Curtin University of Technology researchers are using advanced computer modelling to help understand flow distribution issues at BP’s oil refinery in Kwinana, 40 kilometres south of Perth.
The research team developed a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) model to show how different designs and operating conditions could affect the refinery’s operations.
Led by Curtin’s Centre of Process Systems Computations (CPSC) co-director, associate professor Vishnu Pareek, with BP Global FCC Advisor Michael Glenny and the University of Newcastle’s Professor Geoffrey Evans, the team is funded by an Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage grant.
“Our primary goal was to develop a CFD model based on the complex interactions between gases and solids within the refinery’s FCC catalyst strippers.” Associate Professor Pareek said.
The strippers use steam to separate hydrocarbons from the catalyst which was used to begin the reaction that breaks up heavy crude oil into smaller molecules parts, such as petrol, within the refinery.
BP used the team’s model to revamp its systems to attain the optimal mix of steam, catalyst and hydrocarbons inside the stripper.
Twelve months later, the changes have saved the refinery hundreds of thousands of dollars in steam usage, according to Glenny.
Curtin’s Ganesh Veluswamy, Dr Ranjeet Utikar, Professor Moses Tade and Dr Qin Li also worked on the project.
It is the first time such modelling has been used with a catalyst of this type and the project required some innovative use of technology to achieve realistic flow predictions without maxing out computational effort.
“Previously, it has taken weeks of computer time to simulate only a few seconds of real-time in the catalyst stripper,” Pareek said.
The success of the project has led BP to commit another ARC Linkage Grant with Curtin in the next round of applications.