4–6 March 2024

Dubai, UAE

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MIDDLE EAST TECHNOLOGY FORUM FOR REFINING & PETROCHEMICALS4–6 March 2024

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Welcome to ME-TECH

ME-TECH WordCloudThe 2024 edition of ME-TECH will take place this coming March in Dubai. Firmly established as a Premier Technical Downstream event in the Middle East, our objective remains unchanged; to help connect the refining & petrochemical community to address, exchange and identify solutions to the pressing challenges being faced by the downstream industry sector.

The energy sector finds itself at an interesting crossroads - there is no shying away from the transition and our decarbonisation objectives but at the same time there is also the continued need for the traditional hydrocarbon industry to supply; secure, affordable and low carbon high value products. The downstream industry plays a crucial role in providing, in a responsible manner, the energy demand across the globe.

In the GCC region, refiners are looking to expand with further integration with petrochemicals - meaning better optimisation, more efficient operations, with wider range of products - all taking into account new quality constraints, the energy transition and long-term sustainability.

The 14th edition of ME-TECH will have a highly informative format with content tailored by our expert downstream consultants and our esteemed Advisory Committee - addressing key industry challenges and presenting the latest technologies, case studies and best practices to help the region's refiners & petrochemicals producers to adapt to new market and industry realities.

Pre-Conference Seminars

Delivering a sustainable future for downstream industries in the Middle East

Monday, 4th March 2024, 08:30–11:30 GST

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Navigating the Energy Transition: Accelerating Progress in the Face of Urgency

Monday, 4th March 2024, 12:30–15:30 GST

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Complimentary registration to seminars open to all operators and end-users

Register Your Interest

Join our Esteemed Speaker Panel

We are calling abstracts in the following areas:

  • Solutions for remaining competitive in new market conditions
  • Pathways to optimise & sustain existing assets
  • Technology routes for refining & petrochemicals operators
  • Digital tools & new technologies shaping smart refining & petrochemicals production
  • Optimising petrochemical integration
  • Deployment of alternative feedstocks and implementing co-processing
  • Catalysts – innovations, management, circularity & end of life options
Submit Your Abstract

Highlights from ME-TECH 2023

A huge thank you to all our speakers, sponsors, and delegates for attending ME-TECH 2023 from 16–18 May, in Dubai. We were delighted to welcome back so many familiar faces, and meet a lot of new ones - your contributions made the event a great success!

We’re excited to start the planning for ME-TECH 2024 which will take place on 4–6 March 2024. If you want to be involved in this flagship event, please get in touch.

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115 Pre-arranged
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Latest Insights

Exclusive first-hand insights, reports and interviews at the pulse of the global oil and gas downstream industry

CONVENTIONAL DOWNSTREAM DURING THE ENERGY TRANSITION. A CONVERSATION WITH JOSEPH IBRAHIM, AXENS

INTERVIEW

Conventional Downstream during the Energy Transition. A Conversation with Joseph Ibrahim, AXENS

The Energy Industry is transitioning, but it’s not abandoning hydrocarbons, at least, not in the ...

Interview with Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President and CEO, WSPA

INTERVIEW

Coprocessing of Alternatives Feeds in the FCC: a point of view with Melissa Clough Mastry, BASF

We caught up with Melissa Clough Mastry, Global Director of Technology and Technical Services ...

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BLOG ARTICLE

Middle East Downstream: Taking The Most Adapted Route(s)

Downstream is transitioning, but it’s not abandoning hydrocarbons, at least, not in the ...

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Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President and CEO, WSPA

Coprocessing of Alternatives Feeds in the FCC: a point of view with
Melissa Clough Mastry, Global Director of Technology and Technical Services, BASF

Ahead of ME-TECH 2023, we caught up with Melissa Clough Mastry, Global Director of Technology and Technical Services at BASF Refining Catalyst Group to find out which alternative feeds are suitable and available for co-processing in FCC units, how the process differs from conventional FCC operations and how BASF helps refiners with its technologies.


1. What are the available alternative feeds suitable for co-processing in FCC units and can the products be classified as a “drop-in” solutions?

There are a wide variety of possible feeds that refiners are looking to co-process or have already coprocessed in an FCC. The decision of which feed to use comes down to availability, cost, incentive (such as RIN credits in the United States or how close does an alternative feed type bring a refinery to meeting the GHG reduction target laid out by the EU Renewable Energy Directive, or the premium placed on product produced), and impact on FCC operation and product yields. We can think of a number of broad categories to describe alternative feeds, including vegetable oils, waste oils and fats, and pyrolysis oil made from waste products. Waste products can include (in varying quality and quantity) sorted plastics, mixed plastic waste, biomass waste, or municipal solid waste. Depending on the amount of alternative feed co-processed, typically expressed as a % versus traditional fossil fuel, and the quality of the oil, any of these could be considered as a drop-in. This especially applies to vegetable oils, about which there has been a lot of knowledge shared in the open literature. These tend to be the most similar (in terms of contaminants, hydrogen and carbon content) to traditional fossil fuels. For certain types of plastic pyrolysis oils, these can also be considered drop-in solutions, especially those originating from sorted plastic waste, and especially those consisting mostly of polyolefin plastics. For the rest, it comes down to the contaminant, hydrogen, and oxygen levels, among other variables, to determine if it can be a drop in or if further considerations are required.

2. How does co-processing alternative feeds differ from conventional FCC operation? What are the main challenges identified and will producers be able to overcome them?

The answer to this question is unequivocally "it depends". That being said, we can define some rules of thumb based on recent experience. The answer depends on the feed quality and characteristics, how much a refiner plans to co-process alongside the traditional fossil feed, and what goals the refiner has in mind. Generally, vegetable oils are very easy to process in an FCC but can bring along some oxygen which will go to non-valuable water or CO2. Plastic waste can range from easily crackable to being very difficult to crack. In the case of polyolefin rich plastic waste, these tend to be easy to crack and contain lower amounts of contaminants. Other plastic waste, especially those containing PVC and PET, bring unique challenges. PVC for example can bring high amounts of chlorides, which increase coke and hydrogen by reactivating contaminant nickel and can cause major problems downstream the FCCU in the main fractionator. PET brings difficulty to manage oxygen leading to low-value products. Biomass waste varies to an even greater extent, given the richness in possible starting materials. In general, they contain high amounts of con carbon, contaminants, water, and oxygen. Municipal solid waste is highly variable, but depending on the pre-processing done by the pyrolysis oil producer, these can be managed while paying attention to water, contaminant, and con carbon contents.

There are hardware solutions refiners can consider investing in to mitigate some of these issues, but there are steps that can be taken with an FCC catalyst to improve performance with these feeds. For example, it is important to be aware of how much contaminant (such as Cl or Na) is being introduced with the fresh catalyst - lowering this number increases the amount that can come in with feed. Similarly, the activity of the catalyst could be increased through a higher surface area or rare earth to counteract the impact of contaminants. FCC catalysts can also be designed with vanadium or nickel passivation technologies - these increase activity and lower coke yield which can further increase a refiner's flexibility to process newer, more challenging feeds. In the case of product yield shifts, especially between gasoline and LPG, a refiner should consider a catalyst change to maintain desired yield patterns. This would include adding or removing an olefins' additive or changing the acid site density of the base catalyst.

3. If an FCC is considering to co-process alternative feeds, what are some steps they can take to prepare themselves?

The process should start with many questions. One of the first questions to ask is about the quality of the oil - for this, we always suggest refiners to work very closely with their alternative feed supplier, including asking for a full set of specifications, including water content, con carbon, traditional contaminants, more unique contaminants like special alkali metals, chlorides, and feed distillation data. Furthermore, understanding what exactly went into the oil, in the case of pyrolysis processes, helps. For example, if the pyrolysis oil is of plastic origin, what type of origin was fed into the pyrolizer? Was it a single plastic stream, was it sorted plastics, is it mostly polyolefins, does it contain any PVC and/or PET? If the pyrolysis oil is of biogenic waste origin, what type of crops/plans/mass was fed into the pyrolizer? This can give an idea of the content of lignan and/or cellulosic material that went into making the oil. The next question revolves around understanding what others have done with this unique oil, if anything. In the cases of vegetable oils, there is much published work that can help guide refiners to answer some of the initial questions. In cases of under-studied oils, we always suggest refiners to prepare by undertaking some lab testing, whether that involves analytical/characterization and/or performance testing at varying ratios of alternative feed versus traditional feed. This can give an idea of the impacts the oil can have in the FCC and can help define what is possible in terms of co processing %. Additionally, simulations and calculations should be done to predict contaminant content on catalyst, and impacts on conversion and yields, in case lab performance testing was not done. Lastly, the refiner should understand what the contaminants, con carbon, and feed characteristics/distillation will do to the catalyst performance - and the refiner should take this information into consideration and decide whether a catalyst change or tweak is necessary to combat the incoming changes.

4. What FCC catalysts are available for co-processing in an FCC?

We have had refiners using various BASF technologies co-process a variety of different alternative feeds. All of them have done this with their existing catalyst technologies. In most cases, the catalysts came from our resid portfolio to deal with the contaminant metals and heavy molecules, and in other cases with cleaner feeds, the catalysts came from our VGO portfolio. More generally, as it stands today where most (albeit not all) are considering co-processing in the 1-15% range, we find that today's catalysts are more than equipped to handle the contaminants, yield shift pattern, and con carbon content of today's alternative feeds. We might see the use of advanced metals trapping technologies such as Boron Based Technology and Valor increase in the near future as the trend continues. This landscape can change in the future when refiners push above the 15-20% and even look to more adventurous alternative feeds with higher contaminants and a higher degree of differentiation versus today's oils.


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Middle East Downstream: Taking The Most Adapted Route(s)


Does the Middle East downstream industry need to stay focused on only processing conventional hydrocarbons? Or does it need to evolve, like other regions, to stay relevant? This is one of the key issues facing the downstream sector in the region: choosing the best route to ensure continued growth and security.


How can we reconcile both routes so that the industry remains competitive and resilient?

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The Middle East stands today, as a major hydrocarbon resources producer. The industry has been monetizing these resources, commercializing them and putting them into the market to meet demand.

The reality today, is that these regulatory changes and frameworks, especially in the developed world (and especially in places like Europe or specific states in the United States or maybe Japan and South Korea) are moving towards a position whereby the use of these liquid fuels, at least in their pure fossil-based hydrocarbon form, is being phased out.


How can we reconcile both routes so that the industry remains competitive and resilient? Does it make sense to start introducing bio-based feedstocks into the refining systems in the Middle East?

There is a famous quote from Admiral McRaven that says if you want to change the world then start by making your bed in the morning. This can be applied to the downstream sector in the Middle East where small incremental steps can make a big difference down the line.


If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another. -Admiral McRaven


In order to be competitive, the first step should be achieving the first quartile of energy intensity index. Many refineries in the region are new and, therefore, have been designed in order to stay in the first quartile but there remain some that are not in that position. And when you add to this problematic the new environmental regulations then achieving first quartile of energy intensity index becomes increasingly more difficult.

Digitalization is definitely a tool that can be used to improve existing assets by reaching those low hanging fruit and helping asset owners. When implemented correctly, digitalization can really help asset owners in maximizing profits, through optimized operation and efficiency. Traditionally, conventional refining is seen as a game of small margins and this is where digitalization tools add value – with relatively small upfront investment, clients actually reap the benefits in months rather than years.

The tools are available. It is now a question of applying them correctly and efficiently and, looking at what can be done to existing assets to reduce the carbon footprint, reduce emissions and be more energy efficient.

There is a lot of talk about bio-fuels and bio-refineries, but what are the real merits of going down this route? In Europe, certain refineries have been transformed into bio-refineries. But what constitutes a bio-refinery? In a number of cases this means that a few units are modified to be able to process some bio material feedstock which in most cases is then blended into the diesel product. The supply chain, feedstock availability, process, and product distribution is far from straight forward and is not viewed as a potential solution for the Middle East.

From a financing standpoint, the issue we are seeing is that as many financial institutions are global companies - they want the projects in which they invest to be compliant with international principles and standards. For this reason, the Middle East has to look at the traditional processes and find different solutions to reduce CO2, to reduce emissions, and to have a lower environmental impact as an industry.

Many ME downstream producers are working on enabling and implementing circularity programs into their operations. For instance, we are seeing a number of initiatives with regard to products - looking to improve the life cycle assessment including increased waste recycling and incorporating chemical recycling processes, etc.

The renewable polymers market is growing and these polymers are based on bio-based feedstock. So clearly we see that there is activity and this trend is likely to continue.

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The Advisors: Mathew George, Indian Oil Corporation - Gaetano De Santis, Bapco - Olli Nissinen, Borealis - Gil Morieras, Borouge - Khalid Al Asmi, OQ - Dimitrios Orfanidis, Saudi Aramco - Julien Mathonnière, Energy Intelligence - Samir Al-Jishi, Sipchem - David Marion, Total Energies - Suhail Akram, Thyssenkrupp - Uwe Zwiefelhofer, Linde Engineering Middle East - Moosa AL Moosa-Moosa, Dow Saudi Arabia


This article is part of the ME-TECH Advisory Committee Report. If you have enjoyed the piece and wish to read more, downlad the full report here.

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Conventional Downstream during the Energy Transition
A Conversation with Joseph Ibrahim, Middle East Managing Director, AXENS


The Energy Industry is transitioning, but it’s not abandoning hydrocarbons, at least, not in the short term! Refineries are progressively transforming and adapting themselves to this changing environment and the industry is now faced with new challenges and opportunities. Ahead of ME-TECH 2023, we caught up with Joseph Ibrahim, Managing Director for Axens Middle East, to find out more about Axens’ approach, strategies and technologies in these challenging times!


1. How does Axens manage to keep the balance between maintaining the conventional downstream technology portfolio and developing renewable and sustainable solutions?

First of all, I believe it is a step-by-step journey. Climate strategies targeting Net Zero in 2050 have also objectives for 2030, 2035, 2040 ... Demand for liquid hydrocarbons remains important through that journey and also in 2050, but the composition is changing from a product stand-point with a shift to Chemicals and low C Fuels, and also from a feedstock standpoint, including bio and recycled plastics, complemented by lower carbon hydrogen.

Axens and IFP Energies Nouvelles have been working for many decades to develop Low C Solutions built on long-standing experience and dedicated pre-commercial programs.

2. Which conventional refinery unit do you think will last the longest within the refinery configurations during the energy transition?

I believe that the refineries will be transformed progressively. We start to see some major changes for co-processing solutions and other shifts in the new development programs toward maximizing the chemicals' yield. Refineries will tend to re-utilize their assets: for example hydrotreaters or hydrocracking units, revamping FCC towards chemicals. This is where technology providers can play a large role, as we have worked a lot on the existing and new technologies and can cross experiences.

3. Are there conventional refinery units that in the future can be retrofitted to process alternative feedstocks?

Technologies such as Hydrotreaters, hydrocracking and FCC are revamped to be able to co-process alternative feedstock. La Mède Refinery in France has been converted to a Bio-refinery and Axens has participated in that journey through the retrofit of two Hydrotreaters for the production of 500 kilotons of renewable jet and diesel per year using Vegan Technology.

4. In which sustainable technologies should the classic refinery operator look to invest?

The Refining industry is facing very tough long-term challenges:

  • Reduce scope 1 (direct emissions) and scope 2 (purchased energy) carbon emissions, through energy efficiency, CCS, low carbon hydrogen, operations electrification with renewable power.
  • Cope with expected long-term oil demand decline via increased petrochemicals output, integration with synthetic fuels, plastics recycling, biofuels.

The refining industry can meet these challenges thanks to its unique expertise, which is to process and convert multiple feedstocks made of complex molecules into high-quality products. The industry should think of its future by building on this unique know-how, aiming to provide low-carbon fuels and chemicals needed by society while decreasing its environmental footprint.


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