1 hydrogenation story

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                                                                                          Something to cel-
                                                                                          ebrate: The FFS
                                                                                          design team with
                                                                                          samples of used
                                                                                          lubrication oil
                                                                                          and clear base
                                                                                          oil of exceptional
                                                                                          quality are from
                                                                                          the left Petrus
                                                                                          Scholtz, general
                                                                                          manager market-
                                                                                          ing and supply,
                                                                                          Pierre Rossouw,
                                                                                          marketing pro-
                                                                                          curement manag-
                                                                                          er, Don Hunter,
                                                                                          chief executive
                                                                                          officer, and
                                                                                          Gregg Hurter,
                                                                                          senior project

FFS Refiners has broken new         only known process capable of         to establish all the process
ground, successfully recycling      meeting the stringent technical       parameters, to meet the required
used lubrication oils back into     specifications of base oil but        quality.
base oil of exceptional quality.    conventional oil industry wisdom         The R&D programme ran for
    This has been achieved in a     dictated that processing and          14 months and was manned
new hydrogen treatment plant        capital costs of a small-scale        by the many cadets passing
designed and fabricated by FFS      plant would make it financially       through the FFS technical train-
Refiners and erected and com-       unviable.                             ing programme.
missioned at its Pietermaritzburg       “We have certainly challenged        The process is a hydrogen
branch.                             and successfully changed that         reaction using a fixed-bed
    Chief executive officer Don     paradigm. Recycling of used           catalytic reactor to remove the
Hunter says there is interna-       lube oil has been a difficult prob-   impurities attached to the hydro-
tional potential for the process,   lem to solve because of the host      carbon molecules and replac-
which not only makes financial      of metals and inorganics that         ing them with hydrogen atoms.
sense but also has significant      need to be removed. For years         This reaction removes metals,
environmental benefits.             it was an elusive dream, but now      oxygen and sulphur atoms and
    The concept of recycling        we have got it right.”                closes open bonds that make
to original use also saves on           FFS decided two years ago to      the hydrocarbon molecules
non-renewable resources and         invest in a research and devel-       unstable.
imports.                            opment programme and built a             In the process it transforms a
    Production started at the       pilot plant that has run several      dark opaque liquid into a clear
2500 ton per month plant in         hundred tests on a dozen differ-      and bright oil.
August and there has been           ent products.                            FFS developed its own in-
extraordinary interest from base        This    continuous-operation      house technology and design,
oil users.                          scale model, built in the FFS         as one of its strengths in making
    He says hydrogenation is the    fabrication workshop, was used                              >> next page
technological advances is the        The team that contributed to the development and commissioning of
                                     the new plant are, from the left: Petrus Scholtz, Alan Passmoor, Shantel
ability to fabricate and construct   Reddy, Carel Marais, Pierre Rossouw, Barbara Ndlovu, Don Hunter, Arno
plant and equipment at very          van der Merwe and Gregg Hurter. Inserted are Steve Nomico, Phillip
competitive costs.                   Vermaak, Eduan Meyer and Akash Daodary.
    The development stage also
allowed FFS to test various          • Dual reactors for short cam-          The hydrogen is produced on
other refinery by-products and         paign runs with hot change-       site from an electrolytic hydrogen
develop a range of products that       over                              plant which was purchased from
could be produced.                   • Low-cost hydrogen purity          Afrox. This plant, which had been
    By the middle of 2003, armed       measurement and control           mothballed, was purchased for
with the design parameters from      • High level of automation.                                   >> next page
the pilot plant, the design of the
full-scale plant started in ear-
    Thermal design was car-
ried out by Chemdes of
Johannesburg and the mechani-
cal pressure vessel designs by
Technical Design & Draughting
of Durban.
    The process logic control
(PLC) and SCADA programming
was carried out by Gregg Hurter
of FFS using Adroit.
    The plant incorporates many
novel cost-saving innovations.
• Low capital cost
• Low hydrogen consumption
• Relatively low pressures           A view of the plant showing heat exchangers, the two reactors which are
• Very low catalyst cost             the heart of the refinery, and product storage tanks.
scrap value and reconditioned.
    The horizontal fired-heater
which was designed by FFS
using both radiant and convec-
tion heat transfer zones has
proved highly effective and effi-
cient. This is further enhanced
by a dual gas-oil firing system
to fully utilise the waste gases
generated in the process.
    Stripping of the light ends
is done in an FFS-developed
forced feed evaporator operat-
ing under vacuum.
    Fabrication of the reactors,
heat exchangers, pressure ves-
                                      The FFS-designed horizontal fired heater using radiant and convection
sels and columns started in           heat transfer zones providing high efficiency.
November 2003 in FFS’s Durban
fabrication workshop.
    The special steel for the reac-
tor was supplied by Columbus
Steel and fabricated under
the watchful eye of construc-
tion workshop manager Phillip
    Commissioning was started
in July and the first product pro-
duced on 25 August 2004.
    The base oil produced so far
has been of exceptional quality.
The total metal content is less
than 10ppm and the colour and
brightness is equal to or better
than virgin base oil.
    The process does not signifi-     The R & D pilot plant with Shantel Reddy, senior process controller, Pierre
                                      Rossouw, marketing procurement manager, and Antony Steynberg, engi-
cantly alter the viscosity of the     neer.
product, which is of significant
    The process is environmen-
tally friendly as no sludges or
waste streams are generated
other than the products of com-
bustion from the fired heater.
    The air emissions from the
fired heater are relatively low,
being the equivalent of a 3-ton
an hour boiler running on a less
than 1% sulphur fuel.
    The by-product of hydrogen
production from water is oxygen
and at full production the plant
produces oxygen equivalent to
3,5 hectares of rain forest. •        Getting it right in the laboratory are from the left Arno van der Merwe,
                                      factory manager, Barbara Ndlovu, laboratory tester, and Alan Passmoor,
                                                                                                  >> next page
The recycle gas compressor.

Above right,
Stripping of the light ends is done
in an FFS-developed forced feed

With everything at their fingertips
on SCADA screens in the control
room are Gregg Hurter (seated),
senior project manager, Shantel
Reddy, senior process controller,
and Carel Marais, plant foreman.

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