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Big "heavy" projects going ahead


The recent collapse in oil prices has not deterred big oil majors, such as Conoco and Suncor, from going ahead and developing massive heavy crude and oil sands deposits in Venezuela and Canada respectively. Jason Stevens examines the status of selected international projects and their potential to unleash huge amounts of recovered sulphur onto the world stage.


Asia’s financial crisis provided the initial trigger for a massive drop in oil prices. By early 1998, the price of crude oil dropped by over $10/bbl from the January 1997 price, forcing some major oil companies to reassess their commitments to developing huge reserves in Venezuela and Canada. However, the bigger projects – Petrozuata (Venezuela) and Project Millennium (Canada) – remain on track.

The former, especially, holds the most tantalizing promise for international oil developers who despite lower crude prices are still climbing over themselves to exploit Venez­uela’s rich Orinoco belt which is estimated to hold as much as 270 billion barrels of extra-heavy crude oil, and could initially release 73,000 t/y of sulphur onto world markets if a proposed joint venture (JV) between Venezuelan national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) and American concern, Conoco Corp, goes according to plan.

Meanwhile in Canada, Suncor confirmed to Sulphur magazine that it had no intention of delaying its commitment to further developing its oil sands reserves.

Suncor expects to be producing around 438,000 t/y of sulphur by the year 2002 once Project Millennium is fully implemented. Add in other existing projects attached to oil sands development, and the recovered sulphur grand-total could rise to over 1.5 million t/y by the year 2005.

Interest in heavy oil projects is not just confined to the Americas. Romania, China and Australia are also actively involved in determining the scope for future projects, but it is unclear at present how lower oil prices will affect start-up plans.

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Approaching the limit: 99.9+% sulphur ­recovery


Refiners and gas processors worldwide are having to comply with increased demands for lower sulphur dioxide emissions from their sulphur recovery operations. In response to this trend several new technologies are now emerging to comply with the most stringent regulations. Lisa Connock looks at the process options available for achieving 99.9+% overall sulphur recovery from Claus units.


With the sulphur content of crude oil and natural gas on the increase, refiners and gas processors are pushed for capacity to handle these sour feedstocks. At the same time, environmental pressures demand lower sulphur dioxide emissions. These forces are causing an increasing interest in technologies for ultra-high sulphur recoveries.

Typical sulphur recovery efficiencies for Claus plants are 90-96% for a two-stage reactor and 95-98% for a three-stage reactor plant. Although these recoveries appear high, the SO2 emissions cannot be ignored. At 95% conversion, the tail gas from the final sulphur condenser still contains around 6000 ppmv of SO2 and 12,000 ppmv H2S; and for a nominal 50 t/d Claus plant with a recovery of 97%, the SO2 emissions amount to more than 1000 t/y.

Several technologies and concepts are available to increase the overall sulphur recovery of Claus units to more than 99%. In this article, we focus on those processes designed to achieve the most exacting demands of 99.9+% overall sulphur recovery.

The most widely used technology for achieving 99.9% removal efficiency combines a Claus sulphur recovery unit (SRU) followed by a reductive tail gas treating unit (TGTU). The tail gas treating unit includes a conversion step in which the sulphur species are converted to H2S followed by an absorption or reaction step in which the H2S or is removed and recycled to the SRU. Other process technologies capable of achieving 99.9+% overall sulphur recovery include improved versions of some of the subdewpoint pro­cesses, e.g. Clauspol 99.9 and Doxo­Sulfreen, and tail gas incinerator pro­cesses, e.g. the Wellman Lord pro­cess and Clintox.

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European oil conference highlights Kyoto and Auto-Oil Process


The challenges facing the European oil industry, especially with regard to Kyoto and the Auto-Oil Process, were significantly highlighted in two environmental papers delivered on the first day of the 1998 European Oil Refining Conference held recently in the Hilton Atrium Hotel, Prague, Czech Republic.


Two hundred and sixty delegates were treated to powerful presentations by Dr Bernard J. Bulkin, Director of Environmental Affairs – BP International and Mr Jean-Bernard Sigaud, Director of Public Affairs, Refining & Marketing – Total, under the second plenary session heading “Environmental issues across Europe.”

Dr Bulkin asked why the European oil refining industries carefully researched Auto-Oil Programme which sought to establish purely scientific proposals for future fuel content changes, and was characterised by its meticulous research and severity, did not satisfy the expectations of politicians (See Sulphur no 253, p 17).

“Sulphur-content in diesel and gasoline,” said Dr Bulkin, “is no longer a technical issue, but a political issue.”

It emerged later on in the conference that the EU Parliament had decided to maintain its ‘common position’ and keep fuel specifications for the year 2000 at 150 ppm and 350 ppm for gasoline and diesel respectively. Limits for the year 2005 remain at 50ppm for both diesel and gasoline and are now deemed mandatory. Only exceptional new evidence will alter this finding.

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