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21st century hydrogen

Published by , Senior Editor
Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Not too many topics related to petrochemical, gas, and refinery operations have received as much column space, been discussed, or presented upon over recent years as hydrogen generation. It has gone from forgotten child, a mere utility, to a key unit that is uniquely placed to provide a solution for the forthcoming demand challenges of the hydrogen revolution.

Increasing refinery hydrogen production – current best practices

Equipment upgrades/revamps tend to be both expensive and complex, requiring time and money to achieve modest gains in production. Traditionally, pre- and post-reformers have been considered the primary methods to achieve uplift. Pre-reformer retrofits typically increase hydrogen production by 10 – 15% whilst the addition of a post-reformer can increase hydrogen production by 30 – 50%. Expected CAPEX is approximately 20 – 30% of the original plant cost.

Increasing refinery hydrogen production – catalytic options

In recent years, catalytic solutions have emerged that offer the promise of increasing hydrogen output from existing SMR units. This is advantageous if plot space or CAPEX limits the ability to install new process units. Moreover, upgrading hydrogen production from existing plants maximises the potential of current assets, is more environmentally sustainable than building new equipment, and avoids the secondary complications of installing and operating new process sub-units. To fully realise the potential increases in hydrogen production the catalytic solution should avoid problematic installation or removal procedures, and alterations to existing operating procedures. Furthermore, the solution should be flexible enough to handle a wide range of feedstocks (containing associated contaminants), including alternative bio-based feeds. The optimum future SMR catalyst should not use complex materials of construction or require made-to-order manufacturing, in order to ensure good availability and responsivity to unplanned change-outs following poisonings, power failures, or tube ruptures.

Steam reforming catalyst technology

Magma’s MagCat steam reforming catalysts comprise active nickel on an innovative, textured ceramic carrier with improved heat transfer capability, higher structural strength, and lower pressure drop. The catalysts are compatible with all types of tubular steam reformers (primary reformers) used for steam methane reforming (SMR).

Traditional SMR catalyst pellets conform to similar shapes that can involve multiple holes, domes, and flutes, in order to achieve a combination of surface area, pressure drop, and contacts with reformer tube walls, balanced with acceptable crush strength. Current compression casting techniques, however, are restricting further innovation and improvement after 60 years of gradual incremental development.

In response, Magma has developed pellet-like technology to achieve increases in hydrogen production in a way that is easily implemented and eschews high equipment costs...

Written by Gary Bennington, Magma Catalysts, and Tom Ventham, Unicat B.V. and G.W. Aru, LLC

This article was originally published in the March 2021 issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering magazine. To read the full article, view the March issue here. And to sign up to receive a free regular copy of the magazine, click here.

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