Fluid catalytic cracking

(FCC) is the most important conversion process used in petroleum refineries. It is widely used to convert the high-boiling, high-molecular weight hydrocarbon fractions of petroleum crude oils to more valuable gasoline, olefinic gases and other products. Cracking of petroleum hydrocarbons was originally done by thermal cracking which has been almost completely replaced by catalytic cracking because it produces more gasoline with a higher octane rating. It also produces byproduct gases that are more olefinic, and hence more valuable, than those produced by thermal cracking.

The feedstock to an FCC is usually that portion of the crude oil that has an initial boiling point of 340 °C or higher at atmospheric pressure and an average molecular weight ranging from about 200 to 600 or higher. This portion of crude oil is often referred to as heavy gas oil. The FCC process vaporizes and breaks the long-chain molecules of the high-boiling hydrocarbon liquids into much shorter molecules by contacting the feedstock, at high temperature and moderate pressure, with a fluidized powdered catalyst.

In effect, refineries use fluid catalytic cracking to correct the imbalance between the market demand for gasoline and the excess of heavy, high boiling range products resulting from the distillation of crude oil.

As of 2006, FCC units were in operation at 400 petroleum refineries worldwide and about one-third of the crude oil refined in those refineries is processed in an FCC to produce high-octane gasoline and fuel oils. During 2007, the FCC units in the United States processed a total of 5,300,000 barrel (834,300,000 liters) per day of feedstock and FCC units worldwide processed about twice that amount.

Process description

The modern FCC units are all continuous processes which operate 24 hours a day for as much as 2 to 3 years between shutdowns for routine maintenance. There are a number of different proprietary designs that have been developed for modern FCC units. Each design is available under a license that must be purchased from the design developer by any petroleum refining company desiring to construct and operate an FCC of a given design. Basically, there are two different configurations for an FCC unit: the "stacked" type where the reactor and the catalyst regenerator are contained in a single vessel with the reactor above the catalyst regenerator and the "side-by-side" type where the reactor and catalyst regenerator are in two separate vessels.

Reactor and Regenerator

The schematic flow diagram of a typical modern FCC unit in Figure 1 below is based upon the "side-by-side" configuration. The preheated high-boiling petroleum feedstock (at about 315 to 430 °C) consisting of long-chain hydrocarbon molecules  is combined with recycle slurry oil from the bottom of the distillation column and injected into the catalyst riser where it is vaporized and cracked into smaller molecules of vapor by contact and mixing with the very hot powdered catalyst from the regenerator. All of the cracking reactions take place in the catalyst riser. The hydrocarbon vapors "fluidize" the powdered catalyst and the mixture of hydrocarbon vapors and catalyst flows upward to enter the reactor at a temperature of about 535 °C and a pressure of about 1.72 bars.

The reactor is in fact merely a vessel in which the cracked product vapors are: (a) separated from the so-called spent catalyst by flowing through a set of two-stage cyclones within the reactor and (b) the spent catalyst flows downward through a steam stripping section to remove any hydrocarbon vapors before the spent catalyst returns to the catalyst regenerator. The flow of spent catalyst to the regenerator is regulated by a slide valve in the spent catalyst line.

Since the cracking reactions produce some carbonaceous material (referred to as coke) that deposits on the catalyst and very quickly reduces the catalyst reactivity, the catalyst is regenerated by burning off the deposited coke with air blown into the regenerator. The regenerator operates at a temperature of about 715 °C and a pressure of about 2.41 bar. The combustion of the coke is exothermic and it produces a large amount of heat that is partially absorbed by the regenerated catalyst and provides the heat required for the vaporization of the feedstock and the endothermic cracking reactions that take place in the catalyst riser. For that reason, FCC units are often referred to as being heat balanced.

The hot catalyst (at about 715 °C) leaving the regenerator flows into a catalyst withdrawal well where any entrained combustion flue gases  are allowed to escape and flow back into the upper part to the regenerator. The flow of regenerated catalyst to the feedstock injection point below the catalyst riser is regulated by a slide valve in the regenerated catalyst line. The hot flue gas exits the regenerator after passing through multiple sets of two-stage cyclones that remove entrained catalyst from the flue gas

The amount of catalyst circulating between the regenerator and the reactor amounts to about 5 kg per kg of feedstock which is equivalent to about 4.66 kg per liter of feedstock. Thus, an FCC unit processing 75,000 barrels/day (12,000,000 liters/day) will circulate about 55,900 metric tons per day of catalyst.

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Fri, 22/04/2011 - 14:36