Catalysis 2022 issue

Vacuum tower cutpoint delivers profits

Cutpoint Concerns

poorly designed heaters may experience coking with COT below 700°F (370°C).

Crude unit vacuum tower performance is often critical to a refiner’s bottom line. e vacuum tower bottoms stream is valued far below the gas oil cuts, so most refineries look to minimize it. Many vacuum columns are also designed or revamped to produce a diesel cut, recovering diesel slipped from the atmospheric column that would otherwise be downgraded to VGO product. Good vacuum column performance can maximize the profitability of downstream units by removing distillate hydrotreater feed (diesel) from FCCU or hydrocracker feed (VGO) and removing VGO from coker feed (resid). One important measure of vacuum column performance is VGO/resid cutpoint. e cutpoint is the temperature on the crude TBP curve that corresponds to the vacuum tower resid yield. Vacuum column cutpoint depends on three variables: 1. Flash zone temperature 2. Flash zone pressure 3. Stripping section performance (if present) Flash zone temperature is driven by vacuumheater coil outlet temperature (COT). Increasing COT increases cutpoint. Vacuum heater outlet temperature is typically maximized against firing or coking limits. When processing relatively stable crudes, vacuum heaters with better designs and optimized coil steam can avoid coking even at very high COT (800°F+, 425°C), but

Flash zone pressure is set by vacuum system performance and column pressure drop. Lower flash zone pressure increases cutpoint until the tower shell C-factor limit is reached, at which point the packed beds begin to flood. Vacuum producing systems are mysterious to many in the industry, so a large number of refiners unnecessarily accept poor vacuum system performance. With technical understanding and a good field survey, the root causes of high tower operating pressure can be identified and remedied. In columns with stripping trays, stripping steam rate and tray performance are important. Stripping steam rate is limited by vacuum column diameter (C-factor) and vacuum system capacity. Any steam injected into the bottom of the tower will act as load to the vacuum system, so vacuum system size, tower operating pressure, and stripping steam rate must be optimized together. Depending on the design, a stripping section with 6 stripping trays can provide between zero and two theoretical stages of fractionation, which can drive a big improvement in VGO yield. Although the variables for maximizing vacuum tower cutpoint are simple, manipulating them to maximize cutpoint without sacrificing unit reliability is not. Contact Process Consulting Services, Inc. to learn how to maximize the performance of your vacuum unit.

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