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Anything New on FCC Reactor Effluent Line Coking?

FCC Reactor

While planning the agenda for the upcoming RefComm CatCracking meeting, we  came across an old question which still provokes a lot of interest; “What can we do to reduce coking in the FCC reactor overhead line, especially near the fractionator inlet?” This question has been asked and answered numerous times. Why is it of interest now? The answer seems to be that, for some at least, the old solutions aren’t working so well anymore.

A quick review of the literature reveals that interest in this issue comes and goes in waves. The first wave appeared as the industry transitioned from bed cracking to riser cracking. Subsequent surges and ebbs appear to correlate with later industry trends such as the introduction of rare earth exchanged catalysts, the introduction of USY catalysts, resid cracking, feed hydrotreating or high severity operation. All of these effect the chemistry and operations in different ways, aggravating or alleviating the formation of extraneous coke but a simple explanation can help us predict these effects.

Overhead line coke forms when heavy molecules condense along the pipe walls. Anything that inhibits condensation will reduce coke formation. Anything that promotes condensation, before the effluent vapor is safely inside the fractionator quench zone, will promote coke formation. The section near the fractionator inlet is particularly vulnerable for several reasons:

So, the first line of defense against effluent line coking is to keep the effluent above its dew point and to eliminate horizontal legs where liquid might accumulate. Increased vapor velocity should also help, but could contribute to line pressure drop. Adding steam to increase velocity or turbulence is often a mistake since the steam also cools the effluent vapor. More insulation and careful line design are usually the answer.

But then why does the issue suddenly reappear on units that have operated well for years? Most likely, the answer is that the dew point of the effluent vapor has dropped – more heavy molecules are present. This could be caused by anything that reduces conversion, increased recycle rates, or the removal of light feeds. In this case, more insulation might do the trick since the vapor was at or above its dew point when it left the reactor. However, it could also be due to an increased presence of heavy reactive molecules. Such molecules could polymerize in the effluent line, decreasing the dew point after the vapor has left the reactor. In this case, changes to feed quality, reaction conditions or catalyst formulation might have tipped the balance.

In the past few years we have seen a radical shift in the types of feeds available to the FCC, as well as new catalyst formulations and increased interest in diesel mode operation. Join in the discussion at next RefComm® to investigate which trends seem to correlate with increased coking.

8 responses to “Anything New on FCC Reactor Effluent Line Coking?”

  1. From Kalpesh Unadkat: Horizontal portion in Rx Vapour line is inevitable generally near MFC. To prevent the condensation, Piping is designed in such a way to have slope towards MFC nozzle, which prevents accumulation of Condensate and thus helps in minimizing coking.

  2. From Brian Thompson: Excellent and yet an unfortunately timeless topic. I presume the discussion at the Galveston RefComm meeting will include the ways and means to mitigate existing fouling (i.e., high pressure drop limiting throughput) with and without a unit shutdown.

  3. From Atul Bansal Generally Vapor line from Rx to MFC is coated in inside with refractory which is insulating in nature and effectively prevent temperature loss. So why we still need insulation on outer surface, to prevent further temperature loss?

  4. From Kalpesh Unadkat
    If Vapour line is coated inside with refractory (Cold wall design), Insulation is generally not applied to outer surface. In this case, MOC of vapour line is generally CS and applying insulation on pipe may lead to pipe metal temp. higher than design limit. In other case, for hot wall design, if erosion resistant refractory is applied inside alloy pipe, insulation at outer surface is still required to prevent heat loss.

  5. Michael says:

    Hi Al,

    You note: “However, it could also be due to an increased presence of heavy reactive molecules. Such molecules could polymerize in the effluent line, decreasing the dew point after the vapor has left the reactor. In this case, changes to feed quality, reaction conditions or catalyst formulation might have tipped the balance.” We had this happen in Mobil’s Germany Woerth refinery early 1990’s. Solved couple years later by installation of much better, radial feed nozzles (Atomax, similar in performance to Optimix by UOP). If even 10 ppm of the heavier feed molecules escape contact with catalyst, it produces tons of coke in overhead line each month. Better feed/cat mixing, atomization solves very well.

  6. Forwarded from Navin Kishore Bharadwaj
    Head section- Area 4 (FCC / Hydrocracker and Vacuum unit) KNPC Kuwait

    My opinion try the basic methods of limiting Feed CCR and abrupt feed composition changes. Also limit catalyst fines escape by monitoring fractionator bottoms ash content. In case of increase can accelerate O/H line coking.

  7. Forwarded from Satyam Prasad
    Deputy Manager at ESSAR OIL LIMITED

    Keep a check on ccr content of hhcgo from coker which goes to vgo as sour vgo and then becomes fccu feed as sweet vgo.

  8. Forwarded from Syed Mumtaz
    Refining & Gas Projects Management Consultant

    Yeah, the transition piece remains more of an art than science. There is usually a good amount of brainstorming on this issue on new-builts. My guess is that the issue is probably more pronounced in high severity/high T riser operations due to thermal cracking reasons. Probably a good subject for academic PhD work for someone who has an interest in reaction kinetics of thermal and catalytic cracking.

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Posted by: Alan R. English

Alan English has over 38 years’ experience in the petroleum refining industry. As a Fluid Catalytic Cracking (FCC) expert, he has helped dozens of clients worldwide improve refining operations; benefits typically exceed $2 million per year. He has provided troubleshooting, technical support, optimization consulting, design work and training to more than 40 refineries in North America, South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. This work involved a wide range of refining technologies including over 50 FCC units, and numerous Alkylation, MTBE, TAME, Delayed Coking, Hydrotreating (naphtha, distillate and resid), and Hydrocracking units.   Al is a licensed Chemical Engineer and holds a Master’s Degree in Technology Management. He served 19 years as a consultant with KBC. Previously, he worked for three major oil companies in their refinery and R&D organizations. He was responsible for developing two new commercial processes, the process design of several new or revamped major units and the development or improvement of several test methods and evaluation procedures. Al has authored or co-authored 13 publications, served on the NPRA (now AFPM) FCC Q&A panel twice, and holds three US patents.