Perry Lea

How I work with refineries on the US west coast towards their energy transition goals

By Perry Lea, Senior Catalyst Sales Manager on Mar 7, 2022

Perry Lea is Senior Catalyst Sales Manager at Shell Catalysts & Technologies (SC&T). He is based in Houston, Texas, in the United States. Perry’s experience includes management sales roles in Shell Chemicals for eight years, followed by nine years with SC&T. Prior to Shell, he had worked in commercial roles in the railroad industry for 25 years.

In this interview on “How I Make Every Molecule Matter”, Perry shares how he currently leads sales teams to work with refineries located on the U.S. west coast on their energy transition challenges, including recommendations for catalysts and renewable refining solutions, staying up-to-date on regulation and implementing real-time modelling tools for unit optimisations.

1. What is an aspect of your work that involves energy transition initiatives?    

I look at customer challenges from both the catalyst and the technology side.

Catalysts

In most cases, our new catalysts provide lower start-of-run (SOR) temperatures. In other words, you can get the same activity at a lower temperature, meaning you need less heat/energy for these catalysts to react. A couple of projects we’re working on are on the tail-gas side, wherein our newest tail gas catalyst 934 helps to reduce the heater rates.

Refiners will have the ability to operate their heaters at lower temperatures while still meeting their emissions targets. Refineries are always looking to reduce energy costs. These new, innovative catalysts help to reduce energy intensity and costs by scaling down the amount of heat going into the unit, which also reduces their carbon footprint.

Discover: Environmental catalysts

Technology

From a technology standpoint, one of the ways we are helping refiners is to adapt to new government regulations to lower their carbon footprint or intensity. In particular, on the west coast of the U.S., there is a big push for renewables. This is a space we play in. At Shell we have our own proprietary technology called Shell Renewable Refining Process (SRRP). It’s a technology that can take oils derived from renewables such as cooking oils from fast-food restaurants or food processing companies – and break them down into reusable products. Refiners are still getting the same energy out of that molecule, but their hydrocarbon footprint/intensity is reduced because there are fewer hydrocarbons.

2. What progress are refineries on the U.S. west coast making towards their energy transition goals?

When meeting with refiners on the U.S. west coast, energy transition goals are at the center of our discussions. Refiners in California are very active with the state government in adhering to the stringent regulations. California has been a leading state in reducing air pollution. California’s air districts are responsible for air quality and monitoring. The districts administer air quality improvement grant programs and are CARB’s (California Air Resource Board) primary partners in efforts to ensure that all Californians breathe clean air.

California is driving environmental changes and refiners are gaining interest in renewable technologies like SRRP, where they can either take an existing unit and revamp it to the new SRRP process, or start a new greenfield project, where they develop that technology as a new unit in their existing refinery system. SRRP is a superior, competitive offering because it is a two-stage process that can process biofeeds to provide higher diesel and sustainable aviation fuel yields. Refiners can also expect better overall profitability, as biofuels have a higher market value than conventional diesel and they provide trading credits. I’ve introduced SRRP to customers on the west and Gulf Coast. We are still in the infancy stage as refiners grapple with how they will include renewables in their existing refining operations.

Biofuels: Trends and advantages of renewable energy 

3. How do you work with customers on newer-to-market technologies?

We have discussions about their challenges because we can relate. As an owner-operator, we understand what our customers are up against with pending government regulations and market demands. At Shell, we have to deal with the same challenges. We work with our customers in trying to find new solutions to present-day challenges. We try to help them navigate through those changes with our new technology as potential solutions.

For example, the California Air Quality Districts have introduced new restrictions to lower NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions.1  They have a timeline to adhere to these new regulations. We have a technology that will help lower those NOx emissions. We are currently testing this new technology in our own refinery. We will know later this year if our new technology is able to reduce the NOx emissions to the lower level as intended. If successful, we plan to offer this new technology to refiners as a solution to help reduce the NOx emissions.

4. How do you incorporate modelling and digital tools into your work?

Modelling provides predictions, whether it be cycle life, performance value or increased production from volume swell. When we create a proposal for a customer, we’re always modelling how our catalyst solution will not only meet their requirements but exceed them as well.

On the digitalisation side, the new platform we’ve created is CatCheck Connect, which provides real-time performance on how our catalyst solutions and the unit is performing in real time. Currently, we provide our customers with quarterly reviews on how our catalyst is delivering value. We basically perform a “lookback”. This has worked very well for us and refiners for decades, however, CatCheck Connect is much more advanced, robust and provides “real time” data.

Receiving the information in real time is a huge advantage for the refiner, because it allows the customer to immediately make the necessary changes to optimise their unit. They are able to see operating trends and adjust accordingly. CatCheck Connect also provides troubleshooting opportunities, so if there is anything that’s going awry with the unit, CatCheck Connect will provide potential solutions. It’s a relatively new tool which we continue to develop and enhance.

Read more: Optimising refinery operations with collaboration and digitisation

5. Looking forward, what excites you most?

The energy transition is moving at such a rapid pace. Refiners are responding to pressure from governments and the general public to reduce the environmental impact of their operations along with the products they sell. I see my role as a solutions provider.

When I look at the menu of products in our catalyst and technology businesses, I see them as tools in my toolbox which I can use to help solve a customer challenge. My colleagues and I get excited knowing that we have the tools to add more value and solve problems. That’s what drives me and gets me up in the morning.

Download the technology journey to learn how energy producers can keep pace with the energy transition

1Robert Jablon, “Southern California enacts new smog rules on refineries”, AP News, 5 November 2021, https://apnews.com/article/business-environment-and-nature-california-smog-pollution-9a875508d08b35336b0c35966b37639c.