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Computational modelling improves refinery performance

News story

Using advanced computer modelling technology, Curtin University of Technology researchers have assisted in understanding flow distribution issues at BP’s oil refinery in Kwinana.

A team led by Curtin’s Centre of Process Systems Computations (CPSC) Co-Director, Associate Professor Vishnu Pareek, with BP Global FCC Advisor Michael Glenny and the University of Newcastle’s Professor Geoffrey Evans, used advanced computer modelling to improve the refinery’s performance without interrupting production.

Funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage grant, the team developed a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model showing how different designs and operating conditions could affect the refinery’s operations.

“Working with BP, the CPSC showcased how Curtin could work with industry and other universities to provide a significant outcome,” Associate Professor Pareek said.

“Our primary goal was to develop a CFD model based on the complex interactions between gases and solids within the refinery’s FCC catalyst strippers.”

The strippers use steam to separate hydrocarbons from the catalyst which was used to begin the reaction that breaks up heavy crude oil into smaller molecules parts, such as petrol, within the refinery.

When completed, the model was used to evaluate various internal structures in order to achieve the optimal mix of steam, catalyst and hydrocarbons inside the stripper.

Associate Professor Pareek said it was the first time such a model has been developed for this kind of catalyst stripper.

“Previously, it has taken weeks of computer time to simulate only a few seconds of real-time in the catalyst stripper,” he said.

“This project used innovative techniques to achieve realistic flow predictions with the least amount of computational effort required.”

Mr Glenny said the revamp, conducted at BP’s Kwinana refinery in December 2008, has realised many benefits including saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in steam usage.

“This modelling improved our confidence in the proposed hardware modifications for the refinery and decreased the time taken to implement them,” he said.

The success of the research has resulted in a new project to further develop innovative ways to understand and improve the performance of refinery catalyst strippers.

BP has committed to supporting another ARC Linkage Grant with Curtin in the next round of applications.

The research team also included Curtin’s Ganesh Veluswamy, Dr Ranjeet Utikar, Professor Moses Tade and Dr Qin Li.