The industry is embarking on a new phase – the energy transition – highlights ME-TECH

Published: 7 April 2020 - 6:30 a.m.
By: Martin Menachery
In February, Euro Petroleum Consultants (EPC) held the latest edition of their premier technical downstream event for the Middle East – ME-TECH 2020 – Middle East Technology Forum for refining and petrochemicals. This edition marked a very special milestone for Euro Petroleum Consultants – celebrating 10 years of ME-TECH and the event was held in Abu Dhabi.

Back in 2011, when ME-TECH was launched – the aim of the event was to provide a platform bringing together all sectors of the downstream industry from regional end-users, leading licensors, technology companies and innovative service and solution providers alike. An event where all involved could exchange information on the latest projects, discuss market trends, debate freely on the challenges and opportunities, and become updated on the latest advances in technology, which drive both the refining and petrochemical sectors toward greater growth and efficiency.

This year, the two-day conference was attended by over 250 delegates representing a wide spectrum of the downstream sector, including oil refiners and petrochemical producers from leading companies like ADNOC, BAPCO, Borouge, ENI Abu Dhabi Refining & Trading Services B.V., KIPIC, KNPC, KPC, Natpet, OMV Downstream Middle East & Asia, OQ – Liwa Plastics Industries Complex (LPIC), Petrochemical Industries Company, Petro Rabigh, SABIC, Sipchem, Samref, Sasref, Saudi Aramco, Lukoil, Ministry of Oil (Iraq), Petronas, Saras-Sarlux, SOCAR Turkiye, Reliance Industries, and Total Raffinage-Chimie.

In the last 10 years, as an industry, we have experienced many different cycles and faced a number of potential game-changers from volatile crude prices with highs of $115 per barrel in 2011 to the lows of 2016, when crude price dropped to $26 per barrel. The industry has had to adapt to all types of scenarios.

We have seen that greater asset complexity and diversification of products and clearly defined strategies have been important to remaining competitive. The industry has put greater emphasis on increased refining and petrochemical integration and this has led to the advent of ambitious crude-oil-to-chemical projects (COTC).

Another game-changer has been digitalisation and the way in which it has become an integral part of our industry – helping us become more efficient in how our companies and operating assets are run. We have seen the importance of engaging the new generation to our industry – something which the Gulf region does particularly well.

Last but not least environmental considerations have been and will remain at the focal point of what is driving the industry forward. One of the major new environmental regulations to come into effect has been the IMO Marpol VI relating to sulphur emissions at sea.

Looking ahead we see that the industry is embarking on a new phase – the energy transition. How will our industry evolve and meet these challenges? The industry has never shied away from the different challenges it has faced and it will be important to be at the forefront and drive this evolution. More often than not the only constant in our industry has been and will remain to be change.

This year’s event was officially opened by Ibrahim Al Zaabi, vice president, polyolefins, at Borouge, in which he confirmed Borouge’s commitment to ensuring sustainable economic growth and prosperity of the UAE, and wished all conference participants an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.

ME-TECH 2020, like the previous editions, focused on the key industry trending topics. This year these topics included remaining competitive in today’s market through JVs and partnerships, by attracting foreign investment and expertise, trading by oil companies – a move to create new revenue streams and also to diversify the downstream business. These interesting developments were discussed in an interactive panel session, featuring major players in the industry like Total, Shell and Eni. During this session, David Marion, Total’s VP, manufacturing for Africa, Middle East, Asia & Pacific for refining and petrochemicals, presented Total’s JV experience and key lessons from high-performing partnerships highlighting the fact that the energy transition is too big for anyone to accomplish alone – collaboration is a must if we want to succeed and there is a clear need to form strategic partnerships.

One of the main areas of focus for ME-TECH 2020 was the concept of the refinery and petrochemical plants of the future. What will these plants look like? With the implementation of smart operation and connected plants, the investment in artificial intelligence – technology providers are introducing their new solutions to help assets improve their efficiency and flexibility.

Honeywell unveiled a new ‘Refinery of the Future’ concept, which demonstrated how carefully planned investments in refining operations, including integration with petrochemicals production, can help refiners improve profit margins, potentially improving net cash margin by almost $30 per barrel.

Honeywell’s ‘Refinery of the Future’ case studies show potential diversification pathways to petrochemicals can be completed through a series of economically viable investments in bottom-of-the-barrel conversion, hydrocracking to naphtha technologies, and an aromatics complex integrated with a toluene methylation unit. These technologies enable production of enough heavy naphtha to support profitable world-scale paraxylene production from the same crude rate.

Schneider Electric showcased their Profitable Integrated Power and Process Management tool, highlighting the value of digital transformation and the potential gains in CapEx and OpEx from integrated power and process management.

It is clear to all that the oil refining and petrochemical industries are experiencing interesting but also challenging times, which is due both to political and economic reasons. Among the risk factors for oil refining is the slowdown in the growth rate of fuel consumption against the backdrop of increased use of electric vehicles.

The demand for chemical and petrochemical products remains high, driven by rising standard of living. In this regard, solutions that enhance the integration between oil refining and petrochemicals are very important.

It is important for the industry to continue to invest in order to cope with changing regulations, invest in flexibility to adapt to the market and in integration, as well as to build-in operational excellence, reliability and maintainability into all stages of capital projects and asset lifecycle.

Speaking about the technological trends in the development of petrochemical industries, the conference showed an interest in solutions that allow increasing the production of propylene. For example, ThyssenKrupp Industrial Solutions presented their latest advances in propane dehydrogenation (PDH) technology and the ‘Future of Polyolefins Catalysts in a Circular Economy Model’ was presented by INEOS. Meanwhile, Axens focused on capturing value via residue to chemicals project – showcasing their H-Oil technology unit integrated with petrochemical complex by upgrading the heavy by-products of steam cracker units. Axens also presented an important case study – The HENGLI Petrochemical complex: maximisation of para-xylene production from sour crude feedstocks.

In the refining section of the conference, there was the opportunity to hear from Dr. Mikael Berthod, vice president of ADNOC Refining Research Centre, on how to boost the performance of the hydrocracker through an efficient catalyst selection.

Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC) was also in attendance and Mobarak Al-Mutairi, manager technical services, MAB, presented a highly interesting case study focusing on a refinery upgrade in light of the IMO 2020 regulation.

The delegates also had the opportunity to hear about the latest in Digital Delayed Coking – a new approach for supporting unit operations presented by Steve Beeston, vice president, technology licensing, at Wood. This new digital approach is a collaboration with Honeywell and their Connected Plant concept.

Both Wood and Honeywell UOP had successful pre-ME-TECH seminars. The Wood seminar focused on the ‘Energy industries’ evolution: A revolution?’, taking a look at the impact of the energy transition on market trends, and how to tackle the different risks and opportunities arising in our rapidly evolving industry.

The Honeywell UOP seminar focused on the theme of ‘Better Decisions for a Sustainable Future’. Honeywell presented a new tool that allows refiners to evaluate current investments and plan for the future – balancing operational goals, market demand and regulatory constraints to promote profitable performance and growth.

Particular attention at ME-TECH 2020 was paid to what does ‘sustainability’ mean for the petroleum industry. During the interactive panel, a number of issues were discussed and addressed such as the standing of the oil and gas industry in today’s society – How companies are advancing operations towards more sustainable solutions? It was highlighted the importance to stress the good the industry can bring to local communities and also to our society in general.

Robin Mills, CEO of Qamar Energy, spoke about the Middle East’s blossoming green economy, the critical tasks ahead and identifying the crucial goals. In the same session, Constantine Lau, director, oil and gas segment, Schneider Electric, showcased different green oil strategies to help companies improve their sustainability index. Special attention was given to reducing carbon footprint through diversification into natural gas and renewable energy. Another idea put forward was the importance of creating an active energy management strategy, taking into account the system’s ecological design and permanent process optimisation over the lifetime of the plant.

Euro Petroleum Consultants plans to continue to pay close attention to the development of refining and petrochemicals in the Middle East. EPC is already looking forward to next year’s edition of the Middle East Technology Forum for Refining & Petrochemicals during 16-18 February.

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