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Diesel hydrotreater revamp

Major improvements to throughput and product specification required a
revamp of catalyst and internals in a diesel hydrotreater
Torkil Hansen Haldor Topsøe


harat Petroleum (BPCL) was faced with a
serious challenge when it needed to
revamp a diesel hydrotreating unit
(DHDS) in Mahul, India. This unit, originally
installed in 1999, operated with 25–30% cracked
feed at low pressure (41 barg). The new conditions required a 43% increase in load and a 97%
reduction in sulphur.
This article describes how Haldor Topsøe
enabled BPCL to make the most of what equipment they had by implementing specially tailored
revamp layouts. This required extensive knowledge of system behaviour, catalyst and reaction

Goals and challenges
BPCL’s goals were:
• An increase in throughput from 4200 t/d to
6000 t/d
• To reduce the sulphur in their diesel product
from 350 wppm to 10 wppm
• A minimum catalyst cycle length of three years
• For installation to be completed in just 40 days
during a turnaround.
The challenges were:
• Low-pressure operation, 41 barg
• Large variety in feed composition
• High radial temperature spread in existing
reactor beds
• Congested plot space
• Vibrations in charge heater
• Power restrictions for recycle gas compressor
and charge pump
• Various hydraulic limitations
• Low capital expenditure, requiring maximum
reuse of existing equipment.
BPCL had made a precise identification of the
unit’s hydraulics bottlenecks in advance. An
eight-week study phase was arranged for quanti-

DHDS primary feed
Feedstock property
Flow, MTPD
Specific gravity
Sulphur, wt%
Nitrogen, wppm
Bromine number
Cetane index, D-976
Aromatics, wt%
Mono aromatics
Di aromatics
Tri aromatics
Distillation, D86, °C

Feed 1

Feed 2





Table 1

fying all bottlenecks and analysing the possible
It was clear from the start that a simple revamp
with just more reactor capacity would not solve
the associated problems. An innovative approach
was required to handle all of the challenges, and a
special design was developed in close cooperation
with BPCL. The design minimised capital and
operating expenditure, and resulted in the most
favourable net present value (NPV). BPCL used
the NPV evaluation method to calculate which
design they preferred over time.

The primary feed (Feed 1) is shown in Table 1.
Feed 2 was an alternative feed that would be run
occasionally. Product specifications needed to be
met for both feeds.

Catalysis 2011 1

This results in higher activity for the catalyst or. alternatively. thereby Application Catalyst Relative activity Cost solving the plot problem. • New Topsøe reactor internals The operating conditions. Table 4 provides an overview of these newPlot restriction is a major problem in many generation Brim catalysts and their relative revamps. Thus. Topsøe’s Brim series of catalysts Primary revamp recommendations has an extensive record of application in diesel The study phase resulted in the following primary and kerosene hydrotreaters. Table 4 BPCL decided to remove a soda ash vessel to make space for a platform The main product specifications are given in where shell and tube heat exchangers could be Table 2. ULSD (CoMo) TK-568 Brim Base 1 Lowest filling cost TK-570 Brim Base 1 + 15% Low filling cost Various types of heat exchanger TK-578 Brim Base 1 + 40% Standard filling cost were considered in order to handle the limited plot space. and at the same time reduce has been commercialised.activities within a group of comparable catalysts. as the primary constraint is to reach • Place the new reactor in parallel service to the the sulphur specification of 10 ppm at around 40 existing reactor bar operating pressure. the number of active sites for a given metal Figure 1).Product specifications Product quality Sulphur content. They maintain their New-generation ULSD CoMo catalysts 2 Catalysis 2011 www. The original plot space did wppm sulphur in units with as low as 20 bar not allow for any major additions other than the pressure with high stability. favour a CoMo-type catalyst over a lyst volume NiMo one. as well as the feed • One extra reactor to reach the required cataspecifications. by BPCL during the design phase. the use of a CoMo effluent from the first reactor catalyst brought the further benefit of significantly • Install vertical helix exchangers in the second reduced hydrogen consumption compared to reactor train to save plot space using a NiMo catalyst.digitalrefining. recommendations: The unit required a catalyst with maximum • New high-activity catalyst from Topsøe volume activity to bring down the reactor’s cost. loading is increased. driven by a required maximum 45 wppm specification and a preferred 10 wppm specification for Catalyst selection Catalyst selection was critical to the success of some of the time. Nm3/m3 61 Table 3 new reactor. tant parameter when it comes to minimising the These catalysts can make ULSD to less than 7 required plot space. it was possible to build the unit upwards. the concept was to reuse the existing TK-576 Brim catalyst was installed in the unit. this revamp. wppm Cetane number improvement (∆CN) Lab method ASTM D-5453 ASTM D-613 Table 2 Primary operating conditions Value 10–45 +5 Parameter Value Reactor pressure. This meant the make-up • No replacement of existing equipment. gas compressors did not need to be revamped. and equipment selection is an impor. Since the feed contained • Heat the second reactor train using reactor up to 30% cracked material. By improving disperthe mass load on the fired charge heater (see . In the end. The variation in sulphur content is placed. unit and build a parallel reactor train into a Since then. a new generation of Brim catalyst limited plot space. bar g 41 Treat gas/oil ratio. By choosing vertical heat exchangers. provides the Implemented recommendations possibility of maintaining the same activity with All of the listed recommendations were accepted a lower metals loading on the catalyst. Nm3/m3 300 H2 consumption average.

so it was decided that the old reactor would get the same arrangement for the revamp. which prevents effective usage of the catalyst volume. Furthermore.1 It is often financially attractive for the refiner to do this type of revamp rather than to replace the unit with a higher pressure one. including dismantling time. CoMo catalysts are able to gain a CN increase of 5 or higher at low pressure if the feed is right. This arrangement speeds up reloading of the catalyst significantly. It is possible to achieve installation time Catalysis 2011 3 . This is an indication of poor distribution between liquid and gas in the cross section. with a high radial temperature spread (>15°C) in the bottom of the reactor beds. The Topsøe internals are ideally installed together with an arrangement of flex thermocouples. The newest mechanical improvements to reactor internals facilitate fast access through the internals. The new reactor needed new internals combined with an arrangement of flex thermocouples. The old reactor internals exhibited a poor www.digitalrefining. the same work could take 3–4 hours. to enhance safety in the unit and for operators to better monitor any changes over time in the reactor. However. Several diesel units operating at these low pressures have been successfully revamped by Topsøe with CoMo catalyst. Reactor internals To fully utilise all of the catalyst. This is achieved by having the latest generation of reactor internals in both the new and old reactors. With older-generation trays. the gas and liquid distribution in the reactors must be near perfect.Existing reactor New reactor Charge heater = New equipment Wash water Fractionation Reactor effluent Feed oil Fractionation Treat gas Figure 1 Reactor section heat integration stability even if the feed blend contains cracked feeds from thermal units or cracking performance. Passage through each piece of internal. It is well known that the use of NiMo catalysts typically results in a higher increase in cetane number (CN) from feed to product than with CoMo catalysts. CN was not the primary bottleneck in this revamp case. can take less than five minutes. a new design enables fast installation of new internals.

it was necessary to make significant changes to the layout of the reactor section. which makes new installations in old reactors simpler and less costly. The result of the revamp was a new unique fired heater and reactor configuration (see Figure 2). A parallel layout would solve the pressure drop problem in the reactor loop and also limit the mass flow to the charge heater. The mechanical design can handle special solutions and gives the refiner the option to upgrade old reactors to ULSD service if the vessel material is in order both mechanically and process wise. Therefore. and salt dryers were used for drying the diesel product. the easy low-sulphur feeds were the difficult ones to design with regards to heat integration because the exotherms in the reactors were low. In fact. Therefore. which was needed to prevent vibrations. A serial layout would not solve these problems without costly modifications to the charge heater and the recycle gas compressor. One of the key revamp issues was how to handle a vibrating fired heater under new conditions with 43% higher throughput. as well as being able to start up the second reactor train with enough heat. The biggest challenge was setting up the heat integration correctly to handle all feed cases at normal conditions. The stripping section used steam stripping.digitalrefining.Existing reactor New reactor Gas Heat exchanger Amine absorber = New equipment Feed section Fractionation Gas Wild naphtha Diesel product Figure 2 Revamp process block layout savings of approximately 50–75%. 4 Catalysis 2011 Vibrations had already been observed at 4500 t/ d (+10% load) through the coils when performing a capacity test . It turned out that a direct equipment revamp of the heater to handle the required 43% higher load would be very expensive. it was decided to follow the difficult step of having a separate heat source for the new parallel reactor instead of the fired heater (see Figure 3). An important economic aspect of the revamp was that no equipment would be replaced. Revamp process layout The existing unit had simple two-train shell and tube heat exchangers in a layout with an amine absorber and no hot separator. These vibrations were in the process piping and coils. The internals can be installed in old reactors even if support rings are missing. so a parallel layout was chosen. The inlet to the new reactor required a feed/ effluent heat exchanger using effluent from the www.

All other original equipment pieces are in use today. which would be problematic in connection with the limited plot space • Various pumps required an extra pump in parallel to handle the new conditions. Existing reactor New reactor Charge heater Minor modifications After a thorough review of the unit. the new design managed to keep the existing equipment intact. This meant that two pumps would be in operation. piping and equipment inspection. it was possible to achieve installation of the equipment within the scheduled = New equipment Figure 3 New reactor preheat arrangement and what kind of work would require a complete shutdown. Performance after start-up The performance of the combined catalyst and reactor internals is shown in Figure 4. This was done through several meetings ahead of the shutdown together with the project team from BPCL. with one as spare • Various air coolers needed modification in the form of extra bays. a good line of communication had to be established. This required extensive knowledge of catalyst and system behaviour. One conclusion from these meetings was that the shutdown schedule was extremely tight and that it was necessary for Topsøe to make technical personnel available to BPCL on short notice for various assignments. Apart from one pump replacement. Installation time In order not to extend the overall time for the planned turnaround. and BPCL’s resource needs had to be clearly identified. The new design had to handle all operational possibilities. catalyst loading. It prevented an extension of the vessel. ranging from a start-up case with catalyst sulphiding to uneven deactivation of catalyst in the two reactors. Most of these were already addressed in the proposal phase as points that might require change of some kind: • The columns both required new trays to accommodate the higher hydraulic load • It was necessary to insert a new type of coalescing element in the cold separator to improve the separation efficiency. It complicated matters that an alternate feed with low exotherm was part of the design criteria. This arrangement was delicate because it could complicate start-up significantly and the two reactors might have to operate with uneven temperatures if the design was incorrect. as there has been no need for any redesigns after start-up. This required a thorough analysis during the basic design of what type of site work could be done during normal operation www. With this method of work. The alternative solution of putting in water coolers was not possible due to refinery constraints • Various parts of the unit required a parallel line of heat exchangers to cope with the higher capacity. Engineers from Topsøe participated in mechanical installation of the reactor internals. The results of the site activities also paid off. Ahead of the shutdown. it was also clear that. to avoid any delays. Any potential installation errors were caught before start-up and rectified. it was a requirement from BPCL that the shutdown time of the diesel hydrodesulphuriser (DHDS) unit did not exceed a maximum of 40 days. This also affected the plot space on the pipe racks. it was established that various minor changes had to be made. It required rigorous pinch analysis of the heat exchanger system to achieve the correct design.first reactor.digitalrefining. The normalised temperature is the measured weight Catalysis 2011 5 .

The equipment hydraulic bottlenecks have all been eliminated. more than three years’ expected catalyst cycle length. The reactor internals are evaluated from the radial temperature spread in the reactor beds. An extrapolation of the temperature level will result in a cycle length above the required minimum of three years. 6 Catalysis 2011 equipment The goals for the design were all achieved: • The 41 barg unit with up to 30% cracked feed makes 5–45 wppm sulphur • Low deactivation rate. BRIM technology is a trademark of Haldor Topsøe. where the operating reactor temperature is almost constant. Installation time was achieved within 40 days and all guarantees were accomplished. m3/hr 325 300 275 250 225 200 175 Feed rate Design feed rate 150 125 0 30 60 90 120 150 Run day Figure 5 Feed rate after revamp average bed temperature normalised to a given set of conditions and product sulphur level.Weighted average bed temperature. The unit is operating well in the middle of its first cycle after the revamp. The ideal spread value is zero and the performance is shown in Table 5. The payback time from initial start-up is estimated to be one to one-and-a-half years if the unit operates the design feed at the design rate. He graduated with a MSc degree in chemical engineering from the Technical University of Denmark. Reference 1 Systematic Approach for the Revamp of a Low Pressure Hydrotreater to Produce 10 ppm ‘Sulphur Free’ Diesel at BP Coryton Refinery.digitalrefining. with the following worth highlighting: • The hydraulic capacity is at least 6000 MTPD • Radial temperatures in the reactor improved from greater than 15°C to less than 5°C • Almost complete reuse of existing • Payback time estimated to be one to one-anda-half years. °C Reactor radial temperatures Before revamp After revamp >15°C <5°C Base +5°C Normalised base Table 5 Summary of results Feed rate Design feed rate 0 30 60 90 120 150 Run day Figure 4 Reactor temperature after revamp 350 Feed Links More articles from the following categories: Revamps. Torkil Hansen is General Manager in the refinery process department of Haldor Topsøe’s Technology Division. Figure 4 shows a stable pattern. The unit was started up and passed a guarantee test run two months later. A change to a more refractory feed after three months moved the temperature to a higher but stable level. The unit has been operating at the new design feed rate for most of the run (see Figure 5). Shutdowns and Turnarounds Diesel Maximisation www. All the challenges were overcome. Email: .