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Operating an FCCU at multiple constraints

Integration of an FCCU operational model within a rigorous refinery-wide flow

sheet enables refineries to increase profitability without capital investment

Greg Tragitt and Gloria Chukman KBC Advanced Technologies

he use of refinery process modelling has influence unit capacity. Use of a process model
been demonstrated in the past. However, can predict the effect of reactor and regenerator
the benefits increase when the unit model operational changes on unit yields, and a separa-
is integrated within a detailed flowsheet package tion system model can predict the effects on
or a rigorous refinery-wide model. Use of soft- individual equipment. An engineer can deter-
ware allows refineries to enhance profitability, mine or challenge FCC equipment constraints
typically without any capital investment. These using a model. A simulation can then be used to
benefits have been achieved at several refineries examine operational changes within the fraction-
in conjunction with fluid catalytic cracking unit ator and gas plant, which can often alleviate
(FCCU) operations. these constraints.
To maximise FCCU capacity and achieve
economically optimum operation, it is desirable Modelling capabilities
to operate at multiple unit constraints. There are The heart of FCCU modelling is simulation of
often multiple unit constraints based on equip- the reactor unit. FCCU models have been availa-
ment capacities and operating limits. In general, ble as stand-alone models for many years, and
FCCU profitability is greater when more can also be integrated within a flow sheeting
constraints are met. If there is operating flexibil- package or within third-party software to extend
ity, operating variables can be manipulated with their usefulness.
the model until those variables become KBC tunes its proprietary model using recon-
constrained. Sometimes manipulation of a varia- ciled plant data to allow the model to match a
ble may remove another constraint or may cause specific FCCU. After the model is tuned, it can
another variable to become constrained. then be utilised to predict operating conditions,
Model utilisation may require optimisation of heat balance and product yields from informa-
multiple operating variables to find an optimum tion about the feed, the unit dimensions, and the
combination of operational variables. In addi- operating conditions. The model also determines
tion, detailed analysis with a model can disprove calculated parameters such as catalyst-to-oil
system constraints that are no longer valid. ratio and conversion.
FCCU yields, capacity and product properties The effluent from this detailed FCCU predic-
can be greatly influenced by feedstock quality tion model is then fed to a simulation model that
changes and operating condition changes. includes the main fractionator and gas plant in
Quantification of these changes is a very difficult various levels of detail, depending upon the use
task because the FCCU simultaneously maintains of the simulation. For simple screening studies
a heat and pressure balance. As one variable is or refinery-wide models, the separation section
manipulated, several conditions can change to can be modelled with simple yield separation
allow the unit to achieve a new balance. models. For more detailed optimisation of opera-
Furthermore, changes to any major refinery tion, separation facilities can be modelled with
conversion unit can be costly if not done tray-to-tray fractionation columns and rigorous
properly. models of compressors, pumps, heat exchangers,
FCCU operating conditions can greatly etc. PTQ Q4 2002 1

Recycle 1

Water Recycle 3
Stripper overhead
Waste water R
C.W. 1
HP gas M 1 out Primary abs.
Inert feed
M1 E1 Stripper
Coke Stripper feed Reb. 1
V 100
FCC feed Elect 2 Stripper

Secondary absorber
Water 1

Slurry oil
Off gas bottoms
frac. Absorber
HP nap bypass Primary Cond. 1
Inj. steam

rich oil
Strip absorber Water 2
steam Primary abs.
23GP TEE 100 lean oil
11A Debut- Reb. 2
Eject 1 C.W. anizer
Heavy naphtha Cool heavy nap. Gasoline

cond duty
Lean 1

C.W. Lean oil to

P 100 sec. absorber Fuel
Reb. duty
Rich 1

HP lean Lean oil gas

reb duty
cooler Heavy

Eject 3 Off gas Gasoline
Recycle 2 absorber
Secondary absorber rich oil

Figure 1 Flow diagram of FCCU and associated separation equipment

With the detailed simulation model, individual Model creation and tuning
equipment items can be modelled to include The first step in creating the model is to gather
such details as tray dimensions and compressor data for tuning or calibration. Operating data is
curves. The use of these models in different gathered and reconciled with material and heat
levels of detail can demonstrate the effects of balances before the process models can be tuned.
debottlenecking affected equipment and can also A single data set can be utilised to tune the
quantify benefits of proposed changes to increase model, but multiple data sets improve the cali-
capacity. bration of FCCU process models. A very good
While online systems and reactor-only heat and material balance is required to properly
systems are useful to direct the unit engineer tune a model. With KBC’s model, reactor and
towards optimum operation, the integration of regenerator dimensions are used as an integral
these changes to downstream units are often part of tuning the process model and are inde-
not taken into account in more than a very pendent of the unit’s manufacturer.
simplistic manner. A flow diagram of the FCCU These dimensions are utilised in calculation
and associated separation equipment is shown and evaluation of such calculated parameters as
in Figure 1. riser residence time, cyclone velocities and
Most refinery-wide studies are performed with regenerator superficial velocities. These calcu-
a linear program (LP) that does not have the lated parameters are useful benchmarks for
capability to provide detailed step-out capability evaluation of equipment capacities and are often
of the reactor or sufficient detail on the down- some of the key process indicators (KPI) of the
stream separation facilities. A rigorous unit. These parameters are also influenced by
refinery-wide flowsheet is a very valuable tool in operating conditions. Once the process model is
assessing overall refinery profitability as these tuned it can be used to predict unit operation at
variables are manipulated. This flowsheet main- different conditions or with different feed quality
tains stream properties that allow products to be and feed rates.
blended to actual specifications. The flowsheet Likewise, the downstream facilities must also
provides overall refinery economics based on be modelled and tuned to match actual units.
product qualities as well as product quantity. Fractionation can be modelled at different levels

2 PTQ Q4 2002

of detail with technology such as the proprietary Catalyst-to-oil ratio is the mass ratio of circu-
Distop model that includes multiple tuning lating catalyst to the FCCU’s fresh charge. Cat:oil
parameters to determine each section’s efficiency ratios greatly affect unit severity and other unit
and the tail effects of each column draw. Distop variables. Maximum catalyst circulation is deter-
can match fractionation qualities quite well but mined by standpipe dimensions, slide valves,
does not provide detailed column loadings and reactor and regenerator operating pressures.
pressure balances. Pressure manipulations within the FCCU have
Tray-by-tray models include fewer tuning the greatest impact on maximising catalyst
parameters and also allow for detailed capacity circulation.
calculations such as flooding. Detailed fractiona- An increase in catalyst circulation can mitigate
tion hydraulics are very important. Main an operating severity loss as charge rate is
fractionator hydraulics not only affects fractiona- increased. An increase in catalyst circulation at a
tor operation, but fractionator hydraulics greatly constant cat:oil ratio would allow an increase in
influences operation of the reactor, regenerator, charge rate. Charge rate can often be increased
wet gas compressor and air blower. Similarly, with a reduction in cat:oil ratio and refinery
pump and compressor curve information can be profit can be increased even though unit conver-
used to determine the true constraints within the sion has decreased. A refinery flowsheet can
system. assess the value of severity versus FCC charge
rate. An increase in catalyst activity can also be
Calculated parameters utilised to maintain conversion if cat:oil
Process models are useful in evaluation of oper- decreases with an increase in charge rate. The
ating changes. For each operational change, FCCU model can also be used to evaluate the
there is a probable impact on many different effect of catalyst activity.
pieces of equipment. The process models are
valuable in assessing the magnitude of all the Key operating conditions
changes when a multiple operational change is Most models are designed to use the same
made. The model can generate key parameters, manipulated variables that are available on the
which are not measured variables but which unit itself. These variables would include direct
require calculation. These key parameters can be input variables such as air rate or commonly
tracked to indicate how the unit is performing. controlled variables such as:
Some of these parameters involve regenerator • Feed preheat
superficial velocity and catalyst-to-oil ratio (cat: • Riser temperature
oil). • Injection steam
Regenerator superficial velocity is a calculated • Product separation
parameter that can determine whether catalyst • Charge rate
can be separated effectively from the fluegas. • Fractionator
Regenerator superficial velocity can obviously be • Stripper de-ethaniser
reduced by a reduction in air rate, but it can also • Absorber
be reduced by an increase in regenerator pres- • Debutaniser.
sure or a decrease in regenerator temperature. These changes interact with each other and
An increase in regenerator pressure can only with the downstream separation.
be accomplished if the mechanical design allows A reduction in fresh feed preheat can reduce
an increase in pressure. Pressure increases also regenerator temperature, which can reduce dry
require adequate flexibility in air blower opera- gas yield. A reduction in dry gas may remove an
tion. Furthermore, an increase in regenerator operational constraint. A preheat reduction also
pressure also allows an increase in reactor pres- increases catalyst circulation and will require
sure, which may provide additional capacity in additional carbon to be combusted in the regen-
the wet gas compressor. This increase in pres- erator if the regenerator is operated in complete
sure may also allow an increase in catalyst combustion.
circulation. A process model can be utilised to The process model can predict operation in
optimise the variables that influence superficial various levels of partial combustion. An increase
velocity. in CO concentration in the fluegas will allow PTQ Q4 2002 3

more carbon to be combusted at constant air yield. It will also influence main fractionator
rates. The process model can determine the operation and fractionator overhead condensers.
difference in carbon burn and the subsequent Many units operate at a carbon burn limit.
effects in the reactor. The yields from the reactor Optimisation of riser steam may reduce coke
also are predicted as the reactor conditions vary. yield and allow an increase in charge rate.
Riser temperature greatly influences severity The FCCU process effluent can be fed to a
and product quality. An increase in riser temper- detailed fractionator and gas plant model. The
ature will increase conversion, gasoline octane changes in reactor and regenerator conditions
and product specific gravities (if fractionation is will impact on the operation of the fractionator
not changed). A riser temperature increase may and gas plant. The model of the fractionator and
also cause unit operation constraints due to an gas plant can be made as detailed as needed.
increase in coke and wet gas yield. A reduction Detailed tray dimensions can be used in any or
in riser temperature may alleviate process all towers. Compressor and blower curves can be
constraints and allow additional charge to be utilised as well. The level of detail is determined
processed in the FCC. by which constraints are encountered.
Depending on product pricing, yield changes Fractionation quality has an impact on profita-
and product quality, this capacity increase may bility as well as on unit capacity. A reduction in
be quite profitable. Detailed models of the frac- product fractionation may allow an increase in
tionation towers will allow an assessment of charge rate.
overall unit capacity as these changes are made. Fractionation can be evaluated as operating
A process model in conjunction with a refinery changes are made in either the reactor/regenera-
flowsheet can assess the economic impact associ- tor or in the fractionator itself. If overhead
ated with riser temperature changes. This condensers are at a capacity constraint, it may
flowsheet will utilise product quality changes as be possible to increase pumparound rates and
well as product rate changes to determine the duties in the fractionator to remove the
overall refinery economics. condenser constraint. This change in removing
heat lower in the fractionator will change the
Case study fractionation between products.
A case involving a refiner that blended a very The model can evaluate the change in fraction-
large percentage of FCCU gasoline into regular ation and provide an estimate for the
gasoline was having difficulty meeting potential corresponding economic impact. The model can
gum specifications for finished gasoline. A reduc- also determine if the change in fractionation
tion in riser temperature reduced the potential causes an impact on any other equipment in the
gums. gas plant. Many fractionators operate at a maxi-
This reduction in riser temperature allowed a mum temperature limit in the bottom pool in the
reduction in coke yield, which was also a limit. tower. This temperature can be influenced by
By alleviating the coke burning constraint, the fractionation, sub-cooling or reactor severity. An
refiner was able to process additional feed. increase in reactor severity may alleviate a
The reduction in riser temperature also temperature constraint in the bottom of the
reduced FCCU gasoline octane, but the refiner fractionator.
required less of a lower octane blend stream to Introducing a sub-cooled liquid stream directly
meet the final gum specifications. This allowed into the pool of liquid in the bottom of the frac-
the overall gasoline blend to meet octane specifi- tionator can also alleviate this constraint. An
cations although the FCCU gasoline octane was FCCU process model in conjunction with a
reduced. The refinery flowsheet, which included detailed fractionator model can assess the impact
an FCCU model, demonstrated and quantified of any of these changes. A detailed fractionator
the increase in refinery profit achieved by a riser model by itself cannot determine the impact of
temperature reduction. changing the severity in the FCCU reactor.
Steam to the riser influences riser residence The stripper (de-ethaniser) operation is very
time, catalyst and oil mixing, partial pressure of important in ensuring that the absorbers are
reactants and other variables. It may influence operated properly. Improper stripper operation
regenerator temperature, dry gas yield and coke allows significant amount of LPG to recycle to

4 PTQ Q4 2002

the absorbers from the overhead of
the stripper. Control of stripper feed 110
temperature is essential to ensure 106.8 Mole fraction C5 in overhead
that the internal reflux is adequate to at concentrations of:
0.001, 0.002 and 0.003
properly strip the debutaniser feed 100 98.5
leaving the bottom of the tower. 98.3 0.001
94.7 93.6

Flood factor
As stripper overhead temperature is 91.1
0.002 89.5
reduced to control LPG recycle to the 90
absorbers, it is important to ensure 88.0 83.4 85.9
that adequate reboiler duty is used. 0.003
84.0 80.2
Stripper feed temperature is an 80
important variable to achieve this 77.8
goal. The process model can evaluate 70
various stripper feeds and overhead 0 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06
temperatures, as well as the impact of Mole fraction C4 in bottoms
the stripper operation on the
absorbers. Figure 2 Conditions resulting in debutaniser flooding
Absorber pressure significantly
influences LPG recovery, absorber capacity and reflux. The model can optimise the amount of
wet gas compression capacity. Wet gas compres- lean oil by comparing debutaniser fractionation
sion operation also influences air blower with LPG recovery.
operation and capacity. The combination of a Debutaniser capacity may also be influenced
process model with a detailed gas plant model by operating targets. Relaxing the gasoline Rvp
allows better evaluation of the many different target or relaxing the C5+ target in the overhead
pieces of equipment as they are operated LPG will increase debutaniser capacity. If
together. It may be more profitable to reduce reboiler duty is constrained and condenser
absorber pressure, which would reduce LPG capacity is available, an increase in feed temper-
recovery. ature or a decrease in pressure may increase
The economic penalty incurred from a reduc- debutaniser capacity. The opposite moves could
tion in LPG recovery may be overcome by be considered if the overhead condensers were
increasing charge rate to accommodate wet gas operated at a limit and reboiler capacity was
compression or air blower limits that were alle- available. All of these changes and effects can be
viated by the pressure reduction. These effects determined by simulation.
can all be determined by a process simulator. Figure 2 was generated for a refinery using a
The economic impact can be determined by a detailed simulation of a debutaniser. The results
refinery-wide flowsheet. were confirmed by plant test runs and revealed
Light catalytic cycle oil is often used as lean oil that the debutaniser actually flooded at condi-
in a secondary absorber. The amount of lean oil tions corresponding to a 98% flood factor. The
that should be circulated depends on pump refinery used this information to relax the opera-
capacity, absorber rates, absorber design and tional targets for the debutaniser. The
fractionator limits. The detailed model can be debutaniser was not constrained after the targets
used to vary the lean oil rate to determine an were changed. The refinery was then able to
economic optimum. increase charge to the FCC, which utilised the
Debutanised gasoline is often used to supple- debutaniser capacity gained by relaxing the
ment main fractionator overhead liquid that is specs.
utilised as lean oil to a primary absorber. This Simulation models were used to manipulate
debutanised gasoline also improves LPG recov- many of the variables in the previous discussion
ery. It also affects the operation of the FCCU for an operating FCCU. By increasing regenera-
debutaniser. It requires additional reboiler duty tor pressure, fluegas CO concentration and feed
and even greater overhead condenser duty. The preheat temperature, a 10% increase in FCC
debutanised gasoline used as absorber lean oil charge rate was achieved without capital expend-
may require a reduction in debutaniser overhead iture. Regenerator superficial velocity was held PTQ Q4 2002 5

constant with an increase in air rate by increas- be integrated into a refinery-wide flowsheet to
ing the regenerator pressure. Coke burn was determine the economic impact to the refinery.
increased by increasing both the air rate and the Without an accurate understanding of refinery-
concentration of CO in the flue gas. wide economics, a refiner may make operational
The base case feed contained hydrotreated changes that would allow an increase in FCCU
vacuum residue. Incremental feed in the opti- charge rate that would reduce profits. A refinery-
mised case was heavy vacuum gasoil, while the wide flowsheet needs to model all intermediate
amount of feed from vacuum residue was main- product rates and qualities and blend the inter-
tained. The improvement in feed quality allowed mediates optimally into finished products that
an increase in conversion although the cat:oil meet specification. Final product pricing must be
ratio decreased. The refinery utilised the data considered to accurately determine the refinery
from the simulations and achieved an actual 10% economics.
increase in charge rate.

Refinery-wide simulation Greg Tragitt is a senior consultant with KBC Advanced

To properly determine the maximum economical Technologies at Houston, Texas, USA, and has broad refinery
capacity of an FCCU, a simulation must have the experience, specialising in FCCUs. He graduated from Vanderbilt
capability of accurately predicting yield and University with a BE in chemical engineering and has served
in numerous leadership roles within the American Institute of
operating conditions for changes in operating
Chemical Engineers.
variables. This prediction is very important, but
Gloria Chukman is product manager at KBC Advanced Technologies
by itself is not adequate to provide a refiner with and during the past 20 years has been involved in many aspects
an adequate amount of information to assess the of process simulation, including product management, technical
maximum capacity of an FCCU. Detailed simula- support, applications management, sales and
tion of the fractionation equipment, air blower development. She has a bachelors degree in chemical engineering
and the wet gas compressor are also required. from Purdue University.
Combination of an FCCU process model with
detailed equipment simulations will allow many Links
variables to be manipulated to ensure that
constraints are met but not exceeded. This More articles from: KBC Advanced Technologies
manipulation will allow an engineer more oppor- More articles from the following category:
tunity to find means to increase unit capacity, Fluid Catalytic Cracking
utilising existing equipment. These models must

6 PTQ Q4 2002