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Reprinted from:


magazine, May 2000 issue, p. 85-89. Used witli permission.

Use an integrated two-tower

process to separate transmix
Increasing complexities and
variations of fuels challenge
distilling pipeline byproducts into
gasoline and diesel-fuel products

Transmix feed

J . D. Jones, M. A. Hook and J . 0. Binder,

John D. Jones Engineering, Inc., Phoenix, Arizona

ipeline shipping of petroleum products is a major

transportation method. Because pipeline networks are complex and distribute many varying
products, an interface byproducttransmixis generated. I t is a varying composite of jet fuel, fuel oils,
kerosine, gasoline, diesel and other products. This
pipeline byproduct/waste is collected at tank farm terminals and stored.
Transmix is a multi-product mixture. Traditionally,
terminal operators have used single-tower distillation
to upgrade this conglomeration of fuels and other compounds into value-added fractionsgasoline and diesel
fuelsbut experience difficulties i n processing quality fuels for resale.

Complex byproduct. Transmix does not behave as

a mixture of straight-run petroleum components; it is
a mixture of finished products that contain additives
that will not distill with the product. However, a twotower distillation process may overcome previous separation barriers and distill quality gasoline and two
diesel componentslow-sulfur and high-sulfur diesel.
This case history discusses the design and construction of the first two-tower unit located at the El Mirage,
Arizona terminal.
Upgrading transmix. Transmix is the mixture that
forms at the interface between different products
shipped i n the same pipeline. The pipeline shippers
market transmix to transmix processors, who separate it into saleable products through distillation. Most
transmix distillation facilities use a single-distillation unit to separate transmix into diesel fuel and a
subgrade gasoline. These units are often small, converted topping plants or field treaters. Independent
bulk-plant operators have installed similar units to
augment product supply. However, these simple units
sometimes yield products with dubious product quality. I t is not always possible to make good gasoline


Feed pump
Feed-overhead exchanger
Feed-bottoms exchanger
Distillation tower
Gasoline trim condenser
Reflux accumulator
Gasoline product pump
Gasoline product cooler
Diesel product pump
Diesel product cooler

Fig. 1. Traditional transmix distillation unit flow diagram.

and good diesel fuel from transmix using a single-distillation unit.

Current trends toward reformulated fuels are making transmix processing increasingly more important.
Pipelines traverse multiple states and serve multiple
markets with more specific fuel requirements. As more
types and grades of fuel are shipped by pipeline, there
is potential to generate high transmix quantities. As
fuel specifications become tighter, there is less opportunity to blendoff the transmix as it is formed.
As transmix processing becomes more critical,
major pipeline operators are installing transmix distillation units at pipeline terminals. More processing
flexiblity w i l l be needed to maximize the quality of
products. The era of home-built units and converted
topping plants for transmix processing is ending. The
newest distillation facilities will be thoroughly engineered and designed.
Nature of transmix. Transmix is not just a mixture of
gasoline and diesel fuel. I t may also contain jet fuel,
kerosine, fuel oils and other products that are shipped
in a common pipeline. At many terminals, the transmix tank also serves as the slop-oil tank. Thus, i t can
contain recovered oils, water and off-spec products
returned to the terminal.

H Y D R O C A R B O N P R O C E S S I N G / MAY 2000

Transmix feed




product (





Gasoline product




1 Feed pump
2 Feed-primary tower
overhead exchanger
3 Feed-low-sulfur diesel
product exchanger
4 Feed-secondary tower
overhead exchanger
5 Feed-high-sulfur diesel
product exchanger
6 Primary distillation tower
7 Gasoline trim condenser
8 Gasoline reflux


Gasoline product pump

Gasoline product cooler
Primary tower reboiler
Primary tower bottoms pump
Secondary distillation tower
Low-sulfur diesel trim condenser
Low-sulfur diesel reflux
Low-sulfur diesel product pump
Low-sulfur diesel product cooler
Secondary tower reboiler
High-sulfur diesel product pump
High-sulfur diesel product cooler

Fig. 2. Integrated two-tower distillation flow diagram.

Transmix does not behave hke a mixture of straightrun petroleum components; i t is a mixture of finished
products that have been subjected to various downstream processes. These finished products may also
contain additives that will not distill with the product.
The volume of transmix generated per shipment
is relatively small. Although the total volume is significant, transmix is accumulated slowly at individual
terminal facilities. Transmix tanks are often operated w i t h fewer than 12 turnovers per year. As the
transmix sits i n the tank, i t weathers. Some of the
lighter-gasoline components evaporate. The diesel
fuel in the transmix will also darken due to oxidation
and nitrification.
Mixtures of different grades of finished products can
also affect the ability to make best-quality products.
Transmixcontaining mostly reformulated gasoline
with some conventional gasolinewill probably not
produce a reformulated-gasoline product. Also, transmix containing low-sulfur diesel fuel with some highsulfur will most likely not make a low-sulfur dieselfuel product. This can adversely affect the processors'
ability to market these products.

Traditional processing. Most transmix processors

use a single distillation tower to separate transmix.
Fig. 1 is a typical flow diagram of this process. Processing with a single distillation tower limits the operation to producing two products. The traditional units
usually focus on producing diesel fuel.-The tower is
operated such that the bottoms product meets dieselflash temperature specification; the gasoline product
is taken overhead. The quality of the gasoline product
is dependent on the feed and lighter components that
must be driven out of the diesel product to meet flash
The main limitations of diesel products are in meeting sulfur specifications. I n many pipeline systems,
both high- and low-sulfur diesel fuels are shipped. The
sulfur content of the low-sulfur product is only a little
below the specification of 0.05 wt%. Although more lowsulfur fuel is shipped than high-sulfur fuel, the resultant mixture is often high-sulfur content. I t is not
uncommon for transmix facilities to produce diesel fuels
that have a marginally high-sulfur content. These have
sulfur contents of 0.06 to 0.08 wt%.
The gasoline product generally requires further
blending to meet specifications. Weathering of the
transmix can yield gasoline with a too low RVP. However, low RVP is not a problem for facilities that are
equipped to blend butane into the gasoline product.
The presence of jet fuels i n transmix has a more severe
effect. The lower end of the jet fuel will distill into the
gasoline product; this lowers the octane and shifts the
boiling range of the gasoline product. These effects
require using greater amounts of expensive blending
components to meet gasoline-product specifications.
Proposed gasoline standards that will drastically
reduce the sulfur-content specifications may force discontinuation of using single-tower transmix processing. I f jet fuel components or errant diesel components
are present i n the gasoline product, i t will not meet
required specifications.
Two-tower p r o c e s s . A new integrated two-tower
transmix separation process can offer flexibility and
facilitate transmix separation even with ever changing product specifications. This capability will allow
pipeline shippers to continue shipping a variety of products i n the same line. Pipeline shippers will be better
able to meet demand for products of various specifications, because they will have an outlet for complicated
interface mixtures.
The primary objective of the two-tower process is
to deal w i t h borderline high-sulfur diesel fuel. The
limitations, on the sale of high-sulfur fuel, greatly hinder the marketability of transmix products. I n the
two-tower process, the first tower separates gasoline
from the diesel fuel. I n the second tower, the diesel is
separated into light and heavy fractions, as shown i n
Fig. 2. The tower is operated to produce an overhead
product that meets low-sulfur diesel specifications.
The bottoms product contains the resulting heavy
ends. Usually, both of these products will technically
meet the specifications for No. 2 diesel fuel. They can
also be blended with "straight-run" products to round
out the boiling range.
The two-tower process also has other operating

H Y D R O C A R B O N P R O C E S S I N G / MAY 2000

possibilities. The first tower can be operated to optimize the quality of the gasoline product. Lower gasoline endpoints can be achieved, and jet-fuel components can be eliminated. The bottoms product from
the first tower w i l l contain diesel fuel and components that were eliminated from the gasoline. The
bottoms will have too low of a flash temperature for
diesel fuel. I n the second tower, the diesel fuel w i l l
be stabilized by removing lighter compounds. The
overhead product will be an off-specification gasoline
or kerosine product. The bottoms product will be lowsulfur or high-sulfur diesel fuel depending on the
transmix feed. A minimum amount of kerosine product w i l l be produced.
Another outgrowth of the process is to make custom
products from transmix. The second tower can be used
to make very high-flash diesel fuels. High-sulfur diesel
fuel can also be produced from low-sulfur transmix.
Custom solvents can also be produced for asphalt emulsions applications. The process can also be used to separate transmix that contains products other than just
gasoline and diesel fuel.
With the increased process flexibility, a change i n
philosophy occurs. By separating transmix into various fractions and blending them into the highest quality finished products, transmix processors will be able
to optimize the product slate from a transmix supply.
Design procedure. The first integrated two-tower
transmix plant was built i n El Mirage, Arizona. The
unit design had to allow for maximum flexibility and
to process a wide range of possible transmix feedstocks. The unit was constructed at an existing transmix-processing plant. I t had a single-tower unit that
was becoming uneconomical to operate. This facility
did have an advantageit was a source of design data
for transmix.
Transmix usually is about 40% gasoline and 60%
diesel fuel. This split is reflective of the way transmix
is separated from products at the pipeline terminals
and of the tolerances of these products for impurities. A
small amount of diesel i n gasoline is better tolerated
than gasoline i n diesel fuel, which will ruin the flash.
Transmix does not have set specifications; i t can be
nearly all gasoline or all diesel fuel.
An obvious approach when designing a transmix
plant would be to obtain transmix samples from a variety of pipeline sources at varying times. This approach
would yield a large number of samples w i t h similar
characteristics. To design this facility, some transmix
samples were used, but samples were also obtained of
unmixed pipeline products. These could then be used in
the laboratory to form transmix samples that spanned
the anticipated range of characteristics.
The transmix samples were distilled and analyzed to
generate design data. The laboratory samples were also
distilled in a bench-top machine to prove the feasibility
of producing a low-sulfur diesel product i n the overhead stream from a borderline high-sulfur diesel fuel.
Design parameters were tested in a process simulator using laboratory transmix data and simulated mixtures based on unmixed product data. The latter
allowed a wider range of mixtures to be simulated with
fewer input data requirements. Because of the wide

Fig. 3. Transmix distillation unit at El Mirage, Arizona.

range of feed specifications, the objective was not to

design a prime case. Instead, the limiting values of
parameters were sought for extreme cases. This melded
well with the owner's desire to purchase used equipment components. The resulting design might not be
optimal for the prime case, but it would be flexible and
work for a whole range of feedstocks. For the design
throughput of 1,800 bpd, i t was established that a 30in. diameter for the first tower would probably work,
but a 36-in. diameter tower would be less sensitive to
flooding. I t was also apparent that a 42-in. diameter
tower would be too large.
For the second tower, the overhead product would
predominate. The endpoint had to meet the minimum
No. 2 diesel specification. Even though the throughput of the second tower would normally be 60% of
that of the first, the overhead volumes were comparable or larger. A 30-in. diameter tower was too sensitive to flooding; a 36-in. diameter tower was optimal. I t was also established that the second tower
was sensitive to feed preheat. The bottoms from the
first tower had to be sent directly to the second tower
feed without additional heat. The minimum number
of trays for each tower, as simulated, was 17. The
actual number of trays was left as a shopping parameter for the used components.
A thermal fluid heater system was chosen to provide
reboiler heat to both towers. The indirectly heated reboilers would reduce overheating and thermal cracking of
diesel components. The system would also allow the unit to
operate with one heater, thus, it would be more efficient.

H Y D R O C A R B O N P R O C E S S I N G / MAY 2000

The feed preheat-exchanger train was integrated; i t

used heat from all products going to storage and u t i lized the condenser duties for preheat. Bypass loops
were provided around key exchangers to control preheat and to isolate single-tower operation.
The unit was constructed with used towers, receivers
and heat exchangers; all equipment was completely
tested and refurbished. A l l new rotating equipment
and controls were installed with a PLC-based controller
and graphical interface.
Many transmix distillation units are skid mounted;
this is due to their heritage from topping plants and
oilfield units. Since there were no plans to move this
unit, i t was constructed as a stationary unit. This
enabled installing equipment as best for operability
and maintenance.
The new unit offered more process flexibility over
traditional single-distillation units. I t used an integrated, efficient design and was constructed for operability and maintainability.

challenges, but it will also bring new marketing opportunities. Newer, more complex processes will allow processors to produce more saleable products.

John D. Jones ( is

the manager
and owner of-John
D. Jones
Inc. He ties been active in tlie
refining and petrocliemical
for 35
years. Mr Jones holds a BS degree in chemical engineering from Arizona State University,
and is a registered chemical engineer in Arizona and Texas.

Martin A. Hook is a senior process

engineer with John D. Jones Engineering,
He has been active in petrochemical
design, environmental
services and mineral,
flotation for 11 years. Mr Hook holds a BS
degree in chemical engineering

Future. Pipeline networks will become more complex

to meet a varied array of product specifications that
are being tailored to regions and localities. I t w i l l
become increasingly important for pipelines to ship
multiple products i n a single line. Thus, more transmix will be generated, and i t will be more complex.
As transmix processing becomes more important and
the composition of transmix becomes more complex, separation technology will become more sophisticated. The
increasing complexity of transmix processes will bring

Jay C. Binder is a design engineer with John

D. Jones Engineering,
Inc. He has been active
in the design and operations
of transmix and
asphalt plants for four years. Mr Binder
a BS degree in chemical
The University of Arizona.

Copyriglit 2000 by Gulf Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Printed in USA.



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