Hydrocarbon Processing

Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) conducts research and development in chemical and refining process technologies for oil companies, equipment manufacturers, commodity production groups, and governmental agencies. Institute scientists use state-of-the-art methods and develop new, unique procedures to solve problems. Specialists in process design, kinetics, and thermodynamics are augmented by multidisciplinary capabilities in corrosion, vibration, structures, gas flow measurement, and specialty technical disciplines, such as risk assessment, nondestructive testing, and environmental engineering. Process technology capabilities include a Fuels Processing Center with pilot plants capable of producing drum quantities, custom laboratory-scale pilot plants, and analytical support to provide quantitative and qualitative analyses. Engineering capabilities include:

  • Process selection and design
  • Process simulation
  • Unit operations sizing
  • Troubleshooting unique operations
  • Pilot plant development
  • Flow sheet evaluation
  • Reference/candidate fuel production
  • Crude oil assays
  • Waste stream evaluations
  • Laboratory analyses

SwRI's Fuels Processing Center incorporates many services, safety features, and outside facilities for storage, blending, and bulk liquid handling. The 5,000- and 10,000-gallon tanks are equipped for temperature-controlled blending and storage.

Fuels Processing Center

Clients can avoid costly process upsets when trying new feedstocks or conditions by using the Institute pilot plants to produce special or new fuels. The Institute abides by secrecy and nonanalysis agreements, and results are free of vendor bias. Flexible program organization accommodates highly complex tasks, on various time scales and in coordination with the client. Projects range from one-time problem solving to long-term product development solutions. Pilot-scale production capabilities include:

  • Vacuum distillation
  • Catalytic hydrogenation
  • Wax crystal separation
  • Centrifugal separation
  • Column adsorption
  • Catalytic reforming
  • Hydrocracking
  • Supercritical water processing
  • Hydrogenation
  • Wiped film evaporation
  • Batch distillation
  • Continuous fractionation
  • Custom setups

This block diagram of the Institute's hydrotreating pilot plant emphasizes special features, such as bottoms recycle and hydrogen recycle, that enhance its realism and accuracy. Broken lines depict fully automated data collection and computer control.

Reforming and hydrocracking are readily accomplished in our hydrogenation pilot plant. Its versatile design and varied processing capabilities permit operation at a wide range of flow rates, temperatures, and pressures.

Custom Pilot Plants

SwRI engineers and scientists identify and alter the composition of hydrocarbons using laboratory-, bench-, and pilot-scale processing equipment. Projects include improvement, new process development, and process parameter development. Institute laboratories are equipped to conduct:

  • Oxidations
  • Distillations
  • Hydrogenations
  • Reforming
  • Column separations
  • Physical separations

Recent studies include:

  • Gas-phase sulfur recovery
  • Oxidation of sour water streams
  • Hydrogenation of petroleum products
  • Optimization of ethanol fractionation column
  • Costs of converting coal to methanol
  • Petroleum feedstock distillations
  • Aqueous sulfur dioxide oxidation
  • Simulations of LNG weathering
  • Processing sour water streams
  • Trial oxidations of mill sludge
  • Chlorofluorocarbon destruction

SwRI begins many projects with custom bench-scale testing. This vacuum fractionation apparatus removes solvent from a feedstock with minimal heating of the sample.

SwRI designed and built this bench-scale unit to study the pyrolytic destruction of chlorofluorocarbons. It features independent flow controls for fuel, oxidizer, and gas.

Project sponsors include industry, industrial associations, federal, state, and foreign governments, and our own internal research program. Results remain proprietary for industrial projects, while public agency project results are published in scientific and engineering journals.

Special tests and services available include:

  • Product and feedstock blending
  • Wastewater analysis and cleanup
  • Simulated GC to prep-scale distillations
  • Coal solids and liquids testing
  • Flame chemistry and kinetics
  • Supercritical water waste oxidation
  • Refinery products testing
  • Wax testing
  • Pilot plant design and construction
  • Specialty fuel production

This supercritical processing plant breaks down hazardous wastes into carbon dioxide and simple acids using water oxidation. The continuous flow reactor completely destroys waste in 5 to 60 minutes, depending on the complexity of the waste.

We conduct pilot-scale tests on a wide variety of feedstocks and products. In this application, we used cobalt-molybdenum catalyst material to remove sulfur from dark, light-cycle oil. The processed product is clear and within the intended product specifications.

This column/stripper allows simultaneous distillation and stripping of hydrotreated products and can operate in vacuum and atmospheric conditions.

Wiped film evaporation is a preferred distillation method for hard-to-separate or heat-sensitive mixtures. SwRI built this pilot plant around a Pfaudler evaporator adding all the ancillary equipment to continuously make pharmaceutical ingredients.

Analytical Support

To support process technology research, the Institute has extensive experience in the set up and development of ASTM and special test methods and procedures, as well as the entire array of ASTM and other standard tests.

SwRI laboratories are equipped with a range of instrumentation, including infrared, ultraviolet, and visible light spectrographs and with an elemental analyzer, which tests microgram samples of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, sulfur, and oxygen.

SwRI conducts all types of distillations and separations. This graph depicts the true boiling points of seven fractions of a diesel fuel compared with the parent feedstock.

In addition to many standard ultraviolet spectrophotometric techniques, the Institute offers a unique method that quickly determines the aromatic content of fuels. The SwRI-developed procedure can replace the slower ASTM D 1319 Fluorescent Indicator Absorbance (FIA) and other methods of establishing hydrocarbon types.

Mass spectral analysis capabilities include a quadrupole mass spectrometer coupled to a capillary gas chromatograph inlet system with an integrated all-glass batch inlet for ASTM D2425 and other analyses of hydrocarbon fuels. A controller/workstation provides high-speed data acquisition at scan rates of more than 1,500 AMU/sec. An effective library and search system in the workstation contains 38,791 compounds with support from an 80,000-compound library on a mainframe computer.

The Institute's high-temperature gas chromatograph, with maximum temperatures of 500 degrees C, permits analyses of high-molecular-weight hydrocarbons up to carbon number 120.

Thermogravimetric analysis (TGA) determines the decomposition temperature for lubricants, engine deposits, solid fuels (e.g., coal and coke), intake system deposits, and pure compounds. Institute capabilities allow the analysis of samples between 5 mg to 200 mg at temperatures up to 1,200C. Inset is a close-up, and end-on view of TGA decomposition analysis taking place.

With a staff of experienced refinery and process engineers, Southwest Research Institute understands the challenges facing the hydrocarbon processing industry—to meet product quality and plant environmental regulations while maintaining profitability. We offer a wide range of technical alternatives—from solving specific problems to conducting multi-level process and fuel development programs. Our contracting flexibility and handling of proprietary information allow us to serve as your in-house lab, so you can apply additional expertise to a job, but only when it is needed. Whatever your area of interest—reformulated fuels, process development, reference fuel processing, batch evaluations, environmental compliance, among others—we look forward to meeting your challenges and solving your problems.

This brochure was published in October 1993. For more information about hydrocarbon processing, contact Dr. Jimell Erwin, Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Division, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-2389, Fax (210) 522-5720.

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