By Sal Torrisi on Mar 17, 2020
Sal Torrisi is a hydrocracking market manager at Shell Catalysts & Technologies. Torrisi is an experienced global technology manager in the refining and petrochemical industry. His business development expertise includes fuel process optimisation, process engineering, and strategic planning.
On March 19, 2020, Torrisi will be a guest with his R&D colleague, Johan den Breejen, for a live webinar with Hydrocarbon Engineering on “Nano-engineered Zeolites in Hydrocracking Catalysts — Unlocking Ultimate Performance”. Torrisi and den Breejen will discuss how Shell’s Molecular Access Catalysts for Hydrocracking (MACH), a new nano-engineered technology, can create valuable opportunities for refiners.
In this QA, Torrisi shares his insights on the current constraints of hydrocrackers, how new nano-engineered technology can improve efficiency and product yields for refiners, and what’s ahead for Shell Catalysts & Technologies.
What most excites you about your work?
Most people don’t think of refining as a high-tech business, but there’s been amazing scientific and engineering advancements in technology that continue each day. It’s exciting to work with engineers and scientists to identify individual molecules by using advanced characterization techniques and to nano-engineer our catalytic materials to accelerate key reactions.
We’ve been able to utilize emerging information technologies to interpret the massive amount of data generated to design new zeolite catalysts that can significantly increase the efficiency of molecule conversion which ultimately improves the profitability of operations.
Could you share some insights on the development of MACH?
I can share a few insights on the development:
- Making step-out improvements in cracking catalyst performance requires more time than our typical developments, but it is certainly worth the effort. Modifying zeolite and catalyst structures on a nano (molecular) scale is a tough problem in a lab-scale environment, and an even harder homework problem to crack on an industrial scale. However, our close collaboration with our partners in the early phases of the project allowed the cross-functional team to overcome each obstacle with some creative solutions.
- While our sights were set on generating value by improving product yields, we discovered the benefits were more far-reaching than expected. We discovered that the proper use of the MACH products can influence product properties in very positive ways, improve the efficiency of conversion of the most refractory molecules, more effectively utilize valuable hydrogen molecules, and improve the stability of the cracking system, all of which lead to more economic operation.
- Lastly, we found that the science and theory behind the incorporation of mesopores into the zeolite matches up very well with all of the observed performance observations. This reinforces my confidence in using our new molecular-level techniques to help us develop customer materials that better match customers’ needs, whether it’s for maximising fuels or lubricants yields, processing heavier feed molecules, and/or generating petrochemical feedstocks.
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Why is it especially innovative?
Our forte over the last 30 years of making zeolites and incorporating them into hydrocracking catalyst formulations has been in generating high-quality structures with known configurations and low impurities. The novelty is in modifying that base structure to enhance the performance further, and we had the benefit of some smart scientists who developed the technology several years ago.
Prior techniques to incorporate mesoporosity into zeolites have resulted in a limited degree of mesopores with quite a broad range of sizes. With our current MACH technology, we are able to control the amount of mesopores, the size of the pores and perhaps most importantly, design the mesopores with a very specific size that works most effectively with the molecules we are converting in a hydrocracker.
What developments have Shell Catalysts & Technologies made with zeolite catalysts?
We’re working on developments in zeolite catalysis for hydrocracking, dewaxing and other custom petrochemicals applications (e.g. aromatics). We’ve collaborated with Zeolyst on zeolite materials to turn these highly engineered materials to advanced catalysts, permitting the most active and efficient conversion of molecules into the desired fuels, lubricants, and petrochemical products.
Shell Catalysts & Technologies works continuously with Shell sites to improve catalyst and process technology for each cycle in their units. We can deploy, validate, improve, and optimise these technologies, making them available to the wider market in a much shorter product cycle than typical in the marketplace. We also bring greater assurance for success with these new products given the operating experience in Shell units.
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Why are advancements with zeolite catalysts important?
As we move to the energy transition, and transportation fuels begin to peak in demand, there will be considerable effort to repurpose those fuel molecules into other uses. In particular, fuel molecules may be repurposed to produce the chemical building blocks that go into many products in use today. The innovation required to more efficiently convert these molecules will require improved catalysts and even processes to make this conversion, doing so in a way that will also reduce net carbon footprint (CO2).
Most of our customers are top-performing plants that recognize that technology improvement and application are key to maintaining competitiveness. They work together with us to co-develop high-performance solutions.
Shell owns and operates complex refineries, many of which are integrated with petrochemical plants, and thus has vast amounts of experience in being able to optimise the crude oil molecules into the right products. Shell Catalysts & Technologies is not only looking for improvements to adapt to short-term market needs but is looking long-term to help meet the needs of our customers for the energy transition.