Energy will always be a critical resource for the operation and profitability of a refinery. Reduction in crude oils sources added to environmental restrictions for emissions over petroleum products, tend to increase costs. And environmental restrictions on refining process may eventually disallow operation of existing refineries in some places.
In order to prevail in the future, the refining industry will have to be sustainable, meaning being simultaneously profitable and environmentally compliant. And the optimized use of energy throughout the refinery complex is the beginning of sustainability. The sustainable refinery of the future will have energy efficiency as a paramount from design and advanced operational and maintenance best practices, taking energy productivity to new levels.
Conventional energy intensive processes, like distillation and catalytic cracking can be upgraded by more efficient and less energy demanding new technologies. Heat should be supplied in common furnaces where all fuels will be burned with minimal excess air. All high temperature demands will share the radiating section of this furnace with maximum heat absorption. Since it is a unique furnace, the overall flue gas flow can be directed to a waste heat boiler that will require minimum supplementary fuel, just for adjustment of steam temperature and generating extra steam flow for balance purposes. Because of this design option, processes will be much closer and a much greater and improved heat recovery will be possible through a wider integration between diverse products and feedstock flows. In these innovative designed heat exchangers, fouling will be essentially eliminated. Placement of flows near each other, gives the opportunity to dispose most of the pumps side by side, enabling a faster and better management of energy sources in use for fluid movement. This energy recycling, allows opportunity for advanced and better cogeneration, reducing water consumption and utilities demand in general to a minimum. Advanced state-of-the-art control systems can adjust the best setting of variables from crude oil choice up to obtaining optimized productivity and sufficient energy to accomplish it.
This vision brings no radical revolution to oil refining to cope with higher standards on energy efficiency, exception for design and management point of view. Needless to say, energy consumption reduction directly implies CO reduction, and depending on future developments regarding climate change, energy efficiency must be integrated with other options to comply with deeper restrictions over greenhouse gas emissions regulations. Some revolutionary concepts may be applied. Diversification of load from exclusively crude oil to biomass, use of biomass as fuel and CO2 capture from flue gas may be options to reduce net emissions.
Energy efficiency is nowadays an important opportunity to reduce costs, increase productivity and reduce pollutant emissions. With a more daring approach to application and investment, well-known energy efficiency technologies and practices can help to match the challenges for a stable, sustainable and environmentally sound future for the refining business.
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