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