AltAir Paramount advances California renewable fuels refinery plan

May 13, 2021
World Energy LLC has let a contract to Bechtel Corp. to deliver technology to further improve environmental performance of production processes at subsidiary AltAir Paramount LLC’s renewable fuels refinery in Paramount, Calif.

World Energy LLC has let a contract to Bechtel Corp. to deliver technology to further improve environmental performance of production processes at subsidiary AltAir Paramount LLC’s renewable fuels refinery in Paramount, Calif.

Under the contract, Bechtel will provide licensing and engineering support for implementation of its proprietary SWSPlus technology to treat sour water volumes generated by the plant’s production process, the service provider said.

Alongside reducing nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions resulting from production activities by recovering ammonia and hydrogen sulfide (H2S) before incineration, use of SWSPlus technology will allow AltAir Paramount flexibility to convert recovered H2S into elemental sulfur, as well as make recovered ammonia available for the operator to use elsewhere in the refinery or to sell as an additional source of revenue, according to Bechtel.

Removal of ammonia from downstream processes also will increase overall efficiency of plant operations, the licensor said.

Gene Gebolys, World Energy’s chief executive officer, said the technology licensing contract award for the Paramount plant comes as part of the company’s overall carbon-reduction strategy to achieve net-zero operations.

Further details regarding the proposed SWSPlus technology implementation were not disclosed, but the contract award comes amid AltAir Paramount’s proposed Revised Paramount Petroleum AltAir Renewable Fuels Project (RPPARFP) to fully convert the idled Paramount conventional crude oil refinery—which World Energy purchased from Delek US Holdings Inc. in 2018—into a plant exclusively dedicated to production of renewable-based fuels (OGJ Online, Mar. 18, 2018).

Based on OGJ’s review of official project documents filed with the City of Paramount, the SWSPlus technology presumably will be incorporated as part of AltAir Paramount’s proposals under the RPPARFP to modify an existing sour water stripper (SWS) as well as add a second SWS at the site.

AltAir Paramount’s proposed RPPARFP joins a host of additional projects underway by California operators to expand current or add novel renewable fuels production capacity to their portfolios to assure long-term operational competitiveness amid the unfolding energy transition, under which consumer preference for clean, low-to-zero-emissions, climate-friendlier energy options continues to rise (OGJ Online, Apr. 22, 2021; Apr. 19, 2021; Aug. 13, 2020; Aug. 3, 2020; June 9, 2020).

RPPARFP overview

First announced by World Energy on Oct. 24, 2018 and estimated to require an investment of $350 million across a 2-year period, the subsequently named RPPARFP follows the earlier Renewable Fuels Project (RFP) that AltAir Paramount, under its previous owner, completed between 2014-15 to enable part of the former 39,500-b/d Paramount crude refinery to convert up to 3,500 b/d of nonedible vegetable and beef tallow into renewable diesel, jet fuel, naphtha (gasoline), and fuel gas, according to RPPARFP project documents.

Designed to help California reduce its dependence on fossil fuels by increasing production of lower-emission, low-carbon intensity transportation fuels that comply with the California Air Resources Board’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS), the RPPARFP—like its RFP predecessor—proposes a mix of projects involving upgrades of existing units, construction of new units, and repurposing and dismantling of old units to complete the refinery’s transformation to 100% renewable fuels output.

Project documents made available for public review show the RPPARFP will include the following process-related components:

  • Installation of a new pretreatment unit that will expand the plant’s flexibility to process a wider variety and quality of renewable materials. Addition of the pretreatment unit will allow the plant—which currently is equipped to process only a feedstock of technical-grade nonedible vegetable oils and animal fats (beef tallow)–to condition lower-grade fats, greases and oils (e.g., used cooking oil) for processing.
  • Upgrading of the existing Renewable Fuels Unit (RFU) A to increase capacity and more efficiently produce renewable diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline.
  • Installation of a new RFU B for additional production of renewable diesel, jet fuel, and gasoline. The unit also will be equipped to produce gases that would be used to fuel the site’s heaters and boilers.
  • Modification of the existing naphtha stabilizer to add new propane recovery installations for capturing and separating renewable propane and mixed butanes that could be sold or used as fuel elsewhere within the plant, which currently directs propane and butane primarily into the fuel gas system. The modification would allow renewable fuel gas generated after recovery of propane and butane from the units to be supplemented with natural gas, if needed, to meet the refinery’s fuel gas demand.
  • Installation of a new hydrogen generation unit to reduce or eliminate the site’s current use of trucks for delivery of hydrogen supplies necessary in the production process.
  • Installation of a new hydrogen recovery unit to recover hydrogen from produced process gases—which are currently directed to the fuel gas system—for recycling back to the production process.
  • Installation of a new H2S recovery unit to enable capturing and recycling of H2S for the plant’s production process. Use of the new unit’s recycled H2S recycling would greatly reduce truck deliveries of H2S to the site, as well as reduce the volume of acidic off gas presently generated by H2S (following its initial treatment in the refinery’s existing fuel gas treating system) that currently must be further treated via incineration and scrubbing.
  • Installation of a second flare and flare vapor recovery system that—balanced with the site’s current flare system—will be equipped to service the plant’s existing refinery units, as well as the RPPARFP’s planned hydrogen generation unit and other proposed grassroots units.
  • Modification of the existing sour water unit to provide additional installations that will accommodate treatment of increased sour water volumes generated by the expanded production process and enable recovery of aqueous ammonia, which can be used in the refinery’s silicon-controlled rectifiers (SCRs) to control NOx emissions.
  • Installation of additional wastewater treatment facilities to accommodate increased wastewater volumes generated by new processing equipment.

The accompanying table compares changes completed during the previous RFP and those proposed under the RPPARFP.

Project timeline, technology

According to late-January 2020 documents from the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority (CAEATFA)—which awarded AltAir Paramount a sales-and-use tax exclusion of $10 million to help fund the RPPARFP—the operator started design of the new pretreatment unit in October 2018 and selected an unidentified engineering contractor in February 2019, which immediately began design of RFU B. As of January 2020, AltAir Paramount also was in the process of executing RPPARFP-related works, including tankage cleaning and repairs, pressure upgrading of an unidentified existing unit, and upgrading of unidentified logistics installations at the site, CAEATFA documents showed.

While AltAir Paramount informed CAEAFTA it expected to secure air quality and city construction permits under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for the RPPARFP by March 2020 for anticipated start of construction in September 2020, final permit approvals for the proposed major processing unit additions and modifications have yet to be publicly announced by state and local regulatory bodies reviewing the permit applications.

Despite uncertainty regarding the status of permit approvals for the RPPAREP’s processing-related works, California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD)—the regulatory agency responsible for air-pollution control for all of Orange County as well as portions of Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties—confirmed in a June 24, 2020 electronic filing its approval of AltAir Paramount’s CEQA permit applications for the terminal and logistics portions of the RPPARFP.

Slated for phased construction and full commissioning over a 2-3 year period, AltAir Paramount told CAEAFTA in January 2020 the RPPAREP—which will increase the Paramount refinery’s renewable fuels output to about 275 million gal/year from its current 35-million gal/year capacity—is scheduled to begin production in early 2022.

Aside from the now-confirmed contract award to Bechtel for licensing of SWSPlus technology, available RPPAREP project materials do not identify other specific process technologies to be implemented as part of the refinery conversion. In March 2016 and January 2018 releases, however, Honeywell UOP LLC confirmed AltAir Paramount’s existing plant currently uses its proprietary UOP Renewable Jet Fuel process to produce both renewable jet and diesel fuels at the site.

Paramount complex

Located in Los Angeles County near the Los Angeles International Airport on a 66-acre complex previously owned by Paramount Petroleum Corp. (1984-2006), Alon Energy USA Energy Inc. (2006-17), and Delek US (2017-18), the renewables plant supplies renewable gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel to fleet services such as UPS, United Airlines, Boening, the US Department of Defense, and several California municipalities and school systems, according to AltAir Paramount.

Alongside the idled refining and operable renewables production assets, the Paramount complex also includes more than 1.7 million bbl of storage capacity for petroleum products, as well as terminals for truck and railcar loading and unloading.