Refinery technical services

How I provide refinery technical services to support customer success

Learn about test-running new biofuels co-processing technologies, and how digital solutions can help customers advance their decarbonisation goals.

By Celine Chai, Senior Services Manager on Jul 7, 2022

Celine Chai is Senior Services Manager at Shell Catalysts & Technologies. She has worked at Shell Catalysts & Technologies since 2007 and was based in Singapore before moving to Houston, Texas in 2020.

In this interview on "How I Make Every Molecule Matter", Celine discusses test-running new biofuels co-processing technologies, the differences between working in Asia and the U.S. and how digital solutions can help customers advance their decarbonisation goals.

1. What makes you excited about your role in refinery technical services?

I like meeting and interacting with customers. It is a big part of my day-to-day job. My days are never the same because each customer has different goals and objectives. They are based in different countries with distinct regulations and competitive landscapes. I am passionate about having conversations with customers, learning about their pain points and designing solutions together.

For example, I might work with a client who wants to co-process approximately 5% volume of pretreated used cooking oil. To accomplish the goal, I might suggest conducting a test run with their gas-oil hydrotreater unit. If it is successful, it could lead to the intended goal.

Learn about the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS)

2. What are the benefits of the co-processing test-run if it is proven successful?

The co-processing test run is just the first step to ensure that the customer can process biofeeds at a low concentration. If this is successful, the next step is to process higher levels of biofeeds which would likely require a unit revamp with the Shell Renewable Refining Process as well as new catalyst.

If the customer is successful, they will be among the first refiners in their country to meet the percentage target of co-processed biofuels. In the long term, they will be able to buy batches of used cooking oil and process it in the company-owned plant. That will help them reduce carbon emissions, benefit from regulatory incentives and stay ahead of their competition.

3. How do you incorporate software solutions into your work with customers?

Another area of my work involves updating the digital and software offerings and deployment of digital solutions for our Technical Service Agreement (TSA) customers. This work has kept me up-to-date on the new digital solutions that we offer such as Shell Inventory Optimiser (SIO), Platform for Advanced Control and Estimation (PACE), Smart Torque and Hydrocor together with our technology partners.

Recently, we were able to help a customer with energy savings and unit reliability with a software called Smart Perform. It is a fully automated, web-based monitoring tool that helps analyse a plant’s heaters or heat exchangers. Using a complex model, the software helps to assess heater tube fouling rates, remaining delta temperatures and pressure drop margin availability. This helps the company increase the run-length of the furnace, plan or schedule downtime decoking events and optimise its fired-heat duty.

Smart Perform is capable of much more. For example, consider a high-impact furnace with constraints on the heater tube side pressure drop. Such a scenario could lead to a short run-length. Applying Shell’s Smart Perform application could potentially lead to an improvement in heater reliability performance and a raised furnace outlet temperature. That could mean millions of dollars per year in savings.

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4. How has providing refinery technical services differed across Singapore and the U.S.?

In Singapore, we had the opportunity to work with a variety of customers in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. I was able to adapt my ways of working to have successful relationships with customers in different regions. There are a lot of competitors in Asia, so we had to find a way for customers to see our differentiating value.

There is no one individual application area with which to extract the best value for the customer. Shell Catalysts & Technologies has the advantage of being able to provide the most integrated value to customers. We do this by delivering services that are niche with our tools and skillsets, from years of operational experience at our own plants and combining that with Shell licensed technology and catalysts.

It took me a couple of months to get adjusted to working in the U.S. It gave me an opportunity, however, to build resilience and patience in the middle of the pandemic. In the beginning, I worked with great colleagues who helped to onboard me remotely. I’m a working mom with two kids, and it has helped to have a flexible work schedule. Now we have started to travel again to meet customers, which has helped with relationship building.

Moving to the Americas has opened my eyes to a totally new environment. I think customers in the U.S. are very sophisticated and very open. In a way, it is a bit easier to work and talk with them, but they are looking for more advanced solutions that provide greater value. For example, they may be seeking to capitalise on the changing market dynamics. The solutions we propose include:

  • Processing increasingly advanced alternative feedstocks
  • Producing more or different product molecules for use in chemicals
  • Embedding digital solutions for safer plant operations

Being able to help our customers to evolve is important, which is why we are evolving our services and specialist groups, including carbon intensity studies and master planning, in our service agreements.

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5. What are you most looking forward to?

I gain great satisfaction in my job by being able to help customers improve their plant operations and energy efficiencies, building their capability and jointly implementing advanced solutions to have more remote capabilities.

Customers are also interested in solutions to reduce carbon emissions. I help guide them towards decarbonisation solutions that can help them understand and optimise their assets. This aids their decision-making for the next step, which is to revamp the unit or buy new equipment to improve energy efficiency or create lower-carbon products.

The other key aspect about refinery technical services is continuous learning. Whenever we implement a new service or solution at a customer site, we document our learnings to ensure that we are not operating in silos. These learnings help us to distribute knowledge and to keep us up-to-date on available solutions. I am not a person who gives up easily, so if someone says, “No, we cannot do this,” I will try to find an alternative approach through our key learnings to achieve the customer’s objectives.

With the energy transition as a key objective for Shell and many refiners, I am keen to see the implementation of Shell's technologies on decarbonisation, renewables and plastic circularity for our customers. I would like to help Shell Catalysts & Technologies be our customers’ trusted advisor and apply our learner's mindset for future improvements.

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