Hydrogen key to EU refiners' future

Aug. 3, 1998
Transportation visionaries say hydrogen is the fuel of the future, but for Europe's refiners, it is a key ingredient for making conventional fuels today. The European Union recently unveiled tougher gasoline and diesel quality requirements, due in place in 2000 and 2005, which will make hydrogen supplies critical to refiners (OGJ, July 6, 1998, Newsletter). Philip Morris, refinery marketing manager-Europe for Air Products plc, Walton-on-Thames, U.K., said the new legislation will require
David Knott
London
[email protected]
Transportation visionaries say hydrogen is the fuel of the future, but for Europe's refiners, it is a key ingredient for making conventional fuels today.

The European Union recently unveiled tougher gasoline and diesel quality requirements, due in place in 2000 and 2005, which will make hydrogen supplies critical to refiners (OGJ, July 6, 1998, Newsletter).

Philip Morris, refinery marketing manager-Europe for Air Products plc, Walton-on-Thames, U.K., said the new legislation will require refiners to remove sulfur, in particular, from their products.

They will achieve this by more severe hydrotreating. Refinery hydrotreaters normally rely on hydrogen generated as a byproduct in catalytic reformers used to convert paraffins to aromatics.

"This was fine until the new legislation was agreed," said Morris. "Now that refiners are having to go for deeper desulfurization, they need more hydrogen. Refineries are coming out of balance in their H2 production."

Securing H2

Morris said one way for refiners to secure extra hydrogen is to recover it from purge streams. The first move for refiners running short on H2 would be to consider waste clean-up, but this is not always economic.

"Also, recovery could still leave the refiners with a shortage of H2," said Morris. "Then the refiners could go for on-purpose H2 production, either doing it themselves or through a supplier like Air Products."

Morris said that, while it is sensible for refiners to own and operate small hydrogen recovery plants, Air Products pioneered a business in which it builds and operates larger on-purpose hydrogen plants at refineries on behalf of the owners.

For the supply of H2 plants, Air Products formed an alliance in 1992 with Kinetics Technology International Group BV unit KTI Corp., San Dimas, Calif. The venture blossomed in California, birthplace of tight fuel specifications.

"We told Californian refiners," said Morris, "that we would build, own, and operate steam reformers on their own sites, to produce hydrogen, steam, and possibly power for integration into their refineries."

EU's H2 need

The benefit to refiners was that they did not need to raise capital: Air Products charged a fixed rate for provision of hydrogen, steam, and power, typically spread over 15 years.

The Air Products alliance with KTI became worldwide in 1995, said Morris, to meet an anticipated global need for hydrogen as other countries tightened their gasoline and diesel fuel specifications.

Air Products now owns and operates 36 steam reformers and 18 H2 offgas recovery plants around the world, supplying pipeline delivery systems at refining and petrochemical centers in Los Angeles, Houston, Louisiana's Mississippi River corridor, Europoort in the Netherlands, Teesside in the U.K., Mab Ta Phut in Thailand, and Cama?ari in Brazil.

Air Products' existing H2 plants at refineries range in size to more than 200 metric tons/day. A 40,000 b/d hydrocracker would typically require 200 tons/day of H2, and an H2 plant this size would typically cost $80-100 million to build.

Morris reckons European refiners will need an extra 2,750 tons/day of H2 to meet EU's 2000 and 2005 specifications: "The later specifications in particular will gobble up hydrogen."

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