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Debottleneck crude-unit preheat exchanger network inefficiencies
02.01.2012 | Al-Zahrani, S., Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia; Bright, E. , Saudi Aramco, Dhahran, Saudi
Arabia; Roy, S. , Saudi Aramco, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia
Simulation models can be effectively used to optimize heat transfer and boost operational performance
Keywords:
In this case history, a crude distillation unit (CDU) preheat train network in a Saudi Aramco refinery was
simulated and analyzed for anticipated modifications to the network. This analysis helped eliminate
inefficiencies in the network, and, based on the insights from the analysis, various options were generated and
the existing network was reconfigured. The reconfiguration allowed the temperature of the crude preheat
network, which processes Arab Light crude oil, to be increased to the maximum of 27 7 C from a previous
temperature of 261C.
Existing configuration.
Desalted crude from the tank is heated by the crude column top pumparound, light gasoil (LGO) product,
heavy gasoil (HGO) product, LGO pumparound (LGO PA), HGO pumparound (HGO PA), heavy vacuum gasoil
(HVGO) pumparound and vacuum residue (VR) product, as shown in Fig. 1 in exchangers E1 to E7 ,
respectively. The current crude preheat temperature entering the CDU furnace is around 261C. This
exchanger network is validated using heat exchanger design software and by adjusting the fouling
coefficients.

Fig. 1. Current configuration of CDU preheat train.
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Modifications required.
The base-case network was altered for anticipated modifications in the future. The reasons for the
modifications are listed below:
Vacuum slop circuit. In the current configuration (Fig. 2), the vacuum slop is recycled to the vacuum
tower through the vacuum furnace. The purpose of this recycle is to recover the VGO components and send
the VGO to the hydrocracker; however, this is not achieved in the current operation due to vacuum furnace
limitations and insufficient separation in the wash section. As a result, this vacuum slop stream (which is
lower in viscosity) goes with the vacuum tower bottoms. The mingling of streams deteriorates the feed to the
asphalt oxidizer and creates operational problems in meeting the penetration property of the asphalt.

Fig. 2. Current configuration of vacuum slop
circuit.
To address this concern, the vacuum slop stream from the vacuum tower is available at a temperature of
380C, which is withdrawn as a separate cut and is used to increase the preheat temperature of the crude. This
proposed new exchanger is configured to be in parallel with the existing heat exchanger E4 in Fig. 1. Fig. 3
shows the rerouting of the vacuum slop.

Fig. 3. Modifications in vacuum slop circuit.
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Future splitter configuration. To meet the clean gasoline specification of 1% benzene in gasoline, the
existing naphtha splitter must remove the benzene precursors in the catalytic reformer feed by increasing the
initial boiling point of the heavy naphtha. This process requires a higher reboiler duty. In addition, the heavy
naphtha from the hydrocracker needs to be processed in the naphtha splitter, as this feed also contains
benzene precursors.
Currently, hydrocracker heavy naphtha is not part of the naphtha splitter feed. The hydrocracker heavy
naphtha feed volume is 12,500 barrels per day (bpd), and the existing naphtha splitter capacity is 23,000
bpd. Figs. 4 and 5 show the naphtha systems current and planned configurations, respectively. As the
current naphtha splitter cannot handle this higher throughput with higher reboiler requirement, the existing
naphtha splitter will be mothballed. The existing reboiler, which uses HGO PA flow and gives a duty of 10.4
million kilocalories per hour (MMkcal/hr), will also be mothballed. High-pressure steam will be used in the
reboiler of the new naphtha splitter to meet the higher reboiler requirements. For the column to be in heat
balance, this 10.4 MMkcal/hr of heat removal is required. In the proposed exchanger network, this stream
(HGO CR) will be used to preheat the crude.

Fig. 4. Current configuration of naphtha circuit.
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Fig. 5. Configuration of naphtha management system after
clean-fuel implementation.
Synthesis of crude preheat train.
A new, preliminary heat exchanger network (Fig. 6) was synthesized to accommodate the above
modifications. While modifying the crude preheat train network, the following impact on the equipment was
kept in mind:
Prevention of vaporizations in the furnace pass-control valves, as it is difficult to control two-phase flows
across pass-control valves. Inadequate flow in the furnace pass flows will also lead to coking.
Column heat balance.
Column hydraulics.
Impact of hot streams going directly to the other unit.

Fig. 6. Base-case network after modifications.
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The changes made in the base-case network are listed below:
Exchanger N1 was added parallel to E4 (see Fig. 6) using vacuum slop (vacslop) and vacuum residue ex-E7
as the hot fluid. This modification is required to improve the viscosity of the vacuum residue to the asphalt
oxidizer. The current viscosity of the feed to the asphalt oxidizer is 1,500 centistokes (cst), and the required
viscosity is 2,000 cst.
Another exchanger N2 (E5-2, similar to E2) was added parallel to E2 using HGO PA fluid ex-E5 (hereafter
referred to as E5-1) as the hot fluid. This modification is performed to accommodate the 10.4-MMkcal/hr
duty in the HGO PA circuit.
Increased area in E4 from the 2-parallel-1-series arrangement to a 2-parallel-2-series design and added
cooler N3 downstream of E4.
Due to the first two modifications, the inlet temperature to E4 has increased, which decreases the logarithmic
mean temperature difference (LMTD) available across the unit. Since E4 is the LGO PA exchanger, the column
will not be in heat balance if the required heat removal is not performed. The required duty was 18.8
MMkcal/hr, and the available duty was 12.7 MMkcal/hr (see Table 1). Therefore, additional area and a cooler
were added in the LGO PA circuit to meet the duty requirement of the column.

The required HGO PA duty is 26.8 MMkcal/hr, and the available duty is 29.8 MMkcal/hr. As the heat removed
in HGO PA is higher by 3 MMkcal/hr, the requirement of LGO PA duty will come down by 3 MMkcal/hr. As
both LGO and HGO are mixed outside of the column and go to the diesel hydrotreater (DHT), the splitting of
the duty between LGO and HGO pumparound is not a concern from a separation point of view. However, it
does impact the column draw temperature, which will slightly reduce the LMTD across E3 (HGO
product/crude exchanger) and E5 (HGO PA/crude exchanger).
Results of network modification.
In the modified network, the obtained preheat temperature was 266C. The duty, LMTD and area of each
exchanger in the network are presented in Table 1. From Table 1, it can be observed that:
Exchanger E6, which has a higher area, is experiencing the lowest LMTD; therefore, any modification that
increases the LMTD will significantly increase the heat recovered from E6.
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The exchanger preceding exchanger E6 is heated by HGO circulating reflux (CR), which is at 337 C; this is
higher than the hot stream (HVGO CR) temperature of E6, which has decreased the LMTD in E6.
This preliminary network was analyzed for possible improvement in the preheat temperature. The analysis
indicated that heat recovery can be increased by 45% by boosting the area by 56% (see Table 2).

The analysis also indicated that the driving force across exchanger E7 further limited the heat recovery. Fig.
7 displays the driving-force plot. The figure indicates that the driving force in E7 can be increased by
decreasing the inlet temperature in E7 . This temperature adjustment can be achieved by operating E5 in
parallel with E7 .

Fig. 7. Driving-force plot for base-case network.
Case 1. Based on the insights derived from Table 1 and Fig. 7 , to improve the heat recovery, the crude stream
in E7 and E5 was split by operating E5 in parallel with E7 . The objective of this modification is to increase the
LMTD across E7 and E6. However, it also decreases the LMTD across E5-1. The net effect is shown in Table 3,
and the modified network is shown in Fig. 8. With this arrangement, the preheat temperature has increased
from 266C to 269C.
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Fig. 8. Modified network based on E5 operating in parallel with E7 .
Case 2. From LMTD and approach data in Table 3, it can be inferred that heat recovery in E5-1 can still be
improved by increasing the area. Hence, another case study was performed by adding two similar exchangers
in a series in E5-1. The results are tabulated in Table 4. The preheat was found to be increased to 27 7 C.

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The HGO PA is now providing an extra 4.2 MMkcal/hr more than required, which will reduce the LGO PA duty
requirement by the same amount for the column to be in heat balance. Then, the required LGO PA cooler duty
comes down to 2.6 MMkcal/hr. HP
The authors
Edwin Bright has over 17 years of experience in the petroleum refining industry. Before joining
Saudi Aramco, he worked for Reliance Industries Ltd., Indian Oil Corp., ATV Petrochemicals and
Foster Wheeler India Ltd. He holds a bachelors degree in chemical engineering and masters
degrees in petroleum refining and petrochemicals from AC Tech, Anna University, Chennai. He
also earned a masters degree in management from the Asian Institute of Management in
Manila.
Samit Roy is an engineering consultant at Saudi Aramcos downstream process engineering
division under the process control and systems department. A graduate in chemical
engineering, he has more than 33 years of broad experience in the process engineering and
technical services areas of oil refining and gas processing plants. His experience includes 21
years in Saudi Aramco refining and engineering services and 12 years at Indian refineries. He has
worked at most of the refinery process units associated with distillation, hydroprocessing and
gas treating plants.
Said A. Al-Zahrani is the general supervisor in the process and control systems department at
Saudi Aramco. He is the chairman of the multi-disciplinary product specifications committee,
tasked with managing various issues related to Saudi Aramco products and fuel specifications.
Al-Zahrani holds a degree in chemical engineering from King Fahd University of Petroleum
and Minerals, and began his career at Saudi Aramco as a process engineer in the Ras Tanura
refinery. He is a member of several local and international societies and an officer of the
American Institute of Chemical Engineers, Saudi Arabian chapter.