooling can FR-103
 1.5 To sour water stripping
reduce make-up water for cool- 5
1 To waste water treatment
ing towers.
3 15 Steam export
There are also minor influ- 8 HP/MP/LP
ences from on-site or off-site FI-127
Demin water 20 FR-133 9
power generation, economies of Steam
Generation Blowdown 1 To sewer
scale and site layout. All of this 10%
makes objective benchmarking Cleaning
of a refinerys water efficiency a
Drinking water 0.5 11.6 To sewer
challenge. A benchmark that
Process water 0 0 To sewer
only considers a certain combi-
nation of common process units Pump seals 40 To sewer
would fail to identify the
Cooling water 800 40 760 Return to cooling tower
(generally much larger) ineffi-
ciencies and losses that exist in + +
the utility systems (power plant,
Sum 836 Sum 836
demin plant, cooling towers).
+ Blue font indicates a reliably metered flow

Developing a base case Other blue fonts are trustworthy flow estimates
Red fonts indicate guessed values
To find a refinerys specific Black fonts indicate calculated values

water consumption (tonnes of Blow-down flow was estimated using a reasonable blow-down percentage
Water in the feed is thought to be negligible
water imported per barrel of Drinking water was estimated from person equivalents
crude processed), one must be
clear about which battery limit Figure 3 A sample process unit water balance
water flows should be counted.
Water or steam going to associated petrochemi- for data collection; often a single summer month,
cal processes, or to third parties, should be during which all the major water-consuming
disregarded. processes are running normally.
A site-wide water balance is not strictly Due to insufficient flow metering, achieving a
required, since we are only talking about (fresh) balance may require many types of information,
water imports. However, to verify key measure- such as stoichiometry, valve openings and
ments and help with sifting out the non-refinery pipe diameters, concentrations or temperatures
water flows, it is a great tool. For finding before and after mixing, design values pro-rated
improvements at a later stage, it is to current production and more. KBC recom-
indispensable. mends documenting each data source and
Producing a useful water balance is challeng- its reliability.
ing in this branch of industry. Water, although Figure 3 shows a well-documented water
used in many ways (Figures 1 and 2), has histori- balance around a process unit. Separate process
cally been of little concern. The upkeep of water balances like this should be combined into a site-
systems and reliable metering are generally wide balance and resulting flows cross-checked
found wanting. The strategy presented here is to against main meters on water import, demin
actively involve all relevant staff and start from production, steam generation and waste water
both ends simultaneously the utility systems flow.
and the processes. Eventually, both will have to
meet and be reconciled. Improvement opportunities
A good base-case time period must be chosen A holistic approach to water reduction requires PTQ Q4 2008 3

are arranged as levels, corre-
sponding with the previous
Good housekeeping
Corporate Operator training
Water utilities
Process units
Between process units Key processes to focus on are
crude and vacuum distillation,
Within process units coking and FCC. It is important
(including tank farm, cooling towers)
Maximise condensate return to have a close look at desalters,
Optimise consumption
Avoid pollution
which are significant users of
water, as well as sources of (oily)
Increase reuse, improve SWS
waste water, and they are often
Improve fresh and waste water treatment under considerable strain from
Enable recycle dirtier crudes and higher
Leak reduction 3rd -party incentives
Metering and monitoring throughputs. Further attention
goes to processes with considera-
ble water/steam injection,
Figure 4 Levels of water-reducing activities notable amine consumption or
with water-cooled process pumps.
effort and expertise at four levels, as illustrated Throughout this, the questions are:
in Figure 4. Is the right amount of water used?
At the centre is the optimisation of water usage Could cheaper water be used?
at unit level, requiring an understanding of proc- Could effluent water be cleaner?
ess needs and constraints. The next level Is effluent routed correctly?
addresses inter-unit integration of water streams, Along with the processes, it will always be more
with or without intermediate water regeneration, important to investigate the utility systems,
which may be facilitated with high-level tools where most water is used or treated.
such as WaterPinch. Next comes the improve-
ment of efficiency and effectiveness of water Cooling towers
treatment facilities, and all of these should be For decent performance, refiners should aim at
supported by a corporate culture of awareness concentration ratios between 4.0 and 5.0. Due to
and incentives to save water. diminishing returns, higher ratios are not
With site-wide water balances in hand, an normally worthwhile. In practice, many sites still
assessment can be made of where to focus atten- operate at ratios below 3.0. Discussions with
tion. Typically, the key water-saving cooling tower personnel, outsourced treatment
improvements (such as those with a real impact specialists and process operators will be required
and acceptable payback times) are few and to reveal the reasons for low ratios, whether they
conceptually simple: are poor-quality make-up water, large losses of
Better recovery of condensate to deaerators cooling water (CW), contamination by process
Maximum reuse of stripped sour water leaks or ineffective chemical treatment.
Higher concentration ratios in cooling towers Proper maintenance and operation of CW
Reuse of treated waste water. systems is necessary to bring blow-down under
However, to realise these concepts affordably control and maximise temperature drop in the
and minimise the cost of new water treatment, towers. Colder CW is often worth much more
you will need to: than just the value of water saved due to better
Avoid water contamination efficiency of condensing turbines and better LPG
Improve maintenance, monitoring and control recovery.
of water systems
Improve effectiveness of existing waste water Sour water stripping
treatment. Stripped sour water is normally a significant part
This represents a concerted effort and exper- of overall effluent. Good stripping practice can
tise of refinery operations. The following sections do much to offload the WWTP and provide water

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directly for other purposes, such as desalting or large amounts of steam are generated at distinctly
in-line washing of overhead condensers. different pressure levels, it can make sense to
Segregation of sour waters, monitoring of provide demin water with different qualities.
performance, stable operation and preventive For producing steam at 4060 barg, it is
maintenance are essential. In addition, the generally good practice to have reverse osmosis
handling of stripper off-gases (eg, in sulphur (RO) followed by mixed-bed ion exchange (IX)
recovery) may need attention to resolve bottle- polishing. The regeneration of IX resins
necks in that area. consumes a lot of water and can often be opti-
mised by improved scheduling and cascading of
Steam system rinse water flows.
Efficient steam and condensate systems are
important for overall water efficiency. With Waste water treatment
around 80% of the water intake going to boilers Recovering treated effluent is essential for high
and cooling towers, it follows that energy-saving water efficiency. Avoiding water contamination
programmes can notably reduce overall water in the first place and then segregating different
consumption. Improved heat integration can types of effluent will ease the task of WWT and
reduce steam consumption and CW require- increase the availability of recoverable water.
ments, while rationalising the utility system may Specifically, it is important to have separate
cut steam venting, debottleneck condensate primary treatments for spent caustics, oily water
return systems and help to move away from and other waste water. Next, residence time in
condensing turbines. treatment units must be maximised. Keeping oily
Proper handling of steam condensate deserves and other water separate will help, as will good
much attention due to its double value as a high- sludge removal and a reduction in the flow rates
quality water and energy carrier. Any steam vents arriving from the processes.
or leaks constitute water and energy loss, while To improve oil/water separation, the emulsifi-
poor steam trap maintenance can lead to steam in cation of oily water (due to pumping shear or
the condensate headers, causing hydraulic bottle- surfactants, for instance) should be avoided.
necks and reduced condensate return. The Dosing control and mixers in air flotation units
segregation of clean and suspect condensate and and biological treatment must be optimised.
the use of distributed quality monitoring can Generally, treatment units should be kept in
avoid the need for dumping large amounts. good mechanical condition. To minimise site-
Note that savings in demin water consumption wide water consumption, the inspection and
are inversely amplified by the efficiency of optimisation of WWT is essential.
demineralisation. Reducing boiler blow-down
and condensate losses may also lower overall Loss prevention
waste water temperatures and thus improve Reducing oil losses to waste water, along with
WWT performance. good slop oil recovery, saves money and
improves waste water quality. Tank draining and
Fresh water treatment cleaning procedures and desalter operations can
Depending on the type of imported water, fresh often be improved, while oil skimming devices
water treatment can consist of many stages, each may need repair.
with its own reject stream and/or chemicals Refinery-wide programmes for loss control,
consumption. Water for human consumption leak repair and good housekeeping, with clear
and sanitation are normally imported separately, targets, incentives and responsibilities, should be
leaving two main qualities to be produced part of managements commitment and reviewed
on-site: in a complete water project. This includes the
Process water that is just good enough to be preparation/review of operating procedures and
used for the cooling towers, fire system and appropriate training of operators.
equipment/floor washing. Part of this may be
recovered waste water Summary
Demineralised water for steam generation: For many reasons, oil refiners may need to
higher pressure steam requires cleaner water. If improve their water utilisation. Best practice PTQ Q4 2008 5

refinery water management requires many WaterPinch is a mark of KBC Advanced Technologies plc, and it is
aspects of the process and utility systems to work registered in various territories.
together, as well as aspects of waste minimisa-
tion and loss prevention, to improve the overall Gert-Jan Fien is Senior Consultant in the KBC Energy Services group.
effluent water quality and render more water
suitable for reuse.
The approach taken here focuses on practical
in-process improvements rather than on the Links
start- and end-of-pipe solutions in which some
companies specialise. Also, it does not rely on
More articles from: KBC Advanced Technologies
proprietary chemicals/resins for water treat-
ment, or on exotic equipment and materials of More articles from the following category:
construction. It does, however, require a project Water/Wastewater Management
team with a variety of skills and experience.

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