Refining Developments

Fluid Catalytic Cracking Technology – Recent Advances and New Challenges
a report by

Ye-Mon Chen
Fluid Catalytic Cracking Licensing Manager, Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc., Shell Oil Company

In many refineries, the fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit serves as the primary conversion unit, converting, or cracking, low-value crude oil heavy ends into a variety of higher value, light products. In the US, the primary function of FCC units is to produce gasoline. Although FCC is a process that has been commercially deployed for over 60 years, the technology continues to evolve to meet new challenges, which include processing more difficult feedstock and meeting more stringent environmental regulations. Modern FCC units can process a wide variety of feedstock and can adjust operating conditions to maximise production of gasoline, middle distillate olefins (LCO) or light olefins to meet different market demands. These new challenges have inspired new technology breakthroughs such as those described in this article.
Feed Injection Systems

result of better control of homogeneity of two-phase flow and atomisation at the nozzle exit using twophase choke flow. Some older FCC units still retain the original feed injection system located at the bottom of the riser (bottom-entry nozzles). A new generation of feed injection technology uses a similar side-entry atomisation mechanism. For catalyst circulation, the bottom-entry nozzles have the advantage of reducing pressure drop through the riser. This system also enables longer riser residence time if riser height is limited. The newest generation of FCC feed nozzles also provides faster mixing with catalyst because of sudden expansion of two-phase choke flow at the nozzle exit, creating a strong suction to draw in catalyst. Commercial experience has shown that the feed injection angle also plays a significant role in catalyst mixing, impacting temperature profile in the riser. Although most modern FCC units have feed nozzles installed through riser shrouds at a fixed angle, a new feed nozzle design, shown in Figure 1, enables feed injection angle adjustment while using existing riser shrouds. This enables optimised mixing of feed and catalyst by adjusting the injection angle to optimise FCC performance. Commercial FCC operation has confirmed that using the newest generation feed nozzles optimises the temperature profile in the riser and substantially reduces dry gas, thereby increasing gasoline yield. These results are in line with the expectation that better feed injection design reduces thermal cracking reactions, which are the primary source for dry gas. As a result, catalytic cracking reactions are maximised and more desirable products are produced.
Riser Internals

The feed injection system is by far the most critical breakthrough of modern FCC reactor design. Three recent developments have made the feed injection system increasingly important: • Due to the development of a highly active zeolite FCC catalyst, the reaction time has been shortened to a few seconds in the modern riser reactor. • The regenerator temperature is getting higher to achieve more complete catalyst regeneration. The typical modern riser top temperature is in the range of 510–566ºC, but typical regenerated catalyst temperature is much higher, in the range of 677–760ºC. Feed injection reduces thermal cracking reactions by cooling off the lower riser quickly through fast mixing and vapourisation of the feed. • FCC feedstock is getting heavier, which makes feed vapourisation more difficult.

Ye-Mon Chen is a Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) Licensing Manager for Shell Global Solutions (US) Inc. of Shell Oil Company. He has led more than 25 catalytic cracking revamp projects as well as the development of new grassroots FCC units. Dr Chen serves as the company’s leading expert in developing and applying new FCC technologies, including feed nozzles, catalyst circulation and regenerator design. He has 16 patents, 10 of which pertain to FCC technology, and has five additional patents in progress. Dr Chen previously served as the Chair of Fluidization/FluidParticle Systems for the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE). He has received several national/internal awards, including the AIChE Fluidization Award in 2004 and Institute of Chemical Engineers iAc Award from the UK in 2003. Dr Chen received a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Houston in 1983.


The newest generation of side-entry FCC feed nozzles generate more uniform feed distribution as a

Numerous and complex chemical reactions take place simultaneously in the FCC riser, including thermal and catalytic cracking reactions as well as many side reactions, such as hydrogen transfer. In addition, FCC



is designed to achieve this specific objective. • reducing product gas residence time. but can be either upward or downward near the wall. which further promotes catalyst reflux down the riser wall. desirable products will continue to crack. These step changes in riser diameter promote the undesirable catalyst reflux near the wall. shown in Figure 4. A successfully designed riser termination device terminates the cracking reactions quickly. which must be recovered at the earliest possible state. • Gas velocity is higher near the centre and lower near the wall. which reduces both catalytic and thermal cracking. due to the progress of cracking reactions. both gas and solid velocity profiles are more uniform in the riser with wall baffles. Riser Termination with Pre-stripping Cyclones Figure 2: Schematic Representation of Riser Wall Baffles Challenges Modern FCC risers are designed with the specific residence time required for maximising desirable products. which terminates catalytic reactions. which reduces not only catalytic cracking but also. the volumetric flow rate of the hydrocarbon vapour increases as it moves up the riser. Solutions feedstock is a cocktail of hydrocarbons with different chemical species vapourising and reacting at different rates. more importantly. moving the riser hydrodynamics closer to the optimum plug flow reactor. A device called a pre-stripping cyclone incorporates all three of the above process tactics. and • reducing temperature. A number of variations of riser termination devices overcome the challenges of post-riser termination of cracking reactions through a combination of three process tactics: • separating the catalyst from the product gas. the riser diameter may be increased once or twice after feed injection to keep the vapour velocity within the desirable range. similar to a conventional primary 20 BUSINESS BRIEFING: OIL & GAS PROCESSING REVIEW 2006 . once the reactor mixture leaves the riser. entrained hydrocarbon vapour is subject to over-cracking and loses its value. thermal cracking reactions. and Figure 3 shows the comparison of velocity and concentration profiles in a riser before and after installation of wall baffles. Furthermore. otherwise. Thus.Refining Developments Figure 1: A Feed Nozzle Design Enabling Feed Injection Angle Adjustment Solutions Figure 2 illustrates an effective solution to improve riser hydrodynamics through the use of wall baffles. • Solids always move upward in the centre zone. However. The pre-stripping cyclone technology. Modern riser design also includes a sharp 90º turn at the top. cracking reactions must be terminated as quickly as possible by riser termination devices. the overall pressure drop through the riser is reduced with the wall baffles. The concept of pre-stripping is based on the continued reaction of entrained hydrocarbon vapour under typical stripper conditions. The reactor products enter the upper part of the stripping cyclone as the riser termination device for gas–solids separation. otherwise. As shown. successful design of an FCC riser must consider the following characteristics of a co-current gas–solids two-phase upflow: • Solids concentration is higher near the wall than in the centre. Furthermore. due to the reduction of catalyst back-mixing. leading to excess production of light gases and coke. Although an ideal plug flow reactor is the goal.

9 0. Among them. are critical to maintaining excellent separation performance (e.2 0. the stripping cyclone further includes a prestripper bed in the lower part for earliest possible recovery of entrained product gas before discharging the spent catalyst into the main stripper. designed for high mixing and stripping performance. The challenge is to avoid compromising FCC unit reliability while maximising stripper performance.5 0 50 100 150 pressure (mbar) 200 cyclone. Stripper Internals Challenges The FCC industry uses a variety of different stripper internals for the main stripper with a wide range of complexity – e. ‘disc and doughnuts’ baffles with and without flux tubes.g.2 1. The upper and lower parts of the stripping cyclone are separated by a unique stabiliser design. Balance Combustion -vs. shed-baffles and structured packing.5 Catalyst residence time Mean gas residence time 0 1 2 Yes 3 4 No 0 0 0.2 Internals 0.8 0.4 0. Concentration and Pressure Profiles More even cat distribution Catalyst distribution 1.6 More even velocity profile u cat/u 0(-) 2 1.g. However.0 0.5 1 Lower pressure drop Riser height (m) 1.4 0.3 r/D (-) 0. The design of the stripping zone and other design features.0 0.1 1. unlike the conventional primary cyclone.Fuel Burn % Balance 100 155 Side-Fired Reformer BTU-r 153 BTU-r 151 149 50 % Balance 147 145 143 141 27 27 28 28 5 28 -O ct -0 5 29 -O ct -0 5 28 29 -O ct -0 5 29 -O ct -0 5 -0 5 5 -0 5 -0 5 5 ct -0 -O ct -0 5 -0 5 ct -0 -0 5 -O ct 28 -O ct -O ct -O -O ct -O -O 27 27 28 -O ct -0 ct .8 0. such as the gas outlet closecoupled with secondary cyclones.0 0. structured packing has the smallest and most densely arranged mixing elements.Fluid Catalytic Cracking Technology – Recent Advances and New Challenges Figure 3: Comparison of Riser Velocity. which separates the vigorous spinning zone from the quiescent stripping zone below. >99% catalyst separation) of the stripping cyclone.

Figure 5: Illustration of Catalyst Circulation Enhancement Technology 50 Solutions 60 40 30 30 20 110 70 Shell Global Solutions’s new standpipe inlet design. New cyclonic technology provides an alternative as a viable solution for FCC emissions control. The regenerator is typically designed with multiple pairs of two-stage cyclones to capture and return entrained catalyst back to the fluidised bed. while providing improved simplicity and reliability and easy accessibility during maintenance shutdowns. called catalyst circulation enhancement technology (CCET). the fluidisation condition of the standpipe inlet region is optimised and controlled independently from the process conditions. which drives catalyst circulation between the reactor and regenerator. selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology. regulating reactor catalyst level and serving as safeguard against flow reversal. Third-stage Separator Solutions Challenges To properly balance high performance and reliability. By re-introducing a small amount of fluidisation gas above the disk. The product has been implemented in several FCC units. while also reducing the plugging tendency of NOx emissions control. these regenerator cyclones are relatively large in diameter and not very effective in capturing small catalyst particles. as shown conceptually by the circle in Figure 5. This enables the standpipe to operate over a wide range of conditions with high pressure build-up and stable operation. uses the disc outside the standpipe to trigger local. in order to handle large volumes of flue gas. 22 BUSINESS BRIEFING: OIL & GAS PROCESSING REVIEW 2006 . The technology can match the high-capacity/high-efficiency performance of structured packing. Although the pressure balance of the FCC unit. New environmental regulations mandate reduction in flue gas particulate emission and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. Scheduled turnarounds and inspections have shown excellent stripping performance from unit start-up to shutdown – without signs of deterioration in performance – and none of the existing units have experienced plugging or damage to the PentaFlow Packing. partial de-fluidisation and form a dense bed region outside the standpipe. consists of numerous parameters.Refining Developments Figure 4: Illustration of a Pre-stripping Cyclone as a Riser Termination Device Standpipe Flow Challenges The FCC process requires continuous catalyst circulation between the reactor and the regenerator in order to restore catalyst activity by burning off coke deposition on spent catalyst and maintain FCC heat balance by continuously removing heat from the regenerator and providing heat to the reactor for vapourising and cracking the liquid hydrocarbon feedstock. pressure gains in the standpipes determine the pressure differentials available for slide valve control of reactor riser temperature and cracking severity. Commercial experience confirms that this new technology can improve catalyst circulation rate by as much as 50%. Shell Global Solutions developed PentaFlow Packing. Conventional technology for flue gas particulate removal includes electrostatic precipitators and wet scrubbers. However. This solution provides simple and robust layers of parallel bars within a relatively open structure.

high crude prices. the FCC process will continue to evolve in robustness and flexibility. which requires a small-diameter cyclonic RPA Process Technologies A Dover Company Find out how at: Portage Michigan. where gas viscosity is relatively high. even at 700ºC. expanders – as well as downstream flue gas treatment equipment. by reducing the catalyst fine loading to below 50mg/m3. A large number of the small-diameter swirl tubes can be installed in a common TSS vessel to handle axial-flow separation of particulates in a large volume of flue gas. there is no doubt that the FCC process will continue to play a central role in the future of the refining business.Fluid Catalytic Cracking Technology – Recent Advances and New Challenges The cyclonic design of the catalyst fine removal downstream of the regenerator cyclones must achieve a high separation efficiency for catalyst fines. Solution Figure 6: Shell Global Solutions’ Third-stage Separator A third-stage separator (TSS) provides a solution by enabling high separation efficiency of catalyst fines through the use of a specially designed separation element. USA 800-656-3344 . low sulphur liquid product specifications and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions limits). including the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) II requirement in the US. called a swirl tube that uses a swirl vane at the inlet to induce fast rotating motion for axial-flow cyclonic separation of particulates (see Figure 6). ■ Ronningen-Petter State of the Art Feedstock Filtration ® REACTOGARD®V Filter System I Automatic rotary-sequenced backwash system provides ultra-high pressure contaminant purge and significantly reduces moving parts I Accuflux® media filters down to 2 microns I 6-station filter system with only 1-5 valves I Lower flux rate for higher filtrate purety and easier cleaning I Reduced product waste I Safer & more efficient operation I Reduce maintenance costs www. Although future challenges can be anticipated (e. Thus. Conclusion Through a few examples.g. and a capability of handling a large flue gas volume. such as SCRs – are protected. this article highlights some recent advances of the FCC technology to meet new challenges. This level of particulate control also helps to reduce the exposure of SCRs to plugging.rpaprocess. This technology meets the most stringent particulate emission requirements in the world. Recent advances in the swirl tube design enable control of particulate emissions to less than two 2µ. Furthermore.

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