Aramco upgrades refineries to meet US rules on sulphur

28 March 2008
Saudi Aramco is to roll out a multi-billion-dollar scheme to reduce the sulphur content of gasoline produced at four refineries, in an effort to meet strict environmental regulations by 2013.

It follows the company’s recent decision to launch a $2bn upgrade of its 400,000-barrel-a-day (b/d) oil refinery at Yanbu to comply with rules introduced by the US’ Environmental Protection Agency in 2006 (MEED 21:3:07).

The new rules make it com-pulsory for refiners to reduce the sulphur content of the gasoline they produce.

Aramco has committed to installing ultra-low sulphur diesel (ULSD) facilities in at least four of its refineries, which will involve the award of billions of dollars of work for local contractors.

The Jubail-based Saudi Aramco Shell Refinery Company (Sasref) refinery is expected to be the next to be upgraded after the project was first mooted almost two years ago (MEED 23:6:06).

US-based ABB Lummus Global is expected to carry out the main engineering, procurement and construction management contract after winning the original front-end engineering and design deal in 2006.

ULSD facilities will then be rolled out at the Riyadh, Jeddah and Yanbu refineries over the next three years. The refineries have capacities of 120,000 b/d, 100,000 b/d and 225,000 b/d respectively.

One Riyadh-based executive close to the ULSD project says Aramco has been briefing refinery managers about the need for the changes to the plants.

“Everyone has been made aware of the need to incorporate these new projects into the capital budget over the next few years and we are waiting for the final timing on each implementation from the Oil Ministry and Aramco,” the executive says.

Changes to sulphur levels have been progressively introduced around the Gulf over the past few years as the region slowly moves into line with tough new limits on sulphur dioxide emissions.

In the 1970s, emissions levels were about 10,000 parts per million (ppm), and 2,000-5,000 ppm a decade later. The most recent US law change requires gasoline to have a sulphur content of less than 10 ppm and 1 per cent benzene by 2013. Diesel must have less than 50 ppm of sulphur by 2013 and 10 ppm by 2016.

Last year, South Korea’s Samsung Engineering won a $500m contract to install a diesel hydro-treater to cut sulphur content at Aramco’s Ras Tanura refinery in Saudi Arabia.

The upcoming joint venture export refineries at Jubail and Yanbu will also compliant with US standards.

Other states are implementing similar measures. Kuwait recently awarded a host of technology contracts for its $6bn clean fuels project to upgrade existing refineries. Prequalification is under way for the engineering, procurement and construction contractors (MEED 15:2:08).

Similarly, the UAE has initiated a project to produce more low-sulphur gas oil with the construction of a green diesel plant at Ruwais (MEED 7:01:08).

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