The May 2021 issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering includes a Q&A with a number of experts in the catalysts market. In this sneak preview, we talk to Dr Meritxell Vila, General Manager, MERYT Catalysts & Innovation, to get her thoughts on various topics.
Q: Explain why catalysts are so crucial to refining and petrochemical operations.
A: Catalysts are crucial, not only in refining and petrochemical operations, but also in around 90% of all chemical processes. Thanks to the fact that they decrease the activation energy of the chemical reactions, increasing their velocity, we can carry out the desired reactions under milder operation conditions. Therefore, thanks to them, we can perform our desired reactions at lower temperature and pressure and we can obtain our products in less time. Consequently, we can consider catalysts as the biggest energy savers in the industry.
Therefore, catalysts are our best allies to maximise the profitability of our processes, because any improvement in the catalytic system (the catalyst together with the reactor design) has a direct impact on the yields, selectivity and the energy consumption of the reactions.
Q: What are the main applications of your company’s catalysts or catalyst technologies within the downstream sector?
A: At MERYT Catalysts & Innovation we provide a wide portfolio of catalysts and adsorbents for refineries and petrochemical processes. The catalytic processes that we cover are FCC, hydrocracking, hydrotreatment, catalytic reforming, syngas, isomerisation, hydrogenation, dehydrogenation and etherification. We also supply selective adsorbents for purification of the different refinery and petrochemical plants streams. Additionally, we provide selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology for NOX emissions reduction in refinery and chemical plant furnaces.
Q: How can catalyst technologies help companies meet the challenge of increasingly competitive conditions in the downstream sector?
A: Catalysts play a key role in the production scheme. Depending on them, we can have longer cycle lengths, lower hydrogen consumption (in hydrotreatment units), more propylene production (in FCC units), more cracking and therefore more yield (in hydrocracking reactors), etc. Each process has its key variables to make it more profitable, meaning that there are a lot of variables to consider, including the price of the catalyst. In consequence, the selection of the right catalytic scheme for every one of our processes can increase our margin very importantly, improving our competitiveness.
In the refining sector now more than ever, catalysts play this key role, as the margin is lower than years ago. Every small improvement matters.
Q:How can catalyst technology help companies meet strict environmental regulations?
A: Catalysts have been helping companies to meet environmental regulations since these started. For example, the MTBE catalyst was developed to substitute tetraethyl lead in the 1990s when lead was prohibited as an octane booster in gasolines. Hydrotreatment and hydrocracking catalysts help refineries to reduce sulfur content in different fuels and have improved its activity to the required environmental regulations. For example, in Europe during the 1990s, diesel was allowed to contain 2000 ppmw of sulfur, whereas currently it must contain less than 10 ppmw. This reduction has been possible thanks to an impressive improvement in catalyst technologies. Other examples include the production of biofuels, where it is necessary to hydrogenate vegetable oils and other types of difficult feeds. Other very helpful and necessary catalysts can be found at sulfur recovery units, as these catalysts allow refineries to meet the strict regulations of sulfur emissions at the stack. Catalysts can help us meet most of the strict environmental regulations.
Q: How will catalytic solutions help advance the growth of hydrogen production?
A: Hydrogen production is absolutely linked with catalysts. There are several ways to produce hydrogen, but almost all of them are related to catalysts and/or adsorbents. The most traditional and established is the steam reforming of natural gas, naphtha, heavy fuel oil or coal. Although this is a mature technology, it is still the most economic one, and so we can expect it to be used for a long time, and any improvement in the catalysts involved will have a great impact in the process.
Hydrogen is also obtained by electrolysis of water, and if the electricity comes from renewable sources, we obtain green hydrogen. In this process, we have many different electrocatalysts, currently based in noble metals. There is a lot of research in order to improve these technologies, finding alternative non-noble metal electrocatalysts, to make this process more profitable.
Other hydrogen catalytic production processes are photocatalysis (obtention of hydrogen from water and sunlight), reforming of ethanol and sugars and cellulose biomass processing. All of these processes are the subject of deep research to increase the production of hydrogen.
To read the full Catalysts Q&A, download a copy of the May issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering here.
Dr Meritxell Vila began her professional life working for Repsol at the Research Centre in Cartagena, Spain, studying ion exchange resin catalysts for the ETBE/MTBE synthesis. After spending several years on process development at the pilot plant units of the research centre, focusing on diesel hydrotreatment and gasoline hydrodesulfurisation, she moved to the Repsol Cartagena refinery to work at the quality control laboratory and the process department in the Lubricants and Hydrotreatment divisions. She was the Catalysts Coordinator of the refinery for several years, including the C-10 large project to double Cartagena refinery’s capacity. In 2011, Meritxell joined IMCD Spain, moving into chemicals distribution, where she worked as the Product and Project Manager, representing the major international catalyst and adsorbent manufacturers in the Spanish and Portuguese markets. In 2016, Meritxell started her own company, MERYT Catalysts & Innovation, to help customers to optimise their processes by reducing costs in catalysts, adsorbents, and chemical products. The company also develops innovative technologies to save energy and reduce emissions.
For more information about MERYT Catalysts & Innovation, click here.
Read the article online at: https://www.hydrocarbonengineering.com/special-reports/10052021/catalyst-qa-dr-meritxell-vila-meryt-catalysts-innovation/