August 22, 2012
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№ 10 (October 2009)

Moscow Refinery Takes On European Quality

The Moscow refinery has gotten funding to upgrade its production; the unit will produce Euro-4 quality gasoline as of 2012. The modernization is set to improve environment of Kapotnya and neighborhood, too – the emission rate should fall by approximately 30 percent.

By Alexei Chesnokov

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   In 1938, when the decision to install a cracking refinery in Kapotnya was made, nobody would have thought that the plant would end up within the city limits.

   As soon as this happened, all new processes and technologies had to be evaluated for environmental safety in parallel to standard pilot testing. For example, the Moscow refinery (MNPZ) was first in Russia to launch production of Euro-2 compliant gasoline – back in 1996 other companies were just gearing up to that standard.

   The refinery’s legendary director Demid Ivanyukov had a knack for everything new and cutting-edge: he installed polypropylene production line and was first in the country to implement a new, microspheroidal catalyst-based catcracking technology – unit G-43-107 (subsequently the unit was installed at seven other Soviet refineries).

   At the time, Ivanyukov put his faith in young and promising scientist Salambek Khadzhiev (who later became a USSR minister and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences); at the time, the expert was offering to install sulfuric acid alkylation unit in parallel to cracking unit G-43-107.

   This would enable the MNPZ to produce significant volumes of high-octane gasoline by early 1980, making the today’s switchover to Euro-4 and Euro-5 standards a much cheaper affair. However, even at that time, when the growing city was yet to engulf the Kapotnya, city authorities were very careful about the projects, worrying about their environmental side. Since then, all new processes are evaluated for environmental safety in parallel to standard pilot testing.
As a result, only G-43-107 unit was installed, which is now the backbone of the MNPZ production. Importantly, traditions to open up to everything new and progressive remain with the refinery, being the “driving force” of all engineering personnel of the plant.

   The refinery is administered on 50-50 basis by Gazprom neft and MNGK company. The shareholders decided to allocate the money required for the complete upgrading of the refinery; by late August 2009 this resulted in approving the upgrading plan on six investment projects worth dozens billions of rubles.

   The projects target reaching Euro-4 and Euro-5 fuel quality and upgrading environmental status of the refinery. The modernization will include installing a system of mechanical pollution control facilities, closing down the aged bitumen production unit, modernization of elemental sulfur separation complex – this is the environmental part of the program.

   Projects on oil fractions refining include isomerization unit, gasoline hydrofining unit, diesel fuel hydrofining unit. The upgrading will also involve the general infrastructure, power sub-stations, the central control room, and storage tanks.

Russia-based VNIPIneft has been selected as the chief designer, the licensors – a U.S. company UOP, a France-based Axens and some other leading providers of engineering services. Production upgrading to Euro-4 standard is set to finish in 2012, to Euro-5 levels – in 2014, as specified in the Technical Regulations for Motor Fuels, approved by the RF Government on 30 December 2008.

Aleksandr Meling, general director of Moscow refinery has answered Oil&Gas Eurasia’s questions. His entire career belongs to refining industry. In January 1971, he got employed at Omsk refinery as a third-level equipment mechanic for production pumps, leaving the plant in 1999 as general director.

Oil&Gas Eurasia: What is the current refining depth at the refinery?
Alexandr Meling: Evaluating a refinery by its refining depth is rather a coarse manner of comparing refining quality of different plants. Still, best Russian refineries, such as Omsk and Ufa refineries, have over 85 percent refining depth, while Moscow refinery reaches 72 percent.

OGE: Would you be able to use domestic technologies in the course of upgrading?
Meling: For upgrading we can use only industry-used technologies, which immediately leaves out thoroughly tested on pivotal and demonstration units cutting-edge technologies of domestic origin, because they have no industrial usage to show.

OGE: What domestic developments could you single out?
Meling: Highlights of today’s domestic market include paraffin isomerization catalysts n – C5-C6, well-tested by the industry and competitive to similar foreign agents (Neftekhim Institute), reforming catalysts (Boreskov’s catalyst institute), gasoline and jet fuel hydrofining catalysts (VNIINP). Ishimbaisky catalyst plant has recently launched microspheroidal cat-cracking catalyst production unit, acquired from Japanese company CCIC, which will produce pilot batch of catalysts for Ufa refinery. Nizhnekamsk refinery for over three years runs a catalyst cracking unit, which is installed based on an old isopentane dehydration unit and uses the technology developed by domestic organizations VNIINP and VNIPIneft. Ufa-based GUP Neftekhimpererabotka RB has good and competitive technologies on thermal treatment of heavy oil fractions and residue. Also important are tested in labs and pivotal beds processes of isobutane alkylation using olefins on solid catalyst, which is environmentally friendly technology, as well as catalytic conversion of tower bottoms (Topchiev INHS RAN institute). Moscow refinery itself for the past few years has been engaged in lab tests of new catalysts jointly with Russian institutes (Gubkin State University of Oil and Gas, Lomonosov’s Moscow State University, Zelinsky IOH RAN institute), as well as with Western companies (Criterion, Albemarle). The results were presented at the three last venues of World Petroleum Congress (2002–2008), at the workshops of leading Western companies in the West Europe and in the U.S., as well as in leading magazines on refining industry throughout the world. Accordingly, experts of Moscow refinery are prepared to evaluate competitive technologies, which could be used to upgrade the plant.

OGE: Will production of Russian refineries comply with the demands of the Technical Regulation in 2012?
Meling: There is no doubt that appropriate investments into the refineries will solve this problem for all plants. The real problem lies in boosting the refining depth. Here, the companies will need not only large investment, but also repair work, servicing highly complex equipment, special personnel training. Imagine that an operator controls the process worth billion dollars. Simple secondary education isn’t enough here.

OGE: On reaching Euro-4 gasoline quality, do you think realistic its export to Europe?
Meling: This is unreal because in 2009 all Europe has switched to Euro-5 quality standard. Also, currently Europe exports its own surplus of Euro-5 gasoline (12 million tons per year) to the U.S. market and therefore is interested in importing diesel fuel rather than gasoline due to Europe-wide strategy of switching to diesel fuel engines. Additionally, the key task of Moscow refinery is to saturate the Moscow gasoline market so as to even out the price swings there.

OGE: From time to time, the refinery is accused of impacting the city’s environmental footprint?
Meling: This is crucial issue for our refinery. It must be studied as several years’ process. For the past 10 years the refinery has done much to improve environmental situation in the neighborhood.
Still much will be done by installation of mechanical pollution control facilities, which are estimated to cut down exhaust emissions by 5,000 tons per year. As the result, the company will be able to reduce the sanitary buffer zone, which reduces maximum permissible concentration of hazardous substances to approved levels, will shrunk to 250 meters,  and in some places even to 30 meters.
For the past seven years, irrecoverable losses of crude edged down from 1.22 to 0.89 percent mass. At advanced Western refineries this index hovers in the region of 0.45-0.5 percent.

OGE: Flare over the refinery, familiar to Muscovites living near Kapotnya, is not so noticeable as it used to be?
Meling: Previously the flare over the refinery was on 7,450 hours a year, today it is only 450 hours. This is the flare device for utilization of possible hydrocarbon emissions, in normal operation conditions the flame is almost invisible, and only in case of emergency, such as power substation failure in Chagino in May 2005, large discharge of petrochemical gas is possible, which would respectively boost up the flame of the flare device. This unit is very flexible in its operation and its margins are very wide.

OGE: Is it easy to join the team working at the refinery?
Meling: Unlike heavy engineering plants, MNPZ has no shortage of applicants. The important factor here is a stable and attractive salary. The refinery has many “family teams”, the total work experience of some of them spans for over 300 years. The management looks after the personnel, tries to retain valuable experts, sometimes regardless of their age. To improve professional growth options for young specialists joining the plant, the company created an entire education system. There are plans suggesting  installation of simulators for in-situ improving the skills in launching and stopping various technologic units. Not only pilots need simulators.
The refinery enjoys persistent, long-term link with Russia’s Gubkin State Oil and Gas University, students do their practical training at the refinery, write their graduation papers, and remain at the plant.
This isn’t surprising. Working at such knowledge-intensive facility as Moscow Refinery gives the feeling of solid satisfaction from taking part in creating real tangible assets, so much needed by the today’s society and by our city. One may feel proud of the chance to work at such renowned and industry-famed facility as Moscow refinery.

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