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Application of Air
Separation Unit in SINOPEC’s
Coal Chemical Business
Gao Ning1, Guo Yan2
(1. Sinopec Great Wall Energy Chemical Co., Ltd.; 2. Sinopec
International Co., Ltd.)

Abstract: With the rapid growth of coal chemical industry in China, the selection and application of
Air Separation Unit (ASU) became very important. As the core unit in coal chemical industry, ASU
will greatly impact the engineering construction and operation/production of coal chemical business. In
this paper, major suppliers of ASU at home and abroad were reviewed, and the major supplying status of
ASU in China was introduced. The ASUs in operation of SINOPEC were listed and discussed. On this
basis, some suggestions of ASU selection strategies were provided on localization, standardization and
operation methods.
Key words: ASU; coal chemical; selection; application

A ir separation Unit (ASU) is an important package

equipment unit used in refineries, chemical plants,
and steel mills, etc. ASU separates atmospheric air into its
technological devices. Coal gasification unit, the core of
coal chemical projects, requires a large amount of pure
oxygen as raw material. At the same time, a lot of nitrogen
primary components, typically nitrogen and oxygen, and is also needed as protective gas or transferring gas. As a
sometimes also argon and other rare inert gases. In recent result, the demands for ASU are soaring (Table 1).
years, together with the rapid development of modern coal According to the programme by China authorities,
chemical industry in China, ASU has larger market for there will be tens of huge coal to chemical projects put
application. It is reported that the total equipment sets and into operation before 2020, and the capacity of projects
total oxygen generating capacity of ASU made in China of coal to liquid and coal to olefin in 2020 could reach
had become No. 1 in the world. 30 million tons and 17 million tons per year respectively.
Relevant market of ASUs is estimated to exceed 100 sets,
ASU is significant in coal chemical business with a value of more than 20 billion RMB. Despite that
ASU in coal chemical business and its major suppliers some coal to chemical projects were postponed due to the
Coal is the major resources in China’s energy low oil price from the second half of 2014, there are still
consumption. To realize clean and efficient utilization of quite huge demands for ASU.
coal, modern coal chemical industries, including coal to The modern coal chemical industry put forward
methanol, coal to synthetic natural gas, and coal to oil and stricter requirements for ASUs, including bigger products
chemicals, have developed rapidly in recent years. In coal capacity, higher gas pressure, easier automatic control
chemical industry, ASU is not merely of a supplementary and optimized operation, lower energy consumption and
utility system, but also one of the most important production cost, and so on. It has promoted ASU to make


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Table 1 Oxygen consumption of different devices adapting typical coal gasification technologies

Products and scale Coal gasification technology Oxygen consumption, m3/h

1000 kt/a methanol GE coal gasification 120000

1000 kt/a GTL (gas to liquid) Shell coal gasification 250000

600 kt/a synthesis ammonia Shell coal gasification 65000

600 kt/a MTO (methanol to olefin ) Shell coal gasification 230000

2 billion SNG (synthetic natural gas) BGL coal gasification 160000

significant progress in capacity enlargement, product Separation Group (SASPG for short). They are briefly
diversification and system integration. Consequently, the listed as below (Table 2).
scale of a single set of ASU has been increased, the energy Compared with the noted overseas ASU suppliers,
and material consumptions or investment of unit have domestic ASU suppliers are less competitive, and some
been decreased, and the automation level and operation key components like air compressor, high pressure plate
reliability have been improved correspondingly. heat exchanger and special type valves are needed to
Due to the high technical requirements of ASU, import. However, thanks to technology upgrading and
there are only a few enterprises in the world having the huge China market demand, domestic suppliers have
ability to provide large-scale ASU. The major overseas made rapid progress, and now they have equal capacity
enterprises include Air Liquide, Linde AG (Linde for with international competitors on 60,000 Nm3/h or bigger
short) and Air Products & Chemicals Inc. (APCI for ASU. What’s more, some domestic suppliers have made
short). The major domestic enterprises include Hangzhou remarkable export achievements. For example, a 120000
Hangyang Co., Ltd. (Hangyang for short), Kaifeng Air Nm3/h ASU manufactured by Hangyang has been shipped
Separation Group (KFAS for short) and Sichuan Air to Iran in 2014.

Table 2 Major ASU suppliers at home and abroad

Name Overall information
Air Liquide is the world leader in gases, technologies and services for Industry and
Air Liquide Health. It supplies its customers in extremely diverse industries in 80 countries, with
group revenue of 15,225 million of Euro in 2013
As a world leading supplier of industrial, process and speciality gases and one of the
most profitable engineering companies, Linde could provide middle to large scale of
Major overseas Linde ASUs. In 2014, Linde generated revenue of EUR 17.047 billion, making it the largest
enterprises gases and engineering company in the world with approximately 65,500 employees
working in more than 100 countries worldwide
Founded in 1940s, APCI supplies atmospheric gases, process and specialty gases,
performance materials, equipment and services, including middle to large scale
of ASUs. In 2014 the sales of APCI reached 10.4 billion USD With over 20,000
employees in more than 50 countries
Hangyang is the world leading and China’s largest manufacturer of ASU. It has the ability
to design and manufacture ASU of medium/large size, from 30,000 Nm3/h to 80,000
Nm3/h. After 60,000 Nm3/h ASU successfully passing the technical identification at 2010,
Hangyang had delivered its first 120,000 Nm3/h ASU for Iran in 2014
KFAS is a key and large enterprise in China for delivering ASU, founded in 1958. It
Major domestic
has designed and manufactured 40 sets of ASU whose capacity is more than 30,000
enterprises KFAS
Nm3/h. Its products have successfully applied in different coal chemical projects in
SASPG was founded in 1966, and has designed more than 20 sets for ASU (capacity
SASPG bigger than 30,000 Nm3/h). Its products have been put into operation in Shanxi,
Hebei and other places of China


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Influence of ASUs supplying on coal chemical plate heat exchanger. However, there is one set of air
projects compressor manufactured by Shenyang blower works
Due to the long period of manufacture and huge capital group corporation (Shengu) and one set of steam
investment of ASUs, it will obviously impact the schedule turbine manufactured by Hangzhou Steam Turbine Co.,
and cost of coal chemical projects. The selection and Ltd. (Hangqi). Now the ASUs are under installation
application of ASUs are therefore adhered many interests. and construction, and got high attentions of relative
On one hand, an ASU will take long time, normally companies.
24 to 36 months from order awarding to products output.
An ASU is a complex package including air filtration ASUs successfully selected and applied by
purification system, air compressor system, air pre-cooling Sinopec in coal chemical projects
system, molecular sieve purification system, distillation ASUs selected by Sinopec in coal chemical projects
column system, instrument control system, electric control and plants
system, and other systems. It increases the difficulty in Sinopec’s coal chemical business could be traced back
design and manufacture for ASUs. Generally speaking, a to 2002. From that time Sinopec began to import foreign
smaller ASU by a domestic supplier will take shorter time. advanced coal gasification technology for its raw material
For example, Hangyang has supplied Sinopec Yanshan a optimization projects (mainly change material from oil to
10,000 Nm3/h ASU in only 16 months, which has made coal). With the accomplishment of these projects Sinopec
a domestic record for the shortest supplying time. As for has obtained rich experiences in coal chemical business
the large size of ASUs in coal chemical projects, with for its subsequent coal chemical industry. In recent years,
consideration of the long manufacturing time and the Sinopec has speeded up its coal chemical business. More
complex procedures of transportation, logistics or custom coal gasification plants have been put into operation
clearance, it will take more than 24 months for ASU in its refineries and chemical plants. At the same time,
delivery. it launched several coal-based chemical complexes,
On the other hand, the purchasing values of ASUs with locations at Yinchuan of Ningxia, Ordos of Inner
are always very high, normally from tens or hundreds Mongolia, Huainan of Anhui, Zhundong of Xinjiang and
of millions RMB. Sometimes it could reach the level of Zhijin of Guizhou.
billions. The order of 6 sets of 100,000 Nm3/h ASU, which According to statistics, there are 20 sets of ASUs
was wined by Hangyang for Shenning group’s 4,000,000 under operation in Sinopec in total, including 11 sets for
tons/year indirect coal to liquid project at Ningxia, can be coal gasification plants, which are listed below. It could
taken as a primary example. It was reported that the total be seen that 9 sets of ASUs are supplying hydrogen for
amount of this order including design, supply and service refineries or chemical plants, while 2 sets in Ningxia are
work was as high as 1.7 billion RMB. supplying syngas for downstream synthesis. If classified
Together with the rapid development and large-scale according to the supplier source, it could be found that
trend of coal chemical projects, the ASUs have to meet there are 5 sets of ASUs are domestic (all supplied by
higher requirements than other industries in terms of Hangyang) and 6 sets of ASUs are imported (supplied by
investment, energy consumption and operation stability. APCI, Air Liquide and Linde respectively) (Table 3).
The oxygen productivity of required ASUs is generally Regarding to the coal-based chemical complexes under
between 70,000 Nm3/h and 80,000 Nm3/h or even as high construction, Sinopec has put some orders for ASU. In
as 100,000 Nm3/h, and they are normally imported from Zhongtianhechuang project in Inner Mongolia, six sets
international enterprises or cooperative manufactured of 82,000 Nm3/h ASU were awarded to Air Liquide. In
by both domestic and international suppliers. At the Zhongan project in Anhui, three sets of 67,000 Nm3/h ASU
same time, domestic ASU enterprises are also making were awarded to Linde AG. It was announced that there
rapid progress in technology and manufacturing ability, were other ASU purchasing order under consideration
striving to reach the world advanced level. The above for Zhundong projects in Xinjiang and Zhijin projects in
mentioned ASUs supplied by Hangyang for Shenning Guizhou.
group can be referred as an example. In all 6 sets of
100,000 Nm3/h ASUs, most of the critical equipments Influence of ASUs operation on coal gasification
or parts are imported like air compressor unit, turbine plants
expander, cryogenic liquid pump or high-pressure The operation stability of ASUs has important


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Table 3 ASUs in coal chemical projects or plants of Sinopec

Capacity Operating
No. End-user Sourcing Supplier Operating mode
(Nm3/h) time
Sinopec Nanjing Chemical Independent Operation
1 40,000 Imported APCI Jun. 2001
Industrial Corporation by End-user
Independent Operation
2 Sinopec Jinling 56,000 Imported Air Liquide Sep. 2005
by End-user
Independent Operation
3 Sinopec Anqing 48,000 Domestic Hangyang Jun. 2006
by End-user
4 Sinopec Baling 48,000 Imported Linde Sep. 2006 JV with Linde
Sinopec Hubei Chemical Independent Operation
5 48,000 Domestic Hangyang Oct. 2006
Fertilizer Company by End-user
6 Sinopec Qilu 42,000 Domestic Hangyang Oct. 2008 JV with Linde
Sinopec Nanjing Chemical Independent Operation
7 56,000 Imported Linde
Industrial Corporation by End-user
8 Sinopec Yangzi 40,000 Imported Linde Jan. 2005 JV with Linde
9 Sinopec Maoming 90,000 Imported Air Liquide Oct. 2013 JV with Air Liquide
Sinopec Great Wall Energy & 45,000 Independent Operation
10 Domestic Hangyang Oct. 2013
Chemical (Ningxia) Co., Ltd. (2 sets) by End-user

influence on the long-term operation of coal chemical Shutdown days classfication

plants. However, there are certain room for improvement
in ASUs’ management. A statistic work has been done
on Sinopec’s 6 coal gasification plants applying coal
water slurry gasification technology. The operation status
of plants from Jan. to Oct. in 2014 were collected and 29%
analyzed, aiming to get the influence of ASUs in the
unscheduled shutdown of the plants. It was found that Plant
more than 1/4 shutdown of plants were due to the faults of overhaul or
others Gasification
ASUs, which was shown in Fig.1 and Fig. 2. 67% 1%
Suggestions on ASU selection and application 3%
The coal chemical industry has characteristics like
continuous production, high temperature and high Fig.1 Influence of ASUs on coal gasification plants operation (based
on shutdown days from Jan. to Oct. 2014).
pressure operation, inflammable and explosive working
environment and long start-up period. They put forward
high requirements for the security, reliability and technical the design and manufacture. In terms of small to middle
maturity of equipment. To get a long term, full load and size ASUs, the domestic ones have been in the same
optimal operation of coal chemical plants, project owners level compared with international ASU enterprises, from
should investigate the typical ASUs in operation home and technical indicators, manufacturing standards, power
abroad in advance so as to make reasonable selections. consumption, and operation safety to control technology
or other aspects.
Taking priority selection of domestic suppliers on According to the current manufacturing level of
small to middle size ASUs domestic suppliers and localization requirements by
After years of digestion & absorption, independent authorities, priority should be given to domestic suppliers
technical development, and technology research, Chinese who have mature and stable performance on these ASUs.
domestic ASU suppliers have gotten rapid progress in Blindly preferring imported ASU products should be


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Shutdown times classfication the standardization of ASUs is conducive to flexible

operating and fast supporting by site personnel. It will also
benefit the unification of personnel training and operation
management. From the point of procurement, it is helpful
Plant in cost-reducing and energy-saving. It contributes to
overhaul or
eliminate non-standard product defect caused by personal-
related factor in design and manufacture as far as possible.
At the same time, it is beneficial to the procurement and
management of spare parts. For example, the expensive
16% spare parts like rotors could be stored up in a unified
mode. It will greatly reduce capital investment and
enhance the efficiency of inventory.

Selecting the operation mode of ASUs prudentially

Fig.2 Influence of ASUs on coal gasification plants operation (based Project owners usually took direct procurement and
on shutdown times from Jan. to Oct. 2014). self-operation when selecting ASUs. In recent years,
due to the improvement of plants capacity and suppliers
avoided. integration service level of ASU, BOT mode (to joint
venture build-entrusted operate in contract period) and
Carrying forward the localization of large scale ASUs EPC-O&M mode (supplier to construct and operate,
positively and reliably owner to purchase the product) are becoming a viable
option. These alternative modes implemented help project
Adhering to the policy by authorities, large scale
owners reduce the investment and construction period as
ASUs should be localized positively and reliably. Due
well as spread the risk, yet may be potentially harmful to
to the important influence of ASUs to coal chemical
the long-term operation as the main material is subject to
projects, the localization of large ASUs should be done
ASU operators. Therefore, project owners should select
carefully step by step. In this process, the end-users of
the operation mode of ASUs prudentially according to
coal chemical projects should strengthen cooperation
their own strength and the needs of actual conditions.
with domestic ASU suppliers, making joint development
of new products, giving favorite conditions in resources
allocation or price. Practical plans should be set up clearly References
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