By Ara Barsamian
With crude oil priced at over $75/Bbl and gasoline selling at over $3 a gallon in the US, refiners are running at breakneck rates to take advantage of the current high profit margins. This stress has an impact on reliability and availability of gasoline blending production facilities and the process units that supply the blend components rundowns.
On the other hand, current refinery personnel rotation practices move people in and out about every two years; just about the time people get proficient, they get rotated to another job. This leads to costly mistakes, particularly in blending. How do you minimize the impact of typical blending mistakes such as bad recipes, poor knowledge of blend component properties, and temperamental blending equipment? By providing a reasonable, realistic, fast-track training program. Described below is a fast-track training program for a blending engineer. But the same approach can be applied to training blending operators and all other areas that are involved in blending, either directly or indirectly (e.g., planning and economics, lab, process control, analyzers, I & E, maintenance, etc.).
The purpose of this training program is to make a new blending engineer productive in the shortest amount of time. The program can be scheduled to be completed in approximately four weeks.
At the end of the training program, the new blending engineer will be able to:
A typical training program consists of six components as described below.
1. Overview of Blending: approximately three days of classroom training provided by current blending engineer
Explanation of what blending is, component and finished product tank allocations, calculations of blend recipes, product specifications (including ethanol blending), preparation of blend schedules and blend work orders, steps in starting, monitoring, and ending a blend, and taking samples to the lab for “certifying” a tank.
2. Blending Operations: approximately one week on-the-job training by offsites blending operator
Work side by side with field blending operators to do tank lineups, open/close valves, start and stop pumps, pump components according to the blend engineer’s recipe, use of tank gauging to measure component volumes transferred, use of mixers or pumps to circulate a tank, settling a tank, injecting dyes and additives, pumping product to the jetty, taking line samples to the lab, taking blend tank samples to the lab, getting results from the lab, write blending operator logs and reports.
3. Lab Testing of Blend Samples: approximately one week on-the-job training by a lab technician handling blend samples
Work side by side with lab personnel. Learn about ASTM test methods for gasoline samples, the accuracy/precision of the measurements, participate in the reception of blend line or tank samples, participate in the measurement of octanes with CFR knock engines – from engine warm-up to actual measurement, measurement of RVP/DVPE and precautions in avoiding loss of light ends, measurements of D86 distillations, measurements of aromatics, benzene, olefins, oxygenates, density, recording of the information, entering data into LIMS, reporting back to blending people.
4. Refinery LP Planning: approximately two days on-the-job training by a refinery planner
Use latest refinery planning LP report to illustrate the following:
5. Instrumentation Department: approximately three days
Learn about DCS control system, field blending equipment [e.g., flowmeters, control valves, inline mixers, booster pumps, on-line analyzers, fast sample loop, sample conditioning system, protofuels system, remote controlled motor operated valves (MOV) and pumps].
6. Blending Console Inside Control Room: approximately two days by Offsites Supervisor
Learn about the use of tank gauging system to determine tank inventory, the amount of component or product transfers, communications with field operators doing field equipment lineups, starting/stopping pumps, opening/closing valves, handling of blends and logging information, communications with blending engineer about blend problems and corrections, and communications with jetty about marine loading/unloading.
Considering that a refinery may blend 50,000 to 150,000 Bbls/day of gasoline, and that current margins are in the $10 to $25 range (depending on the region and location), we are talking about billions of dollars per year in cash flow. Reasonable training is a small price to pay for capturing these margins while they last (which might be quite a while, considering that oil consumption far outweighs new oil discoveries). But regardless of the generally quoted margins, having properly trained blending engineers will maximize each refinery’s individual margin.