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Improving energy efficiency at Pernis refinery

Our Pernis refinery in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. (photo)
Our Pernis refinery in Rotterdam,
the Netherlands, has used an innovative
approach to improve energy efficiency.

Our Pernis refinery near Rotterdam in the Netherlands is one of the largest in the world. It transforms crude oil into a range of important products. These include petrol, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil and lubricants, as well as petrochemical raw materials that are used to make essential everyday items.

Pernis operates continuously, refining about 20 million tonnes of crude oil a year, equivalent to around 400,000 barrels a day. This means it is processing 750 litres of crude oil a second. The refinery sits at the heart of a major industrial complex, which includes a port for the delivery of crude oil in large tankers, and plants to make chemical products derived from oil. The whole complex covers 550 hectares, equivalent to 1,000 football fields. Its 160,000 km of pipeline, if laid end to end, would circle the globe four times.

Refining oil requires large amounts of heat, and therefore energy. At Pernis, the energy comes from natural gas. Most of it is used to heat the oil directly, with the rest used to power two plants that create steam and electricity. In recent years we have been working hard at Pernis to improve energy efficiency, to cut CO2 emissions and reduce costs. Given the size of the refinery, even relatively small improvements can have a significant impact.

Each refinery has different characteristics because of varying size and complexity. Operators need to manage temperatures, pressures and also the rates at which liquids and gases are flowing through pipes. The challenge to improving energy efficiency is to keep the different parts of the refinery working together at optimum levels.

An innovative approach

In 2009, we introduced a new computer software system to help improve energy efficiency at Pernis. It allowed operators to see a visual representation of the refinery process, with colour coding to highlight areas of inefficiency. This helped them focus more easily on parts of the refinery where energy performance could be improved, such as those needing maintenance or adjustments to function more efficiently.

However, although the new computer system allowed operators to monitor performance, it did not provide key information clearly enough. In 2010, Roland Berkhoudt, a Process Control Technologist, took the system to the next level. In an innovative move that won praise from senior management, he created an additional software tool that helped our operators prioritise their work by highlighting the five largest causes of inefficiency at any given time. To further encourage them, the enhanced system expressed inefficiencies in financial terms, the amount in US dollars wasted each day.

For example, one section of the refinery uses heat, pressure and catalysts to break down heavier hydrocarbon molecules into products such as gasoil and kerosene. The technology and operational teams worked together to reduce the amount of steam used. This has delivered a reduction in energy costs of around $1.5 million a year.

We improved the system further in 2011, enabling the software to highlight areas in the process that were operating ahead of efficiency targets. This helped encourage staff by signalling success, and also allowed them to identify areas where targets might be adjusted to further improve performance.

Stepping up the efficiency drive

In 2012, management at Pernis continued to drive improvements in operational performance. Daily meetings took place between the technology and operational teams, and management focused even harder on efficiency, identifying it as a critical way to improve the refinery’s performance.

The results have been significant, and achieved without the need for major spending on new equipment. Since the introduction of the energy management system in 2009, the energy savings and fewer CO2 emissions are equivalent to around 50,000 less cars on the road each year.

The progress made at Pernis has led to similar work to improve energy efficiency at Shell refineries and chemical plants around the world. Today, all our refineries use advanced software tools to help operators tackle areas of inefficiency as part of our global CO2 and energy management programme.

Shell is the operator of the Pernis refinery with a 90% interest. Statoil owns the remaining 10%.