Putting JBE's Refinery Water Use Study To Work

By John Beath

Jun 30


JBE’s Refinery Water Use Study – What Matters?

As refinery wastewater discharge limits tighten and water scarcity issues (real and perceived) continue to impact license to operate and competition for water use (in some regions), the process of assessing water use is growing increasingly important.  Further, certain aspects of water use relate to energy conservation (both onsite and offsite), and therefore also contribute to carbon footprint and costs.

This refinery water study was conducted as a way of determining the most effective opportunities for water use reduction by refineries.  The project was initially envisioned as a study of a specific operating refinery, but was eventually converted to a study of a historical refinery (one that no longer operates) so that the data and process could be shared in more detail.

Previous efforts by others to study refinery water use have been based on varying amounts of site-specific data from multiple refineries across the United States, but these have allocated usage based on process unit yields as an approximation.  This approach leads to compromises. For example, water usage for a butane overhead product cooler may be primarily assigned to the gasoline product based on unit yield, whereas its actual duty is clearly specific to the LPG product grouping.


The specific objectives of the study were to:

  • Prescribe a viable process to compile equipment-specific water use data with a minimum of effort, and to compare results to other studies;
  • Address the majority of usage by allocating to each piece of equipment where water was used so that an accurate identification of which produced fuel benefited from that specific use; and
  • Develop recommendations for prioritizing reduction efforts for maximum benefit

The figure below illustrates why refinery water use, and efforts to optimize it is important.










Source:  Texas Water Development Board (2015 usage data)


The flow diagram for the study illustrates the focus areas selected.  Those areas in blue contributed smaller (and already well-understood usages).












The results of the study showed that unit yields are not the best way to allocate water use to various products.  This is important as a facility considers the implications of chnage a crude slate, say one from oil-shale fracturing where the light ends component may be higher.










Once the key usages have been determined, crudes with lower light ends fractions will demand less water use in a conventional refinery.  If the crude slate cannot be adjusted, other process operation and revamp opportunities include:

  • Identifying where excess cooling is occurring and pinch back on water (less circulating water = less evaporation)
  • Identifying where overheating of overhead products is occurring and reduce heat input
  • Checking cooling tower efficiency – could circulation be reduced by improvements?
  • Checking heat exchanger bypassing – reduce circulation instead
  • Confirming that as air temperature changes are operations adjusted (or is it set it and forget it)
  • Analyzing temperature difference on heat exchangers – is fouling excessive?
  • Exploring opportunities for cost effective heat integration projects
  • Levering air coolers more heavily

Likewise for steam usage, a refinery might consider:

  • Exploring cost-effective condensate recovery opportunities
  • Optimizing insulation associated with steam use
  • Reducing steam leaks and maintaining steam traps
  • Adjusted steam use based on outside air temperature
  • Improving steam meter accuracy for better control

These tactics may also be helpful where discharge limits move a refinery towards reducing water use, or may otherwise require expensive water reuse measures to be engineered and constructed.

Please contact JBE if you are interested in more of the details of this study, or if you’d like to conduct one at your refinery or other facility.


About the Author

Read John's full bio here: http://www.beath.us/john-beath/

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