IRPC ’15: Low-sulfur rules for marine fuels to boost heavy oil conversion demand

By Ben DuBose
Online Editor

ABU DHABI -- An executive with Italian refiner Eni believes impending rules for less sulfur in marine fuels could be a major boost for downstream companies with prominent heavy oil conversion technologies.

“By 2020, the sulfur content in marine fuels will be 0.5% instead of 3.5%,” said Giacamo Rispoli, executive vice president of research, development and projects at Eni. Rispoli delivered the keynote address Wednesday at the sixth-annual International Refining and Petrochemical Conference (IRPC).

“We already have 0.1% in place,” he noted. “I anticipate that our technology is already available to comply with the new specs and new regulations.”

The areas where SOx and particulate matter emissions will be greatly limited include the Baltic Sea, North Sea ( including the English Channel), North America and the US Caribbean Sea.

“This is a very important thing, and it will be a revolution in our refining system,” said Rispoli. “The easiest way for the ship industry to comply will be to switch from heavy oil into something lighter that will be provided by the oil industry.”

For Eni, that "something lighter" involves the Eni slurry technology (EST) project at its Sannazzaro de’ Burgondi refinery. The 23,000 bpd EST unit, which started full operations in 2013, is a new process designed to allow the deepest hydroconversion of the bottom of the barrel.

In the aftermath of that successful launch, Eni is starting to license that technology. Moreover, further improvements in the technology are in the pipeline, Rispoli said, based on findings from the initial 18 months of EST operations.

“We really are seeing a lot of interest in this technology, because most refineries have to do something to upgrade the bottom of the barrel,” Rispoli said.

Besides the environmental benefits, the EST unit also offers more flexibility and potential integration with the petrochemical industry, he explained.

“The liquid products slate can be optimized according to the refinery specifications or other needs,” Rispoli said. “The integration of EST with petrochemical facilities can offer optimization opportunities that may enhance the economics at both sites. There’s potential for a new generation of petrochemical feedstocks.”

Further details on the technology behind EST are available here. All in all, capacity at the Sannazzaro refinery has been increased from 10 MMtpy to 11 MMtpy – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for its benefits, according to the Eni executive.

“It is the most important refinery we have in our system,” he proclaimed.

IRPC 2015 concludes Wednesday at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi.

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