Sounder SIGN UP FOR FREE
From Fossil To Fuel™
From Fossil To Fuel™

Episode 25 · 2 years ago

Episode 24 - Upgraders and Refineries

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

What happens in an upgrader and refinery and how fuel (gasoline/diesel) is made.

My name is Brennan McDougal and I'm a professional engineer. Or the last decade I've worked in many different facets of the oil and gas industry. While I have a pretty solid technical background in oil and gas, I don't really know a whole lot about the other non technical departments that help run an oiling gas company. Recently I took a course to help develop my business acumen and better understand how the financial side of the business works. What a novel concept to educate the technical people on the business and financial side. I thought it would be a really cool idea to return the favor and educate the non technical people on the technical side. This is how the concept from fossil to fuel was born. Through these twenty four episodes, we will take a journey from how oil and gas was formed millions of years ago how it is refined into the fuel that runs our cars and keeps our homes. Come join me on this adventure as we learn how the oil and gas industry operates from fossil to feel. I'm guessing most people haven't heard of an upgrader, but pretty much everyone has heard of a refinery. That's because up graders are mainly for heavy oil and Bitchumen and are designed to turn them into crude oil. We call crude oil crude oil because it's unrefined oil, crude meaning raw or unprocessed. So guess where unrefined or unprocessed oil ghosts? While to our refinery, of course. But before we get into refineries, let's quickly go over upgraders. UPGRADERS are called upgraders because they take what are effectively the worst and heaviest hydrocarbon molecules...

...and upgrade them into something better that can be used and further refined. Like we talked about last episode, Bitchuman and heavy oil molecules look like really long chains composed primarily of hydrogen and carbon. These really long chains can get tangled with each other, which is part of the reason why bitchuman is so viscous. Kind of gives it that peanut butter consistency. BITCHUMAN will usually have some naturally occurring contaminants in it, like sulfur, nitrogen and some other metals like nickel or vanadium, and these need to be removed. These contaminants are recovered and can be used for other industrial purposes. So, for example, sulfur can be used to manufacture fertilizer. upgraders either use a process called carbon rejection, which we would call simple thermal cracking, or they would use hydrogen addition, which we would call high pressure catalytic cracking. These are to convert the long hydrocarbons into smaller ones. For those of you, you poor souls, who remember some organic chemistry, you'll know that when you break apart a hydrocarbon chain like this, you need to add hydrogen to stabilize the smaller chain molecules that you've created. That's why all upgraders will need a decent source of hydrogen. Once the heavy molecules have been broken or cracked and stabilize, they can then be separated into various fractions or combinations of crude oil and sold as feedstock for refineries. So if there's one thing that you need to remember about upgraders is that they take big things and make them into small things, the things...

...being hydrocarbon molecules. The job of the refinery, and I will note that some refineries will start by actually upgrading the oil they process, but the job of the refineries to take crude oil and refine it into products that we can actually use, two of which you've heard of diesel and gasoline. So a bit of a side note here. Outside of North America diesel is actually the primary source of Transportation Fuel. Diesel is actually more efficient than gasoline. But North America developed the ability to make gasoline. We'll talk about it in a little bit, but it's called the fluid catalytic cracker. But there's a reason why diesel is more efficient than gasoline and it's why, even in North America, sometimes in the commercials now you'll hear about all the good fuel economy or mileage that you get with the vehicles that run on diesel. But refineries also make asphalt heating oil, jet fuel for planes, Naptha and other oil fuels. Imagine crude oil kind of like, let's say it's a blend of all kinds of different fruits and vegetables. So the refineries job is to separate out all of the different kinds of fruits and vegetables and put them together with similar kinds of fruits and vegetables so that they can be sold and consumed by consumers. A lot of US probably think of crude oil as being composed of one thing when in actuality there are hundreds of different components in crude oil. Once these components are separated and purified or refined, they can then be used as fuels, lubricants and feedstocks for other processes that man facture things like plastics, rubbers and nylon fabrics. There are many different processing units in a refinery,...

...but at a high level, the most important ones are the distillation unit, the hydrotreater, the hydrocracker, the fluid catalytic cracker, the steam reformer and the amine unit. And so, for the sake of simplicity, I'll explain in a sentence or two what each unit does, but I'm not going to go into the chemistry of how each one works. So the distillation unit is kind of like the separator that we talked about in episode sixteen on surface facilities. It's typically one of the first units that the crude oil goes into and its separates it into multiple components, or, I guess, distills it into multiple components, which is why you call it the distillation unit. The Hydra treater, its job is to remove any sulfur from the liquids. The Hydro Cracker, like those at the upgrader, will crack the big molecules into smaller ones. The fluid catalytic cracker is really basically the gasoline machine, and that's kind of what makes gasoline the fuel of choice, like we talked about in North America. So bit of a side note here. The fluid catalytic cracker is believed to be a major factor in the allies winning World War Two because it, invention, was able to provide high octane fuel for the air forces of great bitten Britain and the United States. Pretty cool side note there. anyways, back on track. The steam reformer will use steam to extract hydrogen molecules from natural gas. That can be done used to run the hydro treater and the hydrocracker. So that's your source of hydrogen. The aiming unit is used to remove sulfur from the gases. Remember we mentioned before the Hydra treater is used to remove sulfur from the liquids. Anyway, each unit's purpose is...

...to further refine and purify a specific component until it has reached the desired specifications or purity. The one refinery product that certainly all of us know is gasoline, or petrol for those on the other side of the Atlantic. The average forty two gallon barrel of crude oil will produce about nineteen gallons of gasoline. So for every hundred liters of crude oil you'll get about forty five liters of gasoline. One of the main characteristics that we look for in gasoline is its octane rating. This is the number that you see on the gas pumps, with eighty five to eighty eight being regular gas. Eight to s kind of your Midgrade, and typically somewhere around ninety to ninety four for premium. Now these fuels are only for North America. Sorry, the numbers for the fuels are only for North America. It is different in Europe. But what the octane rating is is it gives a measurement of when the gasoline is expected to ignite. So it works like this. The engine in your car uses gasoline as a fuel. The gasoline gets injected into a Piston Chamber and then the fuel, or the gasoline, gets compressed by the Piston at the exact right moment, and this is all timed. In the engine. Your spark plug will create a spark which ignites the gasoline fuel and when the fuel ignites, that's what creates the power to drive the engine. However, if the gasoline doesn't have the proper octane rating, then it can ignite too early in that process, which can cause engine knocking and reduce the efficiency of your engine. So engine knocking for those of you who have watched or played golf, well,...

...specifically if you've played golf, you probably know what I'm talking about. But engine knocking is kind of like swinging a golf club and hitting the ground before you hit the golf ball, so the off timed impact will rattle your arms while also making your contact with the ball suboptimal. The same kind of things happening in the engine of your car if your fuel is igniting too early because the OCTAE rating is off. Now, the higher the octane rating, the more the gasoline can withstand higher pressures and temperatures before it auto ignites. So the higher octane rating basically allows the Pistons to compress the gasoline even more because it has that ability to withstand higher pressures and temperatures. So if your Pistons can compress the gasoline even more, it can deliver more power, and that's typically why you only see premium high octane fuel in sports performance cars and suvs where the power is needed. Your average Toyota Corolla doesn't need that kind of power and so it only uses regular octane rated gasoline. So let's debunk a common myth here, because this one I actually wondered about for a long time. Premium gasoline is typically advertised as the best fuel you could put in your car, but if your car is only designed for regular fuel, then premium fuel isn't going to help your engine run better or run cleaner. It certainly won't improve your fuel economy either, and you'll just be wasting your money. Premium fuel is only needed for high performing engines. On the other hand, what if you feel your performance sports car with regular fuel? Well, by the same logic, performance engines would be able to run on a regular fuel, which means you can fill your sports car with regular fuel in a pinch if needed. In most modern cars, engine knocking won't be an issue,...

...because the car probably has some sort of knock sensors and should be able to adjust the timing of the engine for the different fuel. However, your car won't be able to deliver as much power, though, and certainly your fuel economy will go down, as the efficiency should be less overall. If your car supposed to be filled with premium, use premium and vice versa. Of course, however, if, for whatever reason, you're almost empty and they only have regular, it should be safe to do so, but I wouldn't recommend, certainly making it a habit, for the pennies that you'd be saving. Gasoline does have other additives, though, which will help provide chemical stability to the fuel. It'll help control corrosiveness and it will add some engine system cleaning capacity, something you'll probably hear a lot about on commercials. One of the main additives that you'll hear a lot about today is ethanol. Ethanol is not the main source of fuel, but rather an additive to gasoline. It typically somewhere in the five to ten percent range. It's known as a biofuel generally because it comes from biological processes, the most common one is corn, rather than from geological process us is like oil and gas, and I'm talking about gasoline and diesel. There are lots of other products that come out of the refinery, but for the concept of this podcast, from fossil to fuel, fuel being the last piece of it, most people think of fuel that goes into your car. So gasoline. So kind of figured it was appropriate to focus on gasoline as the main product of refineries. So in that regard, once the gasoline has been produced by the refinery, it can then be shipped to gas stations all over that area for consumer use. And now,...

...hopefully you can appreciate the lengthy journey of those gasoline molecules in your car. That literally took millions of years and millions of dollars, probably billions of dollars, to get there. So, to recap rate from episode one, we had to explore all over to find where these oil and gas deposits were by understanding the geology in the processes that helped create the hydrocarbon molecules. Once we found where these hydrocarbon molecules were deposited, we had to drill a well and once we drilled the well, then we had to do some sort of completion technique and install surface facilities to be able to produce the oil and gas. Once we produce the oil and gas, now we've got a ship it somewhere, could be by train, by truck, mostly by pipeline, and once we ship that product it's generally going to be going somewhere where it can be upgraded or processed or refined, and it's only at that point, once it's been refined, that you get something like gasoline. So we've gone from all the way millions of years ago where the oil and gas molecules were formed, to today where you can have gasoline at the pump of a gas station and now you know where it came from. I hope you guys enjoyed this episode and the previous twenty three episodes of from fossil to fuel. It's been my absolute pleasure being your host on this journey over the last twenty four episodes and I sincerely hope that these have helped you get a better understanding, at least at a high level, of the fundamentals of oil and gas rate, from where it comes from to where it ends up. On Brenda McDougal signing off. Take Care,.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (27)