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Comment Processing & Handling

Methaforming process offers lower-cost naphtha upgrading for refiners

By Scott Jenkins |

Petroleum refiners looking to upgrade low-octane naphtha have an additional option using a process that increases the higher-octane iso-paraffins and aromatic compounds at lower costs than currently available alternatives.

Most refiners currently upgrade naphtha by hydrotreating followed by isomerization and continuous catalytic regeneration (CCR) reforming. A new process, known as Methaforming and licensed from New Gas Technologies Synthesis (NGTS; Houston;, performs the upgrading in a single unit, without the need for hydrotreating. Replacing several processes with a single unit results in a capital cost one-third that of the alternative technologies, says Stephen Sims, NGTS president.

Methaforming uses a proprietary zeolite catalyst that was originally developed by Russian researchers to convert methane to gasoline. When that line of research did not bear fruit, the catalyst was tested with other feeds, such as naphtha and raffinate from aromatics extraction.

When used in a fixed-bed, adiabatic reactor with methanol injection, the catalyst dehydrogenates methanol to release methyl radicals, which initiate a series of reactions that convert linear paraffins in the low-octane feeds into dual branched iso-paraffins, and naphthenes into aromatic compounds. The result is an increased research octane number (RON) in the product. The catalyst utilizes rare-earth elements instead of precious metals, such as platinum and rhenium.

The first Methaformer installation is a “pilot demonstration” unit at a Russian facility that produces 150 barrels per day (bbl/d) of gasoline from naphtha and methanol. Another, smaller pilot plant, designed to generate additional test data for a larger unit, is being completed this month in South Korea for use at a Moscow research facility.

Methaforming is versatile — the process can be built from scratch or can be retrofitted into an idle hydrotreater or reformer to further save costs. Also, the Methaforming process can use ethanol along with, or instead of, methanol, or ethylene from the fluid cazalytic cracking (FCC) unit. The Methaformer reduces sulfur by 90% and can handle up to 1,000 parts per million (ppm) sulfur in the feed, Sims says.

naphtha upgrading

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