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