Q&A with Emerson Refining Experts on Blending

This week John Ward and Patrick Truesdale share their thoughts on blending as part of our continuing series of Q&A’s with Emerson’s refining experts.  A list of John and Patrick’s upcoming presentations at the 2014 Emerson Global Users Exchange is included after the Q&A.


1.     What are the major trends impacting blending today?

Governments around the world continue to mandate lower sulfur levels in gasoline, diesel and bunker fuel.  There are also mandates on Green House Gas (GHG) reductions and increased energy efficiency, all of which require the addition of biofuel components to conventional blends.  Increasing proportions of biofuels are being mandated in the final products.

Most of the biofuels must be added at the terminals, which requires refiners to blend base stocks and consider the effect of property changes of various biofuels during blending activities. Many refineries are evaluating Inline Blend Certification (ILBC) to reduce tankage requirements and potentially increase refinery throughput.  This is a complicated and highly regulated endeavor.

Depending on market coverage, many refineries must make many different seasonal and regional blends depending on the time of year.  Some refiners have the opportunity to produce “spot” blends when market conditions favor producing a different grade of product.  This requires very tight control of the blending process and seamless communication between planning, blend scheduling, and blend operations.

Finally, many blending systems around the world are approaching end of life and will need to be replaced over the next five years. 


2.     What are the major challenges/barriers to success in blending?

Most refiners are using analyzers such as NIR to provide semi-real time data for use in blending.  Designing and maintaining the analyzers, including supporting sample systems, and keep them operating is a major challenge.  Handling of different types of biofuels requires accurate measurement devices, as fiscal controls are often involved.  Without blending optimization technology, many refiners miss revenue enhancement opportunities.

Blending facilities are typically isolated and occupy large areas with limited automation.  Utilizing technologies such as tank automation, wireless solutions, and pump monitoring provides the blending team with advanced notice of problems.

Historically, planning, blend scheduling, and blend operations have not been treated as one work process and this has led to poor communication and less than optimum blending.


3.     What are the largest opportunities in blending today?

ILBC allows refineries to minimize tankage and lab analysis while also providing the potential opportunity to increase throughput.  Maintaining the online analyzers, including sampling systems, is key to optimum blending.  This requires a coordinated effort between the lab and operations.  Enhancing work processes in this area is providing significant benefits.

Many older blending systems have only ratio control.  Updating the ratio control and adding trim control and optimization expands the potential for increasing product revenue.  Blenders often do not have much useful information on pump health and diagnostics—until equipment failure occurs.  Adding pump monitoring and diagnostics would provide advanced warning and allow for maintenance prior to failure and potential blending shutdown.  Upgrading flow measurements are also key in being able to handle varying biofuel requirements, includes new additives.


4.     How can operators get ahead of the challenges and take advantage of these blending opportunities?

For older blending facilities, it pays to perform a feasibility study on the value of replacing the blending system.  This helps identify the optimum strategy and identify problems with valves, transmitters, and monitoring.  If ILBC is a goal, the FEED study can help define the best analyzer and laboratory tracking system.  The benefits for each strategy can also be evaluated.  Refiners should consider rethinking their blending work process, installing property analyzer systems, and implementing optimization technology. Refiners should also reassess their unit operations since they are not producing a final product, but rather a blending component that will be blended with a numerous biofuels and additives.


John Ward will be presenting the following workshops at this year’s Exchange:

  • Achieving Operational Excellence Requires Excellent Process Control (Session 3-2362) on Wed., Oct. 8, at 10:00 am and Thurs., Oct. 9, at 4:15 pm
  • Instrument Problem or Process Problem? (Session 5-2397) on Tues., Oct. 7, at 1:00 pm and Thurs., Oct. 9, at 8:00 am


Patrick Truesdale will present the following workshops: 

  • Terminal Automation - Is it Justified? (Session 3-2266) on Wed., Oct. 8, at 8:00 am and Thurs., Oct. 9, at 3:15 pm
  • Investing in New Technologies and Solutions to Migrate a Gasoline Blending System (Session 3-1907) on Tues., Oct. 7 at 11:00 am and Wed., Oct. 8, at 1:15 pm


Other blending-related sessions: 

  • Valero’s Optimizer Blends Gasoline Directly to Ships (Session 3-1891) on Tues., Oct. 7, at 9:00 am and Wed., Oct. 8, at 3:15 pm


Also don’t miss this year’s Refining and Petrochemical Industry Forum on Mon., Oct. 6, at 2:30 pm, and the Refining Industry Mixer on Monday evening from 8:00 to 10:00 pm.