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Bitumen processing: crude unit revamps

The ability to process bitumen offers a competitive advantage, but revamps of crude
and vacuum units to process bitumen require significant changes to equipment

Mike Armstrong, Rob Henderson and Jon Moretta

Jacobs Consultancy

anada is now the largest
supplier of imported crude 5000
oil to the US and currently
provides approximately 10% of
Bar re l s pe r day, 1 0 0 0 s
crude refined in the country. A
significant portion of this crude is
derived from heavy oil sands bitu-
men produced in Alberta and
primarily processed in the 2000
Western Canada’s plans for 1000
growth in oil sands development,
coupled with numerous pipeline
expansion projects, will make bitu- 0
2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 2015 2017 2019 2021 2023 2025
men more readily available to
refiners not only in the Gulf Coast "ITUMENBLEND

and other regions in the US, but HEAVYSOURCRUDEOILAND
also in other parts of the world. BITUMENBLENDEDWITHDILUENT
Simultaneously, similar heavy ORUPGRADEDCRUDEOIL
crudes are being produced in
Venezuela, the Middle East and Figure 1 Projected oil sands growth
elsewhere. The flexibility to process Source: CAPP Crude Oil Forecast, Market, and Pipelines Report, Jun 2010
heavy crude can provide a signifi-
cant competitive advantage by • The next largest potential volume bitumen production and supply
reducing feedstock costs. of material is from heavy present unique processing chal-
The ability to process heavier Venezuelan crudes, which are simi- lenges. This article discusses these
crudes has been a refining trend lar to Canadian bitumen trends and challenges, with specific
since the earliest facilities were • With US refineries running at focus on the revamp and reliability
built. Refiners worldwide have been lower utilisation levels, many refin- of crude distillation units. While the
driven to upgrade their facilities eries have the cracking capacity to article focuses on processing
over time to handle heavier crudes increase heavy oil processing, if Canadian bitumen, many of the
because of the following trends: primary distillation units are prop- challenges discussed are similar for
• New sources of crudes are erly equipped to handle these feeds. other heavy crudes.
predominantly heavier crudes with Modifying a refinery to process
increased sulphur content heavy crudes typically involves Bitumen production and
• Existing sources become heavier modification to primary crude and supply trends
as they pass their peak production vacuum distillation units, additional Figure 1 depicts a potential growth
rates gas oil and residue conversion case for Western Canadian oil sands
• Light-heavy crude pricing spreads capacity, increased hydrotreating developed by the Canadian
generally increase with crude price and sulphur capability, and other Association of Petroleum Producers
• Canadian bitumen represents one supporting changes to off-sites, (CAPP). Canada currently produces
of the largest potential future utilities and infrastructure. approximately 1.5 million b/d of oil
sources of petroleum in North While many refineries are already sands-derived crude oil. A signifi-
America and is undoubtedly the geared up to process heavy crudes, cant portion of this material is
most secure supply available to US the inherent quality of bitumen currently upgraded and exported to
refiners coupled with recent trends in the US as lighter synthetic crude oil.

www.eptq.com PTQ Q3 2011 85

armstrong.indd 1 9/6/11 09:37:23

The sands
work was productioncompleted could grow
safely andto on as schedule,
much as
millionthat b/d this by 2025.unique Themethodmajority is of this newoption
a feasible capac-
for is
replacement to beofsupplied
column as bitumen blend instead
of upgraded light synthetic crude oil. Light diluent and
Ma^\aZee^g`^ crude oil will be used as blendstock to trans-
Due this
to a bitumen
change in to duty,
the US. high levels of corrosion had
occurred 2m-high section via twoofprimary the main methods:
fractionator ther-
column, in situjust recovery
above theusing clad steamlower and section mining,of shell.and
Non-destructive of bitumen testing from oil sands.
(NDT) during Current
previous production
rounds had is roughlyfound split certain at 50% corrodedthermal recovery
sections to and
than and this trend
required. These is expected
sections to had continue.
been over- Most
as aminedtemporary bitumenmeasure. currently
As further produced
corrosion is being
upgraded directly in and
expected, Petroplus Alberta.
Foster AtWheeler
the moment, decided bitumen
replacement to theof this US section
is primarilywith aderivednew band, from thermal
with cladding,facilities. wasHowever,
required.going forward, a significant
portion of new bitumen supply may be sourced from
The Process TDL Solution mining production operations.
Due are
There to these
several newmethods
production and considered
usually supply trends, when extra
section ofisa requiredcolumn has by refiners to address
to be replaced. These issues such
as potential increases
replacement of the entire in chloridecolumn andtop solids
with levels
new, in the
replacement as ofwell as thethrough
the section choice, removalmanagement of the top and
half to grade, of various
insertion diluents.
of a new band, and then rein-
TruePeak Tuneable Diode statement of the old top half. The short time frame
Laser (TDL) Analyser Bitumen
meant that sources,
it wasblends not deemedand properties
feasible to purchase an
entire new vessel upper-half due to the significant
The term oil and
engineering sands refers to time
fabrication heavyrequired.
bitumenEven deposits co-
to just
Our TruePeak Process Laser Analyzer uses mingled
replace the with rocks and
corroded band sand relatively
of column nearthe
using theconven-
a tunable diode laser and measures across At ambient
tional “lift down conditions,
top half” theapproach
bitumen would is effectively
requiresolid the
an infrared absorbance region. This means and
use of cannot
a largebecrane. pumped Sinceorthis recovered
work wasusing added standard
to the
turnaroundoil well methods.
scope at such For the notice,
short purposes theofcranethis article,
you can make measurements in the most
oil sands
ability andand plotbitumen
space required are used for interchangeably
such a lift were not and
demanding applications. refer solely to Alberta bitumen reserves.
Addedwithtoany this, fossil
a largefuel,amount
bitumen of properties
pipework is vary from
Features: site
on theto north
site. Oil side sands-produced
of the column, bitumen includingproperties
a 42in main are
■ Rapid measurement (as fast as 1 second) further
several theoretical
line, three
small boreand
by 18in
the production
lines, four method.
lines. Each of these
8in lines While
methods linesof would
■ Process temperature up to 1500º Celsius tion
require arecutting
beingandstudied bracing and and reworkpiloted,should the primary
the top
■ Optical measurement – no sensor contact commercial
half be removed. methods This of could
production are through mining
add significantly to the
with process or thermal
planned methods,duration.
turnaround such asReplacement
steam-assisted of thegravity
■ Aggressive applications – high particulate, drainage
section in(SAGD).situ was, therefore, the most feasible option.
Ideally, bitumen
the section is produced
would be replaced in a similar as a fashion
corrosives, and more
cated band, coal. completeMinedwith sand internals
interspersed thatwith could hydro-
■ Flexible installation options carbon
slotted into is place.
mixed For with
this water and then
to be possible, a light
the existing
■ TruePeak measurement hydrocarbon,
band would have to separate
to be removed minerals while andthe water-soluble
entire tower
■ In situ analysis material
top remained from above.the hydrocarbon.
The total weight of shell, internals
■ Interference free andForpiping
deeperabove reserves, where inmining
the section question is not
was currently
an esti-
mated 200 thermal
Supportingmethods this would are used.requireThe a
most widely
substantial used thermal technology in Alberta is
SAGD, in which
One option would steam be is injected intolinking
a framework the reservoir
the lower via
half set
to theof horizontally
top. This was laid pipes. The
prevented by steam heats the
the metallurgy
of the column, reducing its viscosity
the lower half being and 1¼ allowing
Cr with the oil to
a 304L
cladding.or gravity
Although drain to a low
welding ontopoint 1¼ Cr in isthe reservoir.
possible, it
would accumulated
require local oilpost-weld
can then heat be piped
treatment from(PWHT).there to
It wassurface.
felt that SAGD-produced
this was an option bitumennot worthtendspursuingto have
since itconcentrations
could have ledoftochlorides, clays andand
further problems other solids
cations mined
during bitumen.
the turnaround. The other option would
be to create a framework linking the upper half to
please visit us at www.yokogawa.com/eu Blends
grade. A big advantage of this approach would be that
the framework is never couldtransported
be erectedto pre-turnaround,
the US as a discrete with
product. It is always
the new section readyblended
to be lifted withand some type into
slotted of a posi-
stock for transportation
tion. However, this would purposes.
require One a huge common amount blend

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86 PTQ Q3 2011 _hk_nkma^kbg_hkfZmbhg for further information www.eptq.com
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foster wheeler.indd2 2 9/6/11 14:13:04
10/3/11 09:37:35
is called Dil-Bit, in which naphtha more prone to containing solids bitumen have been coked or
is blended with the bitumen. The than most other crudes. While the hydrotreated, thus causing catalyst
concentration of naphtha varies, mining process typically has more fouling issues well downstream of
depending on the bitumen’s prop- difficulty in separating solids from the CDU/VDU. These small fines
erties, but typically the target blend the bitumen product, SAGD and cannot be filtered out via normal
is 20–35% naphtha. The source of other produced bitumen can also methods and typically show up in
naphtha is equally variable, but have elevated levels of solids. Solids the latter stages of gas oil hydrot-
natural gas condensate is often content issues are also worse for reating units’ catalyst beds as a
utilised. bitumens transported via pipeline, high pressure drop, much earlier in
Alternately, or in addition to since the material has a limited the cycle run than would typically
naphtha diluent, synthetic crude oil settling time. This type of filterable be expected.
(SCO) or partially upgraded bitu- solid material can create multiple Maintaining a good wash zone
men is used as a transportation problems, including: decreased oil operation can help keep these fines
blend stock. This blend is typically stability, water emulsions, erosion in the resid and heaviest gas oil
referred to as Syn-Bit. As SCO type issues, exchanger fouling, pump feeds to the coker and/or FCC.
and quality vary from one upgrader damage and tank sludge build-up. Fines in gas oil have become a
to another, the properties of Syn-Bit These solids silt out over time significant issue within the bitumen
tend to be more variable than Dil- within the feed tanks, creating upgrading industry and can
Bit. When planning a refinery significant problems if the refiner substantially increase operating
upgrade to process bitumen, careful does not take proper precautions. costs for heavy oil hydrotreaters
attention should be given to the Over time, large deposits can lead to due to more frequent catalyst
type, quality and volume of diluent random excursions of solids materi- changeouts. The only other solution
and/or SCO blended with the als or water into the desalters, currently available for this issue is
bitumen. causing operational upsets. Also, the highly capital-intensive one of
refiners incur high maintenance increasing the catalyst cross-
Properties expenses when removing and sectional area by adding more
The following critical properties can disposing of these solids when the reactors in parallel.
impact the design and operations of tanks are periodically removed from Coking tendencies While there may
a refinery crude unit processing service for cleaning/inspection. be laboratory tests for coking
bitumen: As mechanical filtration of crude tendencies, they are not commonly
Viscosity Bitumen has significantly is not economically feasible, the discussed in the refining industry.
higher viscosity than other crude primary method of preventing these Coking tendency is generally deter-
oils. This can result in a large loss solids from settling out in crude mined by asphaltenes content and
in crude unit heat transfer, as well tanks is by keeping the crude feed oil stability, although microfine
as desalting challenges. It is there- system well mixed/agitated via content will also give rise to coking.
fore critical to be able to accurately circulation pumps and tank mixers. When comparing a bitumen opera-
model the viscosity of bitumen for While this may seem counterpro- tion to that of a typical crude unit,
design purposes. Commercial simu- ductive, as the solids will remain in the level of coking is one of the
lation tools cannot adequately the oil sent for processing, the real- more prominent differences.
predict viscosities for these streams, ity is that as long as these solids Metallurgy requirements and
and it is advisable to use assay data can be ratably fed to the CDU’s exchanger fouling can be dealt with
to develop viscosity curves outside desalting system at manageable and by specific investments, but heater
of the simulator being used. continuous amounts, properly tube coking issues may force either
Stability The blending of asphaltic designed wash water and desalter a cut-point change that impacts
bitumen with other streams can systems are able to remove the economics for the entire refinery or
also lead to problems with stability. material. Using desalting chemicals investment in alternative reliability
An instable blend will lead to sepa- such as de-emulsifiers and floccu- provisions. Typically, crude and
ration and potentially condensation lants is also critical for achieving vacuum tower cut-points must be
of asphaltic material. This precipita- effective removal of these solids dramatically reduced versus opera-
tion can result in severe fouling of prior to them reaching the CDU’s tion with conventional crudes.
heat exchangers, furnaces and other preheat exchanger train hot end Naphthenic acid As with many
equipment. and fouling exchangers, heaters and opportunity crudes, the acid content
Stability problems may not be towers. of Canadian heavy oils tends to be
apparent during initial blending or Microfines Of further concern in prohibitive to refineries not
even shipping, but when the mate- mined bitumens is the presence of equipped for this material.
rial is heated, separation often so-called microfines or ultrafines. Naphthenic acid is a generic name
occurs. Additionally, blending other These are typically clay particles referring to organic (carboxylic)
crudes with bitumen-based oils less than 5 microns in size, which acids found in crude oils. For refin-
may exacerbate instability issues. are so highly suspended in the bitu- eries, the acids of concern are
Filterable solids Oil sands-produced men that they do not settle out until primarily high molecular weight
bitumens, as the name suggests, are the constituent portions of the acids concentrating in the 430–750°F

www.eptq.com PTQ Q3 2011 87

armstrong.indd 3 13/6/11 14:17:40

(220–400°C) boiling range. Different meaning furnace duties often more often increases the tempera-
crudes may have differing types of decrease. Some pump sizes may ture of the desalter
naphthenic acids and the corrosive need to be adjusted, but, in many • Increased water carryover Flash
potential can only be determined cases, larger impellers or motor drums provide a vent to offset water
through assessment and experience. replacement is adequate. However, carryover from the desalter, but high
Chlorides Mined bitumen can switching to bitumen puts entirely levels of carryover can result in
contain elevated levels of chlorides different demands on the heat significant temperature drops.
and, in fact, chloride levels may exchange network, and these gener- Jacobs Consultancy has devel-
trend up as new mining operations ally need to be addressed by oped an approach to revamp design
come on-stream. This requires extra redesign and the addition of serv- crude unit heat exchanger networks
diligence in desalter design and ices and shells. to accommodate bitumen process-
operation, metallurgy, and corro- Bitumen processing results in: ing. The general steps associated
sion control and monitoring • Change in crude column heat with this approach are described as
practices, as well as maintenance profiles There will be much less follows.
focus. crude column distillate with more
vacuum gas oil and resid product Create simulation model
Optimising the heat • Reduced heat transfer coefficients Model validation As part of any
exchanger network Increased viscosity for bitumen and revamp, a thorough survey of exist-
From a high-level perspective, resid streams ing equipment and performance is
processing bitumen in an existing • Increased exchanger fouling the first step. This information can
crude unit usually comes down to Fouling factors for oil sands service be used to establish U-Values for
two primary issues: metallurgy and can be an order of magnitude existing exchangers and to create an
heat exchange. In general, column higher than for standard crudes accurate network model in the
operation can usually be adjusted due to increased solids, asphaltenes chosen process simulator.
to avoid replacement of the tower fouling, emulsions and poor Bitumen characterisation Accurately
itself (although, in some cases, this desalting matching the transport and thermal
is desirable for other reasons). • Increase in desalter temperature properties of Dil-Bit and Syn-Bit
Heavier feeds such as bitumen Bitumen processing requires an blends is required. It is also
normally have less distillate content, operation that at least maintains or important to forecast the range,

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armstrong.indd 4 9/6/11 09:37:56

Raw crude /
Dilbit Overhead
and piping

Column top

Column internals
and shell LVGO
High temp.
and piping HVGO

Gasoil draws
Furnace tubes
and transfer Vac. resid.
NAC / Erosion and sulphidation
Chloride attack

Figure 2 CDU: areas of concern for corrosion

quality and properties that will • Reduce furnace outlet tempera- Rigorously model exchanger services
change as production in Alberta tures for heater tube coking Using the combination pinch curve
expands. considerations Several revamps and simulation model, one can
Network adjustments The following have failed because refiners readily identify services where
are typical network adjustments assumed that vacuum units can additional area is required and
required for bitumen design: continue to be operated as per services capable of meeting require-
• Establish new exchanger fouling normal crudes. However, bitumen ments. All such assumptions must
factors Fouling factors are depend- coking tendencies are significantly be checked through a rigorous
ent on the stability and solids higher than for conventional crudes. modelling of heat exchange
content of the bitumen and can be For high coil outlet temperature networks. A common source of
more than double those of the exist- designs, test run or lab testing project creep is that process simula-
ing operation. High-temperature should be used to confirm the tion modelling of exchangers is
exchangers will obviously see the proposed operation is sustainable. considered sufficient to define
greatest increase in fouling scope. Then, during detailed engi-
• Establish the desired desalter Adjust process conditions neering, it is determined that
temperature Depending on the Crude and vacuum column cut- additional area is required due to
quantity of bitumen and diluent points are generally determined by initial inaccuracies related to viscos-
being processed, a large increase in economic and downstream process- ity, heat capacity, fouling rates and
temperature may be required ing considerations. The degree of other properties, as discussed
• Determine and model current fractionation is generally specified previously.
desalter water carryover Carryover based on process guidelines and
may more than double when rules of thumb. More critically for Consider reliability asset
processing bitumen. Underestimating revamps, the number of trays is management strategy
water carryover is a common source already fixed and, unless draws can During this phase of the design
of optimisation error. Increased be moved or eliminated, scope for work, the involvement of operations
water carryover to a flash drum is increasing theoretical trays is and maintenance personnel is essen-
an opportunity to increase low-level prescribed by the limits of packing tial. There are many decisions to be
heat utilisation. Furthermore, this efficiency and column space. Even made related to modifications or
temperature in most cases sets the recognising that these parameters new equipment, operability, unit
pinch temperature. Due to the criti- are fixed, there are still degrees of reliability and availability, and main-
cality of this determination, more freedom that can be employed to tenance impacts. For example, there
sophisticated simulation modelling reduce network modification may be trade-offs in adding new
techniques and laboratory testing requirements, such as changes to surface area versus increased clean-
may be required for detailed engi- column heat balances and equip- ing frequency. Another example
neering calculations ment operating pressure. would be allowing higher than

www.eptq.com PTQ Q3 2011 89

armstrong.indd 5 9/6/11 09:38:05

desired velocities in certain sections components are present in the
of the plant, while enhancing O O crude and heavier products, includ-
corrosion monitoring/management C OH (CH2)n C OH ing heavy gas oils, atmospheric
and inspection programmes. There resid and vacuum resid.
are a variety of similar issues, such R NAC is often misunderstood
as ensuring adequate plant flexibil- C OH because of the interaction with
ity for varying operations, providing sulphidic corrosion. The following
adequate process control and ensur- Figure 3 Naphthenic acid component equations represent the equilibrium
ing adequate access for maintenance structure Source: NACE Paper 04634 balance between the competing
when new equipment is added. NAC and sulphidic corrosion:
processing very low-sulphur crudes.
Corrosion considerations Critical to the mechanism is the Fe + 2RCOOH ↔ Fe(RCOO)2 + H2
While concerns with network opti- interaction of ammonia, H2S, chlo- Fe + H2S ↔ FeS + H2
misation are significant and major rides and their various salts. The Fe(RCOO)2 + H2S ↔ FeS + 2RCOOH
changes may be required for a concentration of all these compo-
desired capacity, project costs can nents increases with bitumen An important difference between
often be controlled by settling for a processing, raising the potential for the iron sulphide and iron naph-
lower capacity or reduced bitumen catastrophic failure in these systems. thenic salt is that the sulphide
concentration. Metallurgy issues are We are aware of numerous facilities forms a stable film on the pipe
not as easily avoided. Many articles experiencing issues in this regard. surface, while the naphthenic salt is
have been written summarising the Figure 2 shows the areas where solubulised in the hydrocarbon
concerns of naphthenic acid corro- bitumen processing can increase stream. This equilibrium relation-
sion in crude units, particularly corrosion rates. Naphthenic acid ship leads to conflicting data about
with heavy or opportunity crudes. corrosion occurs in a specific range when and where NAC occurs. If
There are essentially four types of at higher temperatures. The overlap there is a threshold concentration of
corrosion that take place in a typi- between naphthenic corrosion and H2S, the pipe forms a protective
cal crude unit: sulphidation reflects the fact that scale. As the acid concentration
Naphthenic acid corrosion The the mechanisms work together. To increases, the equilibrium shifts
mechanism of naphthenic acid adequately determine the corrosion towards the naphthenic iron. In
corrosion (NAC) is less well under- rate for a given pipe or column addition, factors such as velocity
stood, but it is known that NAC section, it is critical to know the and turbulence can lead to removal
does not occur independently of temperature, and H2S, sulphur and of the film, increasing the amount
sulphur. It is suspected that naph- naphthenic acid levels. of acid metal loss at high H2S
thenic acid reacts with iron sulphide concentrations.
and effectively pulls off the protec- Naphthenic acid In assessing the risk from NAC,
tive layer of scale, leading to pitting Naphthenic acid is a generic term all of the following criteria must be
and grooving. Velocity and wall for all organic acids in crude. More considered:
shear are also variables. specifically, naphthenic acids refer • Partial pressure of naphthenic
High-temperature sulphidation At to any organic acids with a phenyl acid component
temperatures around 400°F, hydro- or multi-phenyl group linked to a • Partial pressure of H2S
gen sulphide (H2S) begins to evolve carboxylic acid function, as shown • Level of turbulence (wall shear)
from oil. Along with an oxidising in Figure 3. Lighter molecular acids, • Temperature.
agent (typically water) the H2S where they exist, are problematic in Figure 4 is a simplified representa-
reacts with the pipe walls to form that they create corrosion impacts tion of the zones created by the
iron sulphide scale in lighter side cuts, such as heavy protective layer of sulphide scale.
Hydrochloric acid attack Chloride naphtha and kerosene. In most Assuming constant levels of naph-
salts, primarily magnesium and crudes, the concentration of these thenic acid concentration and
calcium chloride, hydrolyse to form components is low and only a select temperature sufficient for corrosion,
hydrochloric acid. Acid attack then few crudes have concentrations corrosion occurs at low levels of H2S
occurs in the aqueous phase of the high enough to create corrosivity as there is insufficient scale formed.
column overhead. Similarly, the problems. Due to the relatively low This theory of the interaction
acid reacts with ammonia to form amount of kerosene and lighter between H2S and naphthenic acid
ammonium chloride salts, which material in bitumen, these compo- has some interesting and useful
foul and corrode trays and exchang- nents have a negligible impact on corollaries. It is possible to reduce
ers in the top section of the CDU. corrosion and metallurgy selection NAC by artificially increasing the
Bitumen chloride levels may be when considering the impact of amount of H2S and/or iron sulphide
trending upward over time as more bitumen. inside the pressure envelop. And,
mined bitumen enters the market Heavier components boiling in as the H2S concentration increases,
Sour water corrosion Sour water the 430–750°F (220–400°C) range are system velocity becomes much
corrosion is an issue in every crude typically the cause of bitumen more important to the rate of
unit design except for ones naphthenic acid corrosion. These corrosion.

90 PTQ Q3 2011 www.eptq.com

armstrong.indd 6 9/6/11 09:38:21

for further information

burkhardt.indd 1 20/9/10 10:10:44

• Use risk assessment techniques to
identify critical equipment justify-

In cre asi n g H2 S con ce n t r at i on

Zone 3 ing additional capital investment.
The analyses for sulphidation and
Zone 2 NAC need to be carried out in
,OWCORROSION tandem. Sulphidation is less of a
concern, in that most refineries are
already designed for high levels of
Zone 1 sulphur and sulphidation. When
(IGHCORROSION high levels of naphthenic acid
)NSUFFICIENTSULPHIDESTOPREVENT.!# and sulphur are present, the
NAC mechanism typically over-
rides sulphidation concerns, while
Increasing turbulence/wall shear
changes to piping and exchanger
metallurgy to address sulphidation
Figure 4 Relationship between NAC, H2S and turbulence Source: NACE Paper #02555 are typically less expensive than
those to address NAC.
This relationship has led to exper- 317SS is typically required) Unlike the other forms of fouling
imentation with corrosion inhibitors, n Areas of high corrosion rates and corrosion discussed here, there
sulphur components that keep the caused by a combination of high is almost no mitigation strategy,
sulphide layer intact. Such sulphides, high napthenic acids and short of increasing the chrome
inhibitors have been shown to be high temperature content of the metallurgy. Iron
effective to the extent that velocity n Identify areas where high sulphide forms a surface film that
can be managed. velocities or turbulence may be of protects the metal from several
The steps to analyse the likeli- concern forms of corrosion and erosion. The
hood of corrosion are: n Typical locations requiring film offers some resistance to heat
• Establish the concentration of metallurgy upgrade for NAC are: transfer, but it reduces metal loss
sulphur and naphthenic acid ° Transfer lines by protecting the surface under-
throughout the system ° Furnace tubes neath from NAC.
n Use assay information to esti- ° Elbows and nozzle draws
mate concentrations in columns and ° Inlet horns Hydrochloric acid attack
sidecuts ° Tower lining and trays Refineries are well aware of the
n H2S concentrations and sulphur ° Identified piping and other dangers of chloride corrosion in the
concentrations should both be locations overhead of atmospheric crude
estimated • Look at moderate areas where towers. Chloride enters the column
n H2S should be determined from corrosion can be mitigated by a in the form of salts that hydrolyse
evolution curves combination of monitoring, corro- at the temperatures found in the
• Establish the temperatures associ- sion inhibitors and reduced velocity crude furnace. The chlorides create
ated with each concentration and • In areas of low sulphur and low two distinct corrosion and fouling
location velocity but high naphthenic acids, problems — acid attack and ammo-
• Identify areas where metallurgy consider the possibility of using an nium chloride salt formation — in
protection is required (upgrade to inhibitor injection the overhead
Acid attack occurs as water
condensate forms on condensing
surfaces (see Figure 5). The first
droplet of condensate preferentially
H 2S
absorbs the hydrogen chloride gas,
HCI forming a highly acidic solution
H2O HCI HCI that attacks iron. This mechanism
can be mitigated by:
• Continuous water wash

Cooling • Neutralisation: control pH above 5

• Corrosion inhibitors (filming
High corrosion Lower corrosion
High HCI concentration H2S buffering
High temperature Lower temperature Even if ammonia is not used as a
Low pH Higher pH neutralising agent, some ammonia
(ppm level) evolves during the
heating process. The ammonia and
Figure 5 Acid attack in crude unit overhead chloride form a salt that lays down

92 PTQ Q3 2011 www.eptq.com

armstrong.indd 7 9/6/11 09:38:32

on surfaces and trays. Although the that form emulsions and foul down- chemicals and asphaltene stabilisers
salt is water soluble, it generally stream exchangers. Typically, it is can greatly improve separation effi-
forms in areas with insufficient sufficient to control the pH of the ciency. For refiners with sufficient
water distribution. In addition to make-up water, but impurities in storage time, crude pretreatment
reduced heat transfer, under- the feed may overwhelm the water can help settle solids and water in
deposit corrosion occurs beneath buffer chemistry, necessitating the tankage prior to processing.
this salt layer. Methods to prevent use of acid injection, into either the
ammonium salt formation are: make-up or circulating water Capital costs: revamp or new build?
• Provide adequate water wash • Flash bitumen after desalting Revamp of existing units
with distribution to all exchangers Bitumen production and upgrader Significant upgrades can be required
• Maintain water pH below 7.0 facilities have shown that asphaltic to existing crude and vacuum distil-
• Use inhibitors and amine bitumens retain free water even lation units to process bitumen. The
neutralisers. after extensive water knockout typical types of changes required for
steps. If this water is not vapour- revamping an existing heavy sour
Desalting ised, soluble salts in the emulsion crude unit to process oil sands-
While steps can be taken to mitigate concentrate in the free water and derived bitumen include:
both forms of chloride corrosion, foul downstream exchangers. • Addition of new exchangers and
the best means of prevention is to Flashing the bitumen after the more surface area to the CDU
remove chloride salts upstream of desalter dissipates salts in the preheat train
the crude furnace. Salt removal hydrocarbon phase. In the hydro- • Lining of the main column,
tends to be more challenging for carbon phase, salts will not foul usually with 317 SS
bitumen feedstocks. exchangers, and chlorides may not • Retraying/packing of the main
Among the factors that make hydrolyse as readily. Recent studies column due to metallurgy concerns
bitumen desalting more challenging have indicated the hydrolysis of and lower vapour/liquid traffic
are: chloride salts is more extensive for • Upgrading of most hot distillate
• Asphaltenes interact differently the hydrated salt species (eg, piping to SS
with water compared with other MgCl2_6(H2O)) • Lining of one or more of the side
hydrocarbons, leading to an • Space velocity While the most strippers
increase in emulsions costly parameter to improve, • Upgrading of most hot transfer
• High solids content increasing separation time has a piping to SS
• Saponification of naphthenic acids marked influence on desalter • Improvement in the column’s
• High viscosity performance. If possible, an addi- overhead water wash system
• Reduced gravity differential tional desalting train should be • Upgrading of the metallurgy of
between the crude and water. considered to process bitumen. The hot pump impellers/casings
Among the key considerations in cost of this train can be justified in • Desalter internals replacement/
desalting are: terms of improved availability, upgrades
• Temperature Higher temperature improved energy efficiency and • Fired heater retubing.
reduces viscosity and increases the reduced maintenance costs (less The cost of engineering and
gravity driving force for water-oil exchanger cleaning and overhead executing this work can be highly
separation equipment replacement.) Space prohibitive in some cases, especially
• Mud washing High metals, solid velocity is determined based on oil as much of the work needs to be
fines and asphaltene precipitation volume. Decreasing water addition done during turnarounds. Another
all inhibit the dehydration process. does not improve separation and substantial cost of carrying out a
Furthermore, these materials tend has been shown to increase water substantial CDU/VDU revamp is
to accumulate in the bottom of the carryover and emulsion formation the extended downtime required to
desalting vessel. While possibly • Rag layer control Withdrawal of a carry out this work. It is not
counterintuitive, it is more effective rag layer should be considered a last unheard of for the revamp work to
to keep these materials well mixed resort. A rag layer (an emulsion turn a normal 30-day turnaround
in the oil fraction so they can be between the liquid and hydrocarbon into a 60- to 90-day outage with the
removed from the desalting process phase) directly reduces the space significant attendant costs that a
• Mixing valve/static mixer Shear at velocity of the desalter. The rag long downtime entails. In some
the mixing valve is a common cause layer often forms around solid parti- cases, work scopes have been so
of emulsion formation. Due to the cles. While withdrawal improves large that the work is executed over
high viscosity of bitumen material, performance, disposal of the rag more than one unit outage.
it is critical to optimise the pressure layer can be problematic. Generally, In addition to the actual costs
drop to prevent shear and minimise high temperatures are required to identified here, there are other
emulsion formation, while main- dehydrate the emulsion and most concerns about the possible ramifi-
taining good mixing between water refiners do not have the facilities to cations for safety and reliability of
and oil reprocess this material carrying out much of this work,
• pH control High pH leads to the • Chemical addition and crude with some portions occurring while
production of sodium naphthenates pretreatment Emulsion breaking the units are still operating. Typical

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armstrong.indd 8 9/6/11 09:38:43

revamp costs vary widely and have Typical questions to resolve with upgraded synthetic crude.
been found to run anywhere from include: Significant competitive advantage
15% to almost 100% of an • Is the equipment failure/fouling opportunities exist for refiners
equivalent-sized grassroots unit. rate going to increase? having the capability to process
• Is the maintenance organisation bitumen. Revamps of existing crude
Grassroots considerations/costs aware of the changes in practices/ and vacuum units to process bitu-
In view of the high costs of upgrad- frequencies they will have to adopt men are not trivial and entail
ing an existing CDU/VDU complex, (for example, increase the thickness significant equipment changes,
some refiners have chosen to build monitoring programme)? especially related to heat exchange,
grassroots replacement units instead. • Are there design alternatives that desalting and metallurgy upgrade.
By building a new unit, difficult-to- will avoid the potential loss of In some instances, it may be prefer-
overcome physical constraints can availability (for example, parallel able to build new units rather than
be resolved (provided adequate plot equipment) and how can they be revamp existing facilities, to avoid
space exists) and additional operat- justified? excessive downtime and reap other
ing cost benefits would also be • Are their operating procedures operating cost benefits.
expected due to higher availability, that we need to adopt to reduce the Careful attention should be paid
lower maintenance costs and more failure risks (for example, increase/ to operations, reliability and main-
energy-efficient operations for a reduce the settling time we provide tenance when processing bitumen.
new, purpose-built unit, properly in the crude storage area)? A thorough review of the refinery
sized and using the latest design • Should we use a risk-based asset management programme is
practices. The primary technical and inspection approach to identify recommended.
economic differences between a corrosion loops and enable deci-
typical heavy-sour CDU/VDU and sions on monitoring such as the References
one configured to process bitumen inclusion of coupons 1 Kremer L, Bieber S, Strategies for desalting
are: • What equipment strategies need heavy Western Canadian feedstocks, NPRA
• An increase in heat exchanger to be developed to enable the paper AM-08-36, 2008 NPRA National
Conference, 9–11 Mar 2008, San Diego, CA.
surface area due to fouling/viscosity correct equipment care programmes
2 Messer B, Tarleton B, Beaton M, Phillips T, A
issues to be adopted from day one of start
new theory for naphthenic acid corrosivity of
• Use of higher metallurgy up? — truly ready for operations. Athabasca oil sands crudes, NACE paper 04634,
throughout the units The list is certainly not exhaus- NACE International 2008.
• An increase in column height to tive, and it is advisable in any 3 Kane R D, Cayard M S, A comprehensive
accommodate space for a taller situation to develop and implement study on naphthenic acid corrosion, NACE
wash oil section a strong asset management paper 02555, NACE International 2002.
• A more robust desalter design programme. However, in the case 4 Gray M R, Eaton P E, Le T, Kinetics of hydrolysis
• Changes in main column over- of this type of revamp, it is impor- of chloride salts in model crude oil, Petroleum
head metallurgy and water wash tant the refinery recognises that Science and Technology, 26, 1924–1933, 2008.
design may be desired. future operations may present
Overall, these differences typically issues and events which have not
lead to an approximate capital cost been dealt with in the past, and to
increase of 10–15% for a bitumen look at the revamp with the same Mike Armstrong is a Senior Consultant with
processing design compared with a diligence as they would the instal- Jacobs Consultancy and has 22 years of
typical heavy sour crude design. lation of a completely new process operations and process design experience in
the refining industry. He holds a bachelor’s
unit in the refinery
degree in chemical engineering from the
Operations, reliability University of Illinois and a master’s in
and maintenance Conclusions chemical engineering from the Colorado
It is important to note that revamp- Canadian oil sands represent a School of Mines.
ing a refinery to process bitumen significant source of secure energy Rob Henderson is a Senior Consultant with
warrants significant attention to supply. Projected growth rates for Jacobs Consultancy and has 19 years of
operations, reliability and mainte- bitumen production are significant experience in process technology, engineering,
nance planning. There is a tendency and expected to more than double commissioning, troubleshooting, operations,
to treat a revamp as mainly an over the next 15 years. In addition, project development and technical supervision.
engineering event, since operations access to this bitumen will be more He holds a BS in chemical engineering, a BA
and maintenance already have readily available as pipelines are in economics from Case Western Reserve
University and a MBA from Northwestern’s
proven practices in place for the expanded.
Kellogg Graduate School of Management.
unit. We find that the opposite New bitumen supply will likely
Jon Moretta is a Director with Jacobs
should be the case. Tasks such as include mined bitumen, which Consultancy’s Petroleum, Chemicals and
reliability modelling, maintainabil- presents potential added processing Energy Practice. He is an expert in heavy oil
ity reviews and ready-for-operations challenges in the form of increased upgrading technologies and been involved
preparation of equipment strategies chlorides and solids. In addition, in many recent oil sands bitumen projects.
should be key areas of focus in the volume of blended bitumen He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical
these revamps. import will increase compared engineering from the University of Michigan.

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