Drs Ian Wilson, Bill Paterson and John Chew are part of a new EPSRC-funded project aimed at reducing the amount of energy lost in processing crude oil to separate it into the various products that we use for transport fuel, chemical feestocks, lubricants and energy. A typical oil refinery uses up to 7% of the energy contained in the feed material to achieve these separations. The project involves researchers at the Universities of Bath, Cambridge and Imperial College London and all the major UK oil companies through the technology provider IHS ESDU.
The dominant technology is distillation, which requires the oil to be heated up to its boiling point. Energy is recovered from the hot products in heat exchangers but these foul up due to reaction of oil components, particularly asphaletenes. With crude oil prices around $60 per barrel and concern over the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the extra energy required from furnaces to overcome fouling losses, the refinery equivalent of kettle scale needs to be tackled.
The Cambidge team are working on experimental studies of oil fouling, novel measurement devices and methods for transferring the results to the design and operation of refineries worldwide.