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Brimming with activity

27.03.2014

Successful new HyBRIM™ catalysts enhance refinery performance and address a number of industry challenges.

Expectations were running high in 2013 when Topsoe’s Refinery Business Unit launched the first of its new-generation HyBRIM™ catalysts, the TK-609 HyBRIM™. And today it’s safe to say that the company has not been disappointed. “The TK-609 HyBRIM™ is a great success,” says product manager Allan Uldam, who is responsible for the technical side of Topsoe’s diesel hydrotreating catalysts. “The industry acceptance of TK-609 HyBRIM™ has been remarkable.” In February 2015, two years after launch, the TK-609 HyBRIM™ had already been sold to an impressive 55 hydroprocessing units. Allan Uldam points out that this is an even better launch than Topsoe’s all-time best-selling catalyst, the TK-578 BRIM ®:“Within its first two years on the market, the TK-578 BRIM ® had achieved about 30 references, which is impressive in itself,” he notes. “I’d also like to point out that one of the reasons the new HyBRIM™ catalyst has been so successful is that it builds on the success of the BRIM ® technology, and we expect that both the BRIM ® and the HyBRIM™ catalysts will enjoy continued success.”

Designed to meet customer needs

PlantIn developing the HyBRIM™ catalyst, Topsoe has paid close attention to the needs of its refinery customers. Compared to BRIM ® catalysts, the HyBRIM™ provides a level of activity that is up to 40% higher. The increased activity can be leveraged to obtain:

  • a longer catalyst life
  • a higher liquid volume swell
  • the ability to effectively upgrade even the heaviest feedstocks

Depending on customer requirements, the processes in which the HyBRIM™ catalyst is used can be designed to maximize one or more of the above characteristics – or the process can be designed to achieve a perfect balance between all performance parameters. Whatever the case, the overall goal is to optimize performance in accordance with the needs of the individual refinery.

Addressing industry challenges

The new HyBRIM™ catalyst addresses two major challenges that affect Topsoe’s customers in the refining industry. One of these is an ever-increasing demand for cleaner fuels, driven by a worldwide pollution burden that has spread from the Western world to emerging economies in countries such as China, Russia, India and Brazil. Low-sulfur fuels are needed to power the modern diesel engines that have been designed to meet government-imposed emission standards. A related and worldwide challenge is the diminishing supply of high-quality feedstocks. The crude oil that is being pumped out of the ground today is becoming heavier and has a higher content of sulfur and aromatics, both of which create an increased need for cost-effective upgrading. Topsoe has been developing catalysts for many years to help refineries produce cleaner fuels, even as the supply of lighter feedstocks is diminishing. The characteristics of the HyBRIM™ catalyst, however, make it one of the company’s most attractive solutions to date.

Optimal ULSD production 

Like its predecessor in the BRIM ® series, the TK-609 HyBRIM™ can be used as a hydroprocessing catalyst to effectively remove sulfur from diesel fuel. This is vital for refineries that produce ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD), a premium product for which the worldwide demand is increasing. In recent years, ULSD has in fact replaced conventional diesel throughout most of Europe and North America and is therefore an extremely important product. For Topsoe’s customers, the efficiency and volume swell associated with the TK-609 HyBRIM™ catalyst translate into optimal hydroprocessing performance in the ULSD segment. Moreover, the TK-609 HyBRIM™ is the first in a new generation of HyBRIM™ catalysts that can be put to equally good use in other important segments of the refinery business.

Enhancing the hydrocracking process

As the first catalyst in this emerging HyBRIM™ family, the TK-609 HyBRIM™ is also designed for use in the hydrotreating section of a hydrocracking unit. Hydrocracking is a highly profitable process that enables refineries to upgrade inexpensive heavy oils to high-end petroleum products such as diesel, jet fuel and gasoline. In this context, the TK-609 HYBRIM™ is used to remove sulfur, nitrogen and metals from the heavy oil before it is fed to the hydrocracking unit. This pretreatment is absolutely essential, because a hydrocracking unit will not function properly if the feedstock contains these substances. With the improved HYBRIM™ characteristics, the pretreatment process is dramatically optimized, thereby also improving the yield, the quality and the profitability of the end product. New launches – new enhancements. In 2014, Topsoe launched two new members of the HyBRIM™ generation – the TK-565 and the TK-569 – for use in pretreatment of the feedstock to another refinery process called fluidized catalytic cracking (FCC). This process is primarily used to upgrade heavy oil products to high quality gasoline. The two new HyBRIM™ catalysts are designed to remove sulfur, nitrogen and metals and to saturate aromatics from heavy-oil feedstocks before sending them on to the FCC unit. This pretreatment is not essential, but it greatly improves FCC performance, optimizing the end result in the same way as the TK-609 HyBRIM™ does in connection with hydrocracking.

Immune to oil price fluctuation

Falling oil prices in 2014 have had a negative effect on the economies of many oil-exporting nations, but this trend does not seem to have affected the demand for Topsoe’s HyBRIM™ catalysts, says Allan Uldam.

“There is still a need for high-quality petroleum products,” he notes. “The constrained economy means that some refineries can no longer afford to build new facilities or upgrade existing ones. But our catalysts help them make the most of what they have.”

HyBRIM™ sales in the US and China

Market conditions in the US and China have made Topsoe’s HyBRIM™ catalysts particularly attractive in these countries. “A great deal of our new HyBRIM™ catalyst sales is taking place in China and the US,” Allan Uldam notes. Henrik Rasmussen, vice president of Catalyst and Technology in Topsoe’s US organization, points out that a high demand for gasoline in the US has created a solid market for the TK-565 HyBRIM™ and TK-569 HyBRIM™. As mentioned earlier, both of these are pretreatment catalysts that are used in connection with gasoline-producing FCC units. The TK-569 HyBRIM™ was developed with a particular view to the US market, Henrik Rasmussen adds. “This catalyst is designed to perform optimally with the type of FCC feedstock that is widely used in the US,” he says. “This maximizes pretreatment efficiency.” Significantly tighter government limits on the sulfur content of gasoline will be implemented in the US in 2017, a fact that Henrik Rasmussen expects will create an even greater demand for Topsoe’s FCC pretreatment catalysts. And he points to yet another factor that can make all the HyBRIM™ pretreatment catalysts attractive in the US: the fact that US refinery customers have access to inexpensive hydrogen, which is derived from the country’s huge supply of shale gas. “The HyBRIM™ catalysts promote a higher consumption of hydrogen to achieve greater volume swell and a lower content of aromatics,” Henrik Rasmussen remarks. “In this context, a lower hydrogen price adds even greater value to the end product.“ In the Chinese market, meanwhile, Alland Uldam notes that HyBRIM™ demand is affected by the fact that much of the country’s crude oil is exceptionally ‘tough’ (meaning heavy and difficult to refine). At the same time, the Chinese government is increasingly determined to solve its massive pollution problems and continues to tighten its emission regulations. This in turn creates a greater demand for cleaner fuels: “The versatile HyBRIM™ catalysts speak to both of these challenges and have stimulated considerable interest,” Allan Uldam says.

New launches are planned

So what’s next for the HyBRIM™ family? Frank Johansson, program leader in Refinery Research and Development, provides the answer to this question: “We’ll continue to develop better HyBRIM™ catalysts to fulfill our customer’s needs. We already have new HyBRIM™ catalysts in the pipeline, and we expect new launches within the next few years,” he says. “Meanwhile, we expect that sales within our existing BRIM ® and HyBRIM™ portfolio will continue to grow.”

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