Description of Petroleum Refining Processes and Related Health and Safety Considerations

Crude Oil Pretreatment (Desalting)

  1. Description
  2. Crude oil often contains water, inorganic salts, suspended solids, and water-soluble trace metals. As a first step in the refining process, to reduce corrosion, plugging, and fouling of equipment and to prevent poisoning the catalysts in processing units, these contaminants must be removed by desalting (dehydration).
  3. The two most typical methods of crude-oil desalting, chemical and electrostatic separation, use hot water as the extraction agent. In chemical desalting, water and chemical surfactant (demulsifiers) are added to the crude, heated so that salts and other impurities dissolve into the water or attach to the water, and then held in a tank where they settle out. Electrical desalting is the application of high-voltage electrostatic charges to concentrate suspended water globules in the bottom of the settling tank. Surfactants are added only when the crude has a large amount of suspended solids. Both methods of desalting are continuous. A third and less-common process involves filtering heated crude using diatomaceous earth.


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Other Refinery Operations

  1. Heat Exchangers, Coolers, and Process Heaters
  2. Heating Operations. Process heaters and heat exchangers preheat feedstock in distillation towers and in refinery processes to reaction temperatures. Heat exchangers use either steam or hot hydrocarbon transferred from some other section of the process for heat input. The heaters are usually designed for specific process operations, and most are of cylindrical vertical or box-type designs. The major portion of heat provided to process units comes from fired heaters fueled by refinery or natural gas, distillate, and residual oils. Fired heaters are found on crude and reformer preheaters, coker heaters, and large-column reboilers.
  3. Cooling Operations. Heat also may be removed from some processes by air and water exchangers, fin fans, gas and liquid coolers, and overhead condensers, or by transferring heat to other systems. The basic mechanical vapor-compression refrigeration system, which may serve one or more process units, includes an evaporator, compressor, condenser, controls, and piping. Common coolants are water, alcohol/water mixtures, or various glycol solutions.


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