Our research efforts are aligned with our downstream strategy to integrate our refining and chemical facilities — a synergy that generates a powerful value multiplier effect.
Our activities are geared toward developing and implementing process improvements and production efficiencies in support of the growing petrochemicals business, as well as new production and refining efficiencies to reduce costs and support higher value product yields.
Leveraging technology to add value
Our investments in downstream R&D seek to maximize the value of our resource base through process improvement and enhanced production efficiencies while supporting integration across the hydrocarbon value chain. Our research includes the following key priorities:
- Oil and gas treatment: crude oil separation and gas separation technologies
- Oil upgrading and refining: Supercritical upgrading of heavy oil, and production of novel catalysts for cracking low value refinery streams
- Chemicals: Converting lower value feedstocks and increasing the share of crude oil in chemicals production
- Oil and gas network integrity: Advanced sensing, prediction, and monitoring technologies
Improving efficiency and performance: Oil and gas treatment
Technologies to upgrade and enhance oil and gas treatment show potential to improve production performance, increase the value of lower quality gas, and save water.
The use of membrane-based technology potentially offers a cost-effective approach to upgrade low Btu gas for use in cogeneration electrical power plants, helping minimize the use of liquids for power generation. In 2017, progress was made on the removal of acid gases through specialized membranes. We also completed a study that confirmed the capability of membranes to recover high levels of helium with a high enrichment factor, which could become a potential commercial opportunity.
Upgrading oil, enhancing refining
We are investigating the feasibility of upgrading heavy oil for refining, petrochemical, and power generation applications. This research program could result in more flexibility in processing heavy crude oil grades and residue fractions of crude oil to create greater value. One focus area is our proprietary supercritical fluid technology for upgrading low value refining streams to distillates and chemicals. In addition, a number of evaluations were completed in 2017, including a process economy evaluation for lube oil and low-sulfur marine fuel oil.
Commercially available refining catalysts are designed for generic feedstock, and conversion processes can negatively impact product yields and quality. We are conducting research into specific catalyst formulations and processes to enhance the performance of our refining conversion processes such as hydrocracking, fluid catalytic cracking, and hydrotreating. Key objectives of the research include increasing product yields and producing high quality feedstocks for production of propylene or base oils from heavier feedstocks. In 2017, we developed 15 new catalysts based on zeolite minerals, and completed pilot plant testing of 16 catalyst systems.
Transforming the resource base
The conversion of advantaged liquid feedstock to chemical building blocks and the enhancement of lower value streams from refinery and petrochemical sources have the potential to create greater value from our resource base and strengthen our diversification and resilience as a business.
With our partner Sumitomo Chemical of Japan, we increased the throughput of our Petro Rabigh 1-Butene plant through the development of a novel anti-fouling additive technology (AFA™).
Our CAN-FCC™ catalyst offers a high tolerance for heavy oil streams in fluid catalytic cracking processes and increases the yield of various distillates and chemicals. In 2017, we demonstrated an additional propylene yield improvement with this catalyst over the existing catalyst used in one of our joint venture refineries.
Our SuperButol™ technology targets the conversion of mixed low-value butenes streams for use as a gasoline blending component to improve fuel combustion and increase octane. In 2017, the technology was successfully scaled up and demonstrated, and the basic engineering package study was completed for potential commercial deployment.
Maintaining reliability through network integrity
The safe and reliable delivery of our products to customers is paramount. With an emphasis on corrosion and materials, our R&D efforts seek to protect and enhance the integrity and performance of our oil and gas network. Our goals are to significantly reduce the annual cost of inspection and monitoring, and ultimately the cost of corrosion, through the use of autonomous robots and advanced sensing and prediction capabilities.
To achieve our goals, we are developing cost-effective robotic sensing and inspection tools to monitor shallow water and onshore pipelines. Additionally, we developed and released a storage tank calibration robot, improving inspection quality and reducing calibration time from 16 hours to four hours. To create additional value and enable greater opportunities for domestic businesses, a number of these technologies are being commercialized for local, regional, and global deployment.