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Q&A: Creating value through a proven circular solution for refining spent residue-upgrading catalysts

By Mohammed Benchekchou, Director New Business Development Middle East and North Africa on Dec 17, 2020

Spent catalysts are often disposed of in landfills, due to lack of policy and infrastructure for large-scale catalyst regeneration.1 In the coming years, catalyst demand is projected to grow significantly to support the production of petrochemical products and low- and ultra-low-sulphur fuels.2 This growth is backdropped by increasing environmental concern for proper disposal and reclamation of catalyst waste materials.

Consequently, refiners are investing in solutions to develop sustainable waste management plans for their spent catalysts and to reclaim valuable metals.

For the 2020 Middle East Bottom of the Barrel and Catalyst Technology Conference, (BBTC MENA & ME-CAT 2020 Virtual), Mohammed Benchekchou, Director New Business Development Middle East and North Africa, and Kevin Jones, Vice President AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group N.V. shared insights on state-of-the-art catalyst recycling capability in their presentation, “Creating value through a proven circular solution for refining spent residue-upgrading catalysts”.

In this Q&A, Mohammed Benchekchou shares insights from the conference, including:

  • In the Middle East, spent catalyst generation is projected to increase six-fold over the next two years, with the potential to grow twelve-fold over the next six to seven years.
  • Shell & AMG Recycling BV (SARBV) – the joint venture between Shell Catalysts & Technologies and AMG Recycling B.V. – is currently developing spent catalyst recycling projects in the Middle East, the U.S. and China.
  • Spent catalyst recycling not only reduces landfill waste but contributes to CO2 reductions by restoring valuable elements with more efficiency than mining.

Learn more about Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ commitment to building a spent catalyst recycling facility

Watch the video: GDA Conversations Episode 14 with Shell and AMG Recycling

Q: What impact do you see on catalyst demand due to COVID?

Mohammed Benchekchou: COVID has caused some refinery project decisions to be deferred, but we forecast overall growth in demand. There are many units under construction and the demand for refined fuels is projected to increase into the 2030’s, before facing gradual decline as more renewable energy sources come into play. We all hope and expect a healthy recovery.

One thing we are more certain of is the current demand from existing resid units that are in operation, pre-commissioned or under construction. They are, or will soon be, generating a huge amount of catalyst from now to 2022 and onwards. In the Middle East, we project that spent catalyst generation will likely increase six-fold over the next two years, with the potential to grow twelve-fold over the next six to seven years.

Explore residue upgrading catalysts

Providing a solution for spent catalyst recycling based on world-class standards

In the Middle East specifically, SARBV has heard from refiners that a local solution is needed. The current local solutions typically include transboundary movement of materials which is expensive if done properly and in accordance with international standards.

SARBV is building a spent catalyst recycling facility based on world-class standards like AMG’s operations in the U.S. and with the standards outlined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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Q: What are some of SARBV’s on-going projects in the Middle East and other regions?

Mohammed Benchekchou: Our plan is to have our initial project in the Middle East operational in the next few years. The project timing depends in part upon when demand will come on-stream in the region.

We are also considering building plants in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Other locations are also considered. We are hopeful that there will be strong regional cooperation to support recycling in the best interest of the Middle East and global environment overall.

Projects in development in the Middle East, the U.S. and China, based on existing proven operations

Until a plant is built in the Middle East, we are open to working with customers and leveraging AMG’s state of the art facilities in Cambridge Ohio and AMG’s new plant being built in Zanesville, Ohio. We are building facilities based on our existing proven operations, which virtually eliminates technical risk.

We are also making sure that the capacity to store spent catalyst in an environmentally safe manner will be built ahead of commissioning new plants. This means that depending on country-specific guidelines, some spent catalyst may be able to be taken and stored ahead of time.

Lastly, SARBV has recently signed two memorandum of understanding (MoU) with:

  1. Shandong Yulong Petrochemical in China. Click here for more details.
  2. Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) in Saudi Arabic. Click here for more details.

Q: How much vanadium is estimated to be derived from the Middle East, and what are the potential environmental benefits?

Mohammed Benchekchou: That ultimately depends upon many of the projects still being studied and the technologies refiners choose to upgrade their heavy oil with.

Based on our current estimates, I believe that between 10,000 and 15,000 metric tons (mt) of vanadium can be recovered annually from the region within the next decade. This is a significant amount of vanadium, considering that the global production today is probably less than 110,000 mt of vanadium.

Global consumption continues to rise as vanadium is needed for steel production as well as the emerging market for vanadium batteries. This growth will either come from increased recycling activities, primary mining or a combination of the two.

Contributions to CO2 reduction

Our partner, AMG, continues to refine its methodology for measuring greenhouse gas emission reductions and believes it will ultimately lead to certifiable CO2 measurements that refiners will be able to monetise as carbon markets are deployed globally.

AMG’s studies show that the CO2 generated when a kilogram of vanadium is produced by recycling spent catalyst is approximately 80% less than when produced by primary mining. This is because recycling is less energy intensive than primary mining.

Designers and engineers are able to design and build structures using 20–40% less steel by using high-strength low-alloy steel, with a proportional reduction in CO2 generation.

For example, for every 1000 mt (1100 st) of spent catalyst, we estimate that almost 90 mt of CO2 will be avoided from the circumvention of mining and the benefits from using high-strength steel.

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Helping refiners manage the challenges ahead for large waste streams

SARBV’s focus is on vanadium containing resid type catalyst; however, if we can provide solutions for other types of catalyst, we can assist in finding and facilitating solutions. The expansion of new hydroprocessing units in various regions will be generating massive volumes of spent resid catalyst that will be produced on a continual basis. Refiners may not yet appreciate the challenges ahead for managing these large waste streams.

Learn how to pair hydroprocessing reactor internals with expert level service for profitable projects and revamps

SARBV is a reclaimer of spent catalyst and sales of the final products. We can engage with third-parties who have expertise in unloading reactors, packaging and logistics, if needed. We will work with the refinery to determine the best arrangement.

Interested in partnering with SARBV? Fill out our form.

1 https://chemistry-europe.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cssc.201903213

2 https://www.hydrocarbonprocessing.com/news/2020/04/2020-catalyst-market-brand-report-now-available

Shell & AMG Recycling B.V. resources

Shell & AMG Recycling

Shell & AMG Recycling can deliver refiners the option of a truly circular solution, turning waste into value, replacing disposal with full metals reclamation, and significantly reducing pollution and emissions.

AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group N.V. and Shell Catalysts & Technologies agree to form Shell & AMG Recycling B.V.

AMG Advanced Metallurgical Group N.V. and Shell Catalysts & Technologies have signed an agreement to form a joint venture called Shell & AMG Recycling B.V. The joint venture will provide a long-term sustainable solution for catalyst reclamation and recycling.