Meeting Lower Sulfur Tier 3 Regulations for U.S. Refiners

Earlier this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized their Tier 3 vehicle emission and fuel standards rules with the stated purpose to reduce air pollution from passenger cars and trucks.

For refiners, part of these rules include the content of sulfur in fuels. According to the EPA:

Starting in 2017, Tier 3 sets new vehicle emissions standards and lowers the sulfur content of gasoline, considering the vehicle and its fuel as an integrated system. The vehicle standards reduce both tailpipe and evaporative emissions from passenger cars, light-duty trucks, medium-duty passenger vehicles, and some heavy-duty vehicles. The gasoline sulfur standard will make emission control systems more effective for both existing and new vehicles, and will enable more stringent vehicle emissions standards since removing sulfur allows the vehicle’s catalyst to work more efficiently.

Specifically:

…federal gasoline will be required to meet an annual average standard of 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur by January 1, 2017.

These rules include some flexibility to spread out investments to meet the regulations, delayed start date for smaller refineries, and other exceptions to assist in the changes required to meet these rules.

Emerson's Marcelo Carugo

Marcelo Carugo
Director, Global Refining

I caught up with Emerson’s Marcelo Carugo. He pointed me to a Bloomberg article which noted that according to the EPA:

…Tier 3 will affect 108 refineries, and 67 can modify their equipment within two years, one needs a new gasoline hydrotreater to be installed within three years, and 40 can already meet the new standard or can purchase credits to comply. Refiners note that the regulation will be costly, raising fuel costs at the pump by 6 cents to 9 cents per gallon.

Some refiners who have looked at the cost of compliance and the type of crude they refine will have great impact. The same article shared that:

Valero and other Gulf Coast refiners that process heavier, sour crudes may have a harder time complying with Tier 3, and the rule could force refiners to spend as much as $10 billion on facility modifications and engineering work, according to Bloomberg analyst Melissa Avstreih.

Marcelo highlighted several ways instrumentation and automation could assist in complying with these regulations. One area is to improve the efficiency of blending operations through the use of mass-based flow measurement. Accurate measurement is required to optimize the blending operations to select the blending components to produce the required volume of the specified product at the lowest cost.

Tank monitoring is another area where levels, heating and mixing can be optimized. From a control strategy perspective, blend control & optimization improves recipe management, startup, ramping and pacing operations. Other important control requirements to improve operational flexibility include component ratio control, analyzer trim control, tank and lineup module control, blend monitoring and tracking, automatic blend stopping, component and blend totalizers and blend reporting.

There are numerous other areas to help address the challenge in these regulations that we’ll address in future posts.

You can connect and interact with other refining experts in the Refining group in the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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