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Petroleum Refining Process Control and Real-Time Optimization



efineries are a complex network of processes that convert crude oil into finished petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil, fuel oil, lubricants, asphalt, coke, wax, and chemical feed stocks. Crude oil and these products are complex mixtures of hydrocarbon molecules as described in What Is Crude Oil? and What is Gasoline? Examples of simple hydrocarbon molecules are shown in Figure 1. The boiling point curves in Figure 2 [1] characterize the composition of a typical crude oil without having to determine the precise molecular composition. While crude oil naturally contains some gasoline-type molecules, Figure 2 shows there are not enough gasoline molecules to meet demand. In simple terms, refineries are processes that convert the crude oil curve to the product demand curve. Expanding on this simple idea, refineries separate hydrocarbons into similar oil fractions, convert low-value molecules into higher value molecules, and blend hydrocarbon fractions into product streams. Additionally, the conversion step can include processing to remove environmentally undesirable components such as sulfur or hydrogen sulfide (H2 S).


Refining processes can be classified into three major groups: separations, conversions, and blending. Distillation is the most common separation process in refining. Conversion includes different types of reaction process, such as cracking, hydroprocessing, reforming, isomerization, and alkylation. Cracking reactions break large molecules into smaller ones, while isomerization and alkylation reactions rearrange and combine smaller molecules into larger, more valuable molecules. Reforming reactions rearrange the structure of molecules without changing the number of atoms to create higher




value gasoline blending components. Hydroprocessing reactions use hydrogen to remove contaminants such as sulfur and nitrogen from the hydrocarbons. Most of these reactions require a catalyst and are carried out in a variety of different reactor configurations including fluidized bed reactors, fixed-bed reactors, and liquid-contacting reactors. Refineries use a variety of conversion processes and processing capacity to convert crude oil fractions into products. The ability of a refinery to convert crude oil fractions to products is its conversion capacity. Refineries that lack conversion capacity must sell intermediate products to other refiners instead of converting higher molecular weight oil fractions into finished products. There are currently about 153 operating refineries in the United States, with the newest being 25 years old [6]. Over their life span, these refineries have undergone design modifications reflecting changing crude supplies and product specifications as well as new regulatory requirements. Some refineries are capable of producing lubricants, wax, or other specialty products, whereas some companies integrate petrochemical complexes with refineries to gain economic efficiencies.

The flow sheet in Figure 3 illustrates the network of process units in a typical fuels refinery. The process vessels and piping connections at the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery are shown in Figure 4. U.S. refinery process capacities are available online from the Department of Energy [7]. Crude unit capacities range from 1.7 KBD (thousand barrels per day) to 580 KBD, where one barrel equals 42 gal. As an example, the ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery has a crude unit capacity of 149.5 KBD, fluidized catalytic cracker (FCC) capacity of 95 KBD, and a hydrocracker capacity of 20 KBD. The first refinery process is the crude unit, the only purely separations unit. The crude unit often includes two large distillation columns for separating the crude oil into fractions that can be further processed. Several smaller distillation units are also used to separate the lighter hydrocarbons into purified gas streams. Conversion units downstream of the crude unit include a reformer, FCC, coker, hydrocracker, and alkylation unit. Each conversion unit also possesses the ability to separate the reaction products into blending component streams.

What Is Crude Oil?

rude oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons with varying small amounts of sulfur, nitrogen, salt, and metals such as nickel, vanadium, and copper. Hydrocarbons are molecules that have carbon atoms as their backbone and hydrogen attached to the carbon backbone. The hydrocarbons in crude oil are typically paraffins, napthenes, and aromatics. Olefins are not typically found in crude oil but are produced in the refining process. Examples of these hydrocarbon classes are shown in Figure 1, recognizing that much larger and more complex molecules are found in crude oil. Crude oil is primarily produced from oil fields in the earth but is also recovered from sources such as tar sands. Crude oil is transported from the oil fields to refineries by a combination of marine tankers and pipelines. Supply-chain optimization is performed by crude traders, transporters, suppliers, and refiners. The most common characterization of crude oils is based on American Petroleum Institute (API) gravity, sulfur and nitrogen content, and total acid content (TAN), where API gravity is a petroleum-specific measure of density that is inversely proportional to specific gravity. API gravity increases for lighter crudes and decreases for denser crudes. The API gravity of water is 10 API. Light crudes contain lower molecular weight, higher value products, while more dense heavy crudes contain material that requires more processing to become gasoline, jet fuel, or diesel. Sulfur content generally runs from 0.1% to greater than 5%. Crude oil with more than 0.5% total sulfur or high hydrogen sulfide concentration (called sour) requires significant additional processing to make clean products that meet environmental specifications. Sweet crudes contain less sulfur. High amounts of total nitrogen in crude oil are undesirable

because the nitrogen poisons some catalysts used to convert less desirable components in the crude oil into more valuable products. Finally, crudes with higher total acid content are more difficult to process because the higher acid content requires exotic metallurgy, more expensive equipment, and higher maintenance cost to achieve good reliability. A distillation or boiling-point characterization is also useful for understanding the composition of a particular crude oil or hydrocarbon mixture. A boiling-point curve shows the volume fraction of the crude that boils away as a function of temperature as shown in Figure 2 [1]. These boiling-point curves indicate the types of molecules present in the crude because the components in the mixture boil off in the order of their pure component boiling points. However, because crude oil and most petroleum products are complex mixtures of thousands of individual components, a boiling-point curve is insufficient to describe the molecular structure of the mixture. In the past when refiners had only this limited information to base decisions on, they earned the nickname oil boilers. While useful in general comparisons, these properties do not provide a basis for billion-dollar decisions. For example, with clean fuels as a critical business driver, low-sulfur crude oils that contain hard-to-remove sulfur-containing hydrocarbons can produce higher sulfur gasoline [2]. Advances in laboratory assay analyses along with compositional modeling now permit improved characterization of crude oils and other petroleum mixtures on a molecular level. Access to the molecular fingerprint of petroleum mixtures including crude oil is changing the practice of oil boiling to managing molecules.



What Is Gasoline?

asoline is one of several thousand products produced from crude oil. Transportation fuels, such as gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel, account for well over half the products produced by refineries. In 2004, gasoline alone comprised 46.8% of the products produced [3]. Gasoline, which contains hydrocarbons with between 512 carbon atoms, is a blend of hydrocarbons that boil between 38205 C. Early gasoline specifications focused on engine performance, specifically, octane number and Reid vapor pressure (RVP). The octane number is a measure of how well a fuel can be compressed without igniting prior to introducing a spark. If the fuel ignites before the spark plug fires, the engine is said to knock. Heptane, a seven-carbon paraffin, compresses poorly and was designated an octane number of zero. Conversely, isooctane, an eight-carbon branched paraffin, performs much better and was assigned an octane number of 100. Consequently, a fuel with 87 octane performs like a mixture of 87% iso-octane and 13% heptane. Modern engines have sensors to measure engine performance and are designed not to knock by changing the ignition control. However, using fuel with a low octane number can result in the ignition control advancing the timing, leading to lower horsepower.

The RVP of gasoline indicates how easily the liquid fuel vaporizes at 38 C. Higher RVP is economically attractive because more components can be used in gasoline blending, which improves engine starting. Lower RVP prevents engine vapor lock and reduces evaporation of gasoline to the atmosphere. RVP specifications are changed in the summer months because the warmer temperatures add to vapor lock and evaporation issues, resulting in summer and winter gasoline specifications. More recently, federal and state regulations to improve air quality and provide cleaner fuel are the primary drivers for gasoline specifications, bringing about boutique gasoline products as shown in Figure A [4], [5]. These regulations limit the amounts of sulfur, benzene, and other aromatics in gasoline and, in some locations, mandate or restrict the addition of oxygenated additives such as MTBE or ethanol. Currently, many refiners are working on clean fuels projects to reduce the sulfur in diesel fuels. Finally, another key component in gasoline, not part of the refining process, is additives. Fuel additives improve engine performance by preventing buildup of combustion products such as carbon deposits and gum in fuel injectors and engine valves. Quality base-fuel stock and fuel additives help keep consumers vehicles performing well.



North Dakota

Minnesota Wisconsin Michigan New York Pennsylvania Md N.J. Del. Maine Vt. N.H Mass. R.l Conn.

South Dakota Oregon Idaho Wyoming Nebraska Iowa

Nevada Utah Colorado Kansas Missouri California

Illinois Indiana


W. Va. Kentucky Tennessee Virginia North Carolina South Carolina Alabama Georgia Mississippi Florida Loulsiana

Arizona New Mexico



Texas RFG - North RFG - South Oxygenated Fuels CA CBC RFG/CA CBG AZ CBG Oxy Fuels/7.8 RVP Oxy Fuels/7.0 RVP Conventional RFG w/Ethanol NV CBG 7.2 RVP 7.0 RVP 7.8 RVP, MTBE-No Increase 7.8 RVP 7.0 RVP, 30 ppm S 300 ppm S

Exxon Mobil As of January, 2005

This Map is not Intended to Provide Legal Advice or to be Used as Guidance for State and/or Federal Fuel requirements, Including but not Limited to Oxy Fuel or RFG Compliance Requirements. Exxon Mobil Makes no Representations or Warranties, Express or Otherwise, as to the Accuracy or Completeness of this Map. K.W. Gardner G010080

FIGURE A Boutique gasoline fuel specifications. These specifications vary across the United States to meet local environmental requirements. This variation increases both the cost of producing fuels and the complexity of ensuring an adequate supply of fuels to each location. (Reprinted with permission from Exxon Mobil Corporation.)



Refining processes can be classified into three major groups: separations, conversions, and blending.
The refinery process flow includes several hydroprocessing units to remove contaminants either before or after the conversion units, depending on whether the feed is being treated to avoid catalyst deactivation or the product is being treated to meet specifications. Catalysts in the conversion units may contain significant amounts of expensive rare metals such as platinum or may be sulfuric or hydrofluoric acid, which require special handling. While the metals in the catalysts are reclaimed to make new cata-

lyst, replacing the catalyst involves lost processing and expensive maintenance. Many of these processes are licensed to refining operating companies by process engineering companies [8], [9].


Refinery control and optimization systems are organized in a hierarchical structure typical of many large-scale systems as shown in Figure 5. This hierarchical structure is common throughout the petroleum and chemicals industry [10]. At the lowest level, the basic flow, pressures, and temperature controls are implemented in distributed control systems (DCSs) and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). These systems are designed to collect and record sensor measurements from the refinery processes, compute control signals for the manipulated variables such as control valves and solenoids, and provide the manmachine interface to the process including generating

Paraffins H H H H H C C C H H H H H H H H H C C C C H H H H H H C H H H H C C C H H H H H H H H H H H H C C C C C C C H H H H H H H H H H H C H H C H H H H H C C C C H H H H C H H Propane n-Butane Isobutane n-Heptane iso-Octane (2,2,4 Methyl Pentane) C H H

Naphtenes (Cycloparaffins) H2 C H2 C C H2 C H2 C H2 H2 C H2 C H2 C C C


H C H3 H C H3



Cyclopentane Aromatics H C H C H C C H Benzene C H C H

C H2 1,2-Dimethylcyclohexane



H C H C H C C CH3 Toluene C H C H H C H C

CH3 C C H C H C CH3 Para-Xylene

FIGURE 1 Common hydrocarbon molecules. These molecules represent various classes of hydrocarbons that make up crude oils and petroleum products processed in refineries.



When the crude oil feed changes composition frequently or the refinery product demand and pricing fluctuate, a predictive controller based on linear models must compute targets that trade off the quality of separation for energy savings.
alarms for abnormal situations. To get a sense of scale, a moderately large refinery system has on the order of 100,000 sensors and 10,000 actuators. Also implemented at this level are advanced regulatory controls such as cascade controllers, ratio controllers, constraint controllers, and sequencing controls. The design of the distributed control systems allows execution of these controllers nominally once per second. At the next level, multivariable predictive controllers (MPCs) broaden the scope of the control problem. Implementation of MPCs permit control of highly interactive multivariable processes that are subject to multiple constraints. These controllers require a dynamic process model, which is often a linear model identified from process data collected during planned dynamic tests. While some predictive controllers are implemented on the DCS, the computing requirements frequently exceed the capability of the DCS due to controller size as defined by the number of controlled and manipulated variables and prediction horizon length. As a result, predictive controllers are often implemented using vendor software on general purpose computers that communicate with the DCS. An overview of the industrial implementation of predictive controllers in the process industry is provided in [11]. Another advantage of predictive controllers is that, at each execution, optimal steady-state control and

Gasoline Volume Fraction

Diesel and Home Heating Oil Jet Fuel

Lubricating Oils


Crude Supply Product Demand

180 Paraffins Naphthenes Benzenes




650 Normal Boiling Point (F)



Benzo-Thiophenes Naphthalenes

Phenanthrenes Pyrenes Chrysenes Benzo-Pyrenes

FIGURE 2 Boiling-point curves for typical crude oil and refinery products. Refineries convert crude oil molecules into product components such as those listed above. Hydrocarbons typical of the boiling-point ranges are shown beneath these curves. The conversion process can operate more effectively with a thorough understanding of the underlying molecular structures. (Reprinted with permission from Exxon Mobil Corporation.)



Gas Plant Gasoline

Gas Isobutane

Fuel Gas Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) Gasoline (Regular/Premium) Jet Fuel

Naphtha Crude Oil Crude Unit





Hydrotreater Propylene/ Butene Gasoline Gas Oil Alkylate Alkylation

Blending Diesel Fuel

Gas Oil


Heating Oil


Fuel Oil Kerosene Hydrocracker Asphalt Coke



FIGURE 3 Process units and interconnecting flows in a typical fuels refinery. The crude unit separates the crude oil into streams to be converted and purified into blending components. Each process is a complex combination of reaction and separation operations needed to produce fuels such as gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oil, and heating oil.

manipulated variable targets are determined. Since these controllers usually employ linear dynamic models, a linear program is used to evaluate the steady-state operating targets. While linear models are useful for small regions around the current operating point, the target calculations over the operating range of most refineries involve significant nonlinearities. Examples of common nonlinearities include tiered pricing discontinuities, con-

FIGURE 4 The ExxonMobil Torrance Refinery located in Torrance, California. The vessels and piping comprise a complex network of material and energy flows that convert crude oil into products. (Reproduced with permission from Exxon Mobil Corporation and Joe Carson.)

straints associated with reaction rates, product properties such as octane number and Reid vapor pressure, and the thermodynamics that determine the equilibrium in separation processes. As pointed out [10], these nonlinearities can cause the predictive control to target a steady-state operating point that is not optimal when the second and third levels of the control and optimization hierarchy are collapsed into one level. When significant nonlinearities exist, a nonlinear optimization program is needed to compute the steady-state predictive control target values. When the feed or process changes that excite these nonlinear process behaviors occur frequently, offline optimization may not be sufficient to keep the operation near the most cost-effective operation. In these cases, a real-time optimizer (RTO) is often implemented to determine the optimal operating point under changing conditions. RTO implementations make up the third level of the control structure hierarchy shown in Figure 5. The RTO is typically a nonlinear program minimizing cost or maximizing profit subject to constraints derived from steady-state mass and energy conservation balances, reaction kinetic relationships, thermodynamic equilibrium equations, physical property relationships, and physical equipment constraints. The mass and energy conservation balances relate energy requirements to production, permitting the value of production to be optimized relative to the cost of energy.



With tighter emission requirements on fuels and the changing world supply of crude oil, more detailed methods for characterizing refinery feed and product streams are needed to make the complicated decisions required to control and optimize refinery operations.

A typical RTO can be characterized by a large number es. The impacts of operating strategies on blending compoof equations and variables with only a few decision vari- nents and products are evaluated using multiperiod linear ables. The RTO dimensionality gets large with the number programs. Because of the broad scope of the refinery planof balances needed to describe the mass and energy con- ning optimization application, decisions based on this appliservation in process equipment multiplied by the large cation occur on a day-to-week time scale. Multiperiod number of components in the process streams. It is com- nonlinear solvers can also be applied to optimally schedule mon to find RTO applications with less than 100 decision refinery maintenance activities that may occur only once variables, more than 10,000 total variables, more than every several years [13]. Finally, while not included in the control and optimiza100,000 constraint equations, and more than several hundred thousand nonzero Jacobian-matrix entries. Since the tion hierarchy, refineries use PLCs to implement safety underlying models are steady-state models, these applica- and protective systems. While refinery processes operate tions operate on the same time scale as the process steady-state response time with often several Refinery-Wide Planning Optimization Product Values hours between implemented soluOperating Costs Single- or Multiperiod Linear Program with tions. The modeling complexity Inventories Linear Model of Refinery Operation and difficulties parameterizing Operating Limits Executed Offline these large models have motivated (Often Manual) some practitioners to develop methods for augmenting the nonReal-Time Optimization linear reactor kinetic models with Product Values High-Dimension Steady-State Fundamental Operating Costs the linear dynamic models used in Mass/Energy Balance Models Operating Limits the predictive controller to collapse Multiple-Hour Execution Period the MPC and RTO levels into a single application [12]. Finally, at the fourth level of the Multivariable Predictive Controllers Relative Product Values hierarchy, refinery-wide planning and Operating Costs Identified Models of Interactive Dynamic Response and scheduling optimization is Multivariable Processes over Time Horizon Weightings/Penalties 1-min Execution Period used to determine optimal targets for the individual refinery processing units to create the pool of hydrocarbon materials needed to Base Control System Performance-Based meet product demand volumes and Flow, Pressure, Temperature, Analyzer Tuning Parameters Controllers specifications. Traditionally, this PID, Ratio, Cascade Algorithms optimization is based on a linear 1-s Execution Period program with a profit objective function and constraints relating product yield shifts to changes in Refinery Instrument System key operating variables. In addition to planning overall refinery operation, these linear programs are used FIGURE 5 Control-system hierarchy illustrating how refineries simultaneously achieve control to evaluate both capital-investment objectives on multiple time scales. Fast control actions are required to operate the refinery withdecisions and crude oil and inter- in safe operating limits. Refinery-performance optimization for changes in market conditions, mediate hydrocarbon feed purchas- feed quality, and equipment performance is applied at slower time scales.



daily within safe operating envelopes, accidents might occur if an upset or disturbance moves the process outside the safe operating envelope. Protective systems monitor process operation and, independent of the process control system, sequence the safe shutdown of processes when an excursion from safe operating limits is detected. These systems prevent the exposure of personnel to unsafe conditions and protect the refinery from large financial losses resulting from equipment damage.


The crude unit is normally two distillation towers that operate at different pressures with downstream towers to purify gas streams, as shown in Figure 6. The atmospheric tower runs just above atmospheric pressure, while the vacuum tower operates under a vacuum allowing the heavier molecules to boil at lower temperatures. A detailed description of distillation and an introduction to distillation control schemes is provided in [14]. One characteristic that separates refinery distillation in general and crude units in particular from other distillation applications is the use of side draws and pumparound circuits. Typical distillation applications produce products only from the top and bottom of the tower. Energy is typi-

cally removed at the top of a common distillation column. In crude distillation, the towers have several side draws to produce oil fractions (known as cuts) that are different from the overhead and bottoms products. Also, pumparound circuits at various locations in the tower remove energy from the tower. The crude oil feed is often preheated with energy transferred from the pumparounds. A fired-heater burning fuel gas or fuel oil is often used to further heat the feed before it is charged to the bottom of the tower. The energy added to the feed by the preheat exchangers and fired heater provide the driving force for separating the crude oil into different hydrocarbon cuts, as shown in Figure 7. The energy vaporizes the feed entering the tower. This vapor travels up the distillation tower, contacting with the liquid flowing back down the tower. The liquid flow down the tower is the vapor from the tower overhead condensed by transferring the heat of vaporization energy to the air or cooling water through more heat exchangers. The contacting liquid and vapor streams equilibrate thermodynamically on each tray in the distillation tower, causing the molecules with the lower boiling points to move up the tower and those with higher boiling points to move down the tower.

Cooling Water Crude Oil

Gas Plant

Top Pumparound


Vacuum System Mid Pumparound Kerosene

Light Vacuum Gas Oil Bottom Pumparound 750 800 F Atmospheric Gas Oil Heavy Vacuum Gas Oil

Preheat Exchangers Heater

Steam Atmospheric Crude Tower


750 to 850F < 0.1 atm Vacuum Crude Tower

Steam Coker Feed

FIGURE 6 Typical crude unit process flow illustrating the two distillation units and the key heat exchangers, fired heaters, and pumparound circuits. The refinery can trade off energy usage and separation quality by solving the multivariable control and optimization problems.



The quality of the separation is measured by the loss of fidelity, the number of equations can be reduced to amount of overlap between product cuts. In Figure 7, the about 100,000. In crude unit operation, multiple models are needed cut between the kerosene and the gas oil has little or no overlap because there is good separation. However, the to achieve the objectives at different control and optiheavy naphtha molecules overlap significantly with the mization levels. These models include a linear dynamic light kerosene molecules from a poor separation. A good model for the model predictive controller, a steady-state separation costs more in energy but results in higher quality fundamental model in the RTO application, and a steady-state linear model in the refinery-wide planning products, creating an optimization opportunity. In the atmospheric tower, the major manipulated vari- linear program (LP). While derivation of these individables are the feed rate, the furnace outlet temperature, the ual models from a single parent model could improve tower pressure, the three pumparound flows, and the five consistency among the solutions, these models are typiproduct draw rates. The control objectives are to meet the cally created and maintained separately. Consistency separation specifications of the downstream processing checks are needed to avoid conflicting model characterunits while minimizing energy costs and staying within istics that lead to oscillations between solutions found regulatory and environmental limits. These limits include from each of the different models. crude charge rate and furnace heating and emission limits. Changing any of the draw rates impacts the quality of sep- CONTROL OF REFINERY CONVERSION UNITS aration throughout the tower. For example, drawing more As discussed earlier, many of the refinery processes conkerosene pulls more heavy molecules, changing the liquid vert heavier less-valuable crude oil molecules into product flow to the sections below the kerosene draw. Changing molecules. While reforming, isomerization, and alkylation the liquid flow in any section of the tower changes the con- reactions are essential for modifying the quality or blendtacting between the liquid and vapor in the tower as well ing properties of different hydrocarbon molecules, crackas the equilibria throughout the tower, thus changing the ing reactions are critical for converting large molecules quality of the separation throughout the tower. Changes to into smaller hydrocarbons that can be used in common pumparound flows, however, affect only the separations fuels. Thermal cracking reactions that use heat and no catabove the pumparound because the pumparound removes alyst are still used with large molecules that do not lend energy from the tower and puts it into the crude oil feed. themselves to catalytic cracking reactions. Catalytic crackThis energy is no longer available higher up in the tower to ing in either fluidized catalytic crackers (FCCs) or hydroceffect better product separation. rackers is more popular because the catalyst can selectively Due to the highly interactive and multivariable nature of produce the desired molecules. The differences in the reacthe control problem and since the input-output responses for tor configurations result in interesting differences in the the crude unit are often close to linear, model predictive con- control and optimization applications. trollers are effectively used to control crude units. When the crude oil feed changes composition 1,200 frequently or the refinery product demand and pricing fluctuate, a predictive controller based on linear models must compute targets that 1,000 Smaller Overlap trade off the quality of separation for energy Better Separation 5% savings. For example, one could choose to 800 95% increase a pumparound flow to reduce the furOverlap nace fuel usage at the expense of overlap in a 600 product cut because the downstream requireVacuum Tower Feed 5% ments can be met at lower cost. In this case, realGas Oil 95% 5% 95% 400 time optimization can be used to characterize Kerosene the crude oil composition and model the separa200 tion and heat transfer processes to compute tarNaphtha gets and optimize unit profits. The number of equations and variables in a 0 crude-unit RTO is a function of the number of 0 20 40 60 80 100 Crude Oil Fraction components in the crude oil, the number of separation stages in the towers, and the number of heat exchangers. Without using model reduc- FIGURE 7 Distillation curves for the naphtha (green), kerosene (blue), and gas oil (red) overlayed on a typical crude distillation curve. Significant overlap tion, a typical crude-unit RTO is a nonlinear probetween the 95% point of the naphtha and the 5% point of the kerosene indigram with about 500,000 equations for often less cates poor separation. Negligible overlap between the kerosene and the gas oil than 20 decision variables. Without a significant indicates good separation.
Boiling Point (F)




Fluidized catalytic cracking units are responsible for most of the conversion of heavy oils into gasoline [8]. While there are many FCC designs, a typical unit has a reactor vessel and a regenerator vessel, followed by a main column that separates the products, as shown in Figure 8. A fluidized catalyst stream is circulated between these two vessels. Depending on the sulfur and nitrogen content, the gas oil feed may be hydrotreated before being fed to the FCC to prevent deactivating (also called poisoning) the catalyst. The gas oil feed stream is added to the catalyst stream flowing out of the regenerator into the reactor riser. The cracking reactions occur in the riser. The primary reactions break paraffin, napthene, and aromatic molecules into smaller similar molecules, olefin molecules, and carbon called coke. The catalysts used for cracking are subject to deactivation because of the generation of coke. The coke produced in a FCC coats the catalyst surface, thus blocking access for reactions with other molecules. Secondary isomerization and ring formation reactions also occur. Depending on the operating conditions, secondary cracking occurs, producing light hydrocarbon gas molecules and more coke. After leaving the riser, all of the hydrocarbons are stripped away from the catalyst with steam in the reactor. The catalyst then circulates back to the regenerator, where

the coke is burned off the catalyst, regenerating the catalyst. Cracking reactions in the FCC are endothermic, meaning that energy must be added to crack the hydrocarbons. This energy is generated in the process of burning off the carbon on the catalyst particles. The energy in the reactor products is used to preheat the oil feed to reaction temperatures. The primary manipulated variables are the reactor riser temperature, the catalyst-to-oil ratio in the reactor feed, air flow to the regenerator to control catalyst activity, catalyst circulation rate to control the space velocity or contact time, and reactor pressure. Additionally, the FCC main column is a distillation tower similar to the atmospheric tower in the crude unit. The control objectives are to maximize the conversion of the feed oil to hydrocarbons boiling at less than 220 C (430 F) without excessive overcracking to light gaseous hydrocarbons and coke. The control system must also maintain adequate catalyst inventory in both vessels and regulate the regenerator temperature to control the coke burn. A multivariable predictive control design is often used to achieve these control objectives with the manipulated inputs. Gasoline production economics provide a basis for selecting the controller tuning parameters. Since the regenerator maintains stable catalyst activity, linear dynamic FCC MPC models do not change significantly over time. This feature makes it unnecessary to re-identify models on a frequent schedule to maintain good controller performance.

Cooling Water Gas Plant

Gasoline Flue Gas Reactor Regenerator Light Cat Gas Oil

Air Riser Heavy Cat Gas Oil Fresh Catalyst Gas Oil Feed

Spent Catalyst Main Column

Cat Slurry Oil

FIGURE 8 Simplified flow diagram of a fluidized catalytic cracking unit that converts gas oil into lighter hydrocarbons. The reactions occur in the riser after the catalyst is mixed with the gas-oil feed. The products are separated from the catalyst in the reactor. The coke produced as a by-product of the reactions is burned off the spent catalyst in the regenerator providing energy needed for the reactions in the riser. Multivariable predictive controllers are often used to control the mass and energy interactions among these vessels and the heat exchange between main column and the gas-oil feed. Real-time optimizers are often used to account for the nonlinear reaction kinetic effects.



Real-time optimizers are often used on FCC units. The cracking reaction rates are sensitive to reactor riser temperature, following an exponential Arrhenius expression. Higher reactor riser temperature results in higher conversion and more preheat energy. Higher riser temperature also leads to higher reactor temperature and more coke to burn to maintain catalyst activity, and potentially more over-cracking of valuable gasoline molecules to light gas and coke. Because of these nonlinear temperature dependencies, determining the optimal operating conditions requires a nonlinear program such as a RTO [10]. The development of a fundamental model for an FCC RTO based on the molecular structure of the feeds and products is given in [15]. The dimension of the FCC model can be reduced by assuming that some of the FCC vessels contain well-mixed homogeneous mixtures. However, even though the total number of components is less than the number of components in a crude oil stream, model reduction is required to reduce the model dimension for successful FCC RTO applications. The RTO application has the fidelity to obtain the information needed to trade off cracking conversion and energy to obtain an optimal yield for a given product demand at the lowest cost. This same strategy can be applied to the other refinery conversion units. Hydrocrackers can crack heavier vacuum tower gas oil and more aromatic gas oils from the FCC and coker. A coker is a thermal cracking process unit that converts oil from the vacuum tower bottom into coker naphtha, coker gas oil, and coke. Unlike the FCC, because hydrocrackers are fixed-bed reactors, hydrocracker models cannot be spatially lumped, resulting in significantly increased model dimensionality. With judicious model development and model reduction methods, hydrocracker models can be developed for use with the same control and optimization structure used in the FCC application. Cyclic processing and complex thermal cracking reactions have limited RTO applications for cokers. However, MPC can be applied in both applications to improve the performance of these other conversion units.

optimization. The examples presented highlight progress toward capturing the highest value of every molecule at every point in the refining complex.

Robert E. Young ( is the advanced control section supervisor at ExxonMobils Torrance Refinery in Torrance, California. He received his B.S. degree in chemical engineering from the University of Texas, Austin, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from University of California, Santa Barbara. He has led and implemented process control projects in the areas of linear and nonlinear multivariable predictive control, polymerization reactor control, process control system replacement, and manufacturing execution systems. He is an active AIChE Computing and System Technology (CAST) division member, currently serving as a 2007 meeting program coordinator and a division director, as well as a member of IEEE and SIAM. He can be contacted at ExxonMobil Refining and SupplyTorrance Refinery, 3700 W 190th St., Torrance, CA 90504 USA.

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With tighter emission requirements on fuels and the changing world supply of crude oil, more detailed methods for characterizing refinery feed and product streams are needed to make the complicated decisions required to control and optimize refinery operations. Changes in analytical measurement technology provide additional data for fingerprinting the molecular structure of these hydrocarbon mixtures. Integrating this molecular characterization of the materials with advances in compositional modeling methods, model reduction techniques, optimization, and equation-solving methods, along with continued implementation of model predictive control, improves operational effectiveness at all levels of the refinery from the individual process level to the refinery-wide planning