Something to cel-
ebrate: The FFS
design team with
samples of used
and clear base
oil of exceptional
quality are from
the left Petrus
ing and supply,
er, Don Hunter,
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
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
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.
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.