Catalysis in the Processing of Crude Oil

The refining of crude oil into petroleum products such as gasoline (trillions of barrels) and other chemicals (billions of pounds) is a major business that relies heavily on catalysis. The petroleum refining catalyst business is in excess of $650 million in the U.S. and over $ 1 billion worldwide.@ Over 90% of our chemical products are derived from petroleum. Once the crude oil is distilled, the products must be further treated with catalysts to produce valuable products. A major operation within refineries is catalytic cracking. Cracking is the production of smaller molecules, often for use in gasoline production, from the larger molecules distilled from crude oil. Over 380 million pounds of catalyst* are used for this operation every year. Other major steps in the refining of petroleum include hydrotreating (a major catalytic process used to remove unwanted sulfur and amine containing products within petroleum), reforming (the use of platinum based catalysts for rearranging petroleum products into gasoline), and alkylation (the use of large amounts of hydrofluoric or sulfuric acids to obtain branched chain molecules with higher octane numbers). Alkylation catalyst production exceeds 200 million pounds, worldwide.@ Beyond the volume and value of the catalysts themselves, there is a hugh value-added component obtained from the consumer products derived from petroleum based by-products.

Catalysts play an important economic role in extracting valuable products from petroleum efficiently. In the years to come, they will be a key part in developing new fuels to meet tougher emission control requirements and increasing our Nation’s energy efficiency.

16 September, 1992, J.N. Armor