Interview: Driving investments into downstream
Jim Moshi emphasises his belief that the world will continue to rely on hydrocarbons for centuries, not just as a fuel, but as a source of petrochemicals for millions of products that will enable a higher standard of living.
Jim Moshi, regional business manager, Middle East, Honeywell UOP, emphasises his belief that the world will continue to rely on hydrocarbons for centuries, not just as a fuel, but as a source of petrochemicals for millions of products that will enable a higher standard of living, in an interview given to Martin Menachery
How important is the Middle East region for Honeywell UOP?
Honeywell UOP has been serving customers in the Middle East for more than 60 years and the region remains a crucially important source of energy and petrochemicals. We have been the trusted advisor to most of the oil and gas players in the region, and are proud of having contributed to hundreds of operations, including Ras Tanura and Jeddah refineries in Saudi Arabia, Shuaiba, Mina Abdualla and Mina Ahmadi refineries in Kuwait, and Ruwais refinery in Abu Dhabi.
Honeywell UOP delivered many new technologies to the region, including its first Merox unit for Saudi Aramco. This was followed by the first hydrocracker at the Jeddah refinery and the first of several hydroprocessing units for the Shuaiba refinery in Kuwait. Today, nearly 400 UOP process and adsorption units are in operation across the Middle East.
Which are the refining and petrochemical manufacturing projects Honeywell UOP is involved in the Middle East currently?
Honeywell UOP has, in many ways, led the development of refining and petrochemical manufacturing in the Middle East. But in addition to providing world-class technologies, UOP has been actively involved in developing the skills of industry professionals across the region. In Saudi Arabia, for example, in 2014 we launched UOP University in partnership with King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM). This is a programme in which UOP scientists deliver graduate level courses on catalysis in refining and petrochemicals to KFUPM students.
In addition, Honeywell UOP provides summer training to KFUPM chemical engineering students at its lab in Dhahran Techno Valley, where new technologies are developed for use in the Kingdom. We also have welcomed several early-career Saudi students into our global career development programme, which dispatches them to facilities in dozens of countries to gain invaluable hands-on experience with start-ups, revamps and troubleshooting. At the end of that programme, they return to their companies as global experts.
Please give us a brief on the technology innovations from Honeywell UOP for the downstream sector during 2016…
The technologies for the downstream sector typically follow long arcs, which means that they take many years to develop, and we continue to develop them for decades. For example, we recently introduced the MaxEne process, which significantly improves yields of both high-octane gasoline and value-added petrochemicals. It significantly improves ROI by managing the molecules better and allowing for operational flexibility, while ensuring a comparatively low capex investment.
Another breakthrough is Honeywell UOP’s suite of connected performance services (CPS) solutions, an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-based service that combines UOP’s deep process knowledge, design expertise, and understanding of catalysis, with next-generation software platforms from Honeywell Process Solutions. With CPS, problems that made plants less efficient and productive, and that went undetected for weeks or months now can be resolved quickly and proactively, and decisions that used to take days now can be made in hours. For many plants, the avoidance of downtime and suboptimal performance, and better agility can be worth millions of dollars per year.
We introduced the first successful ionic liquids alkylation technology, as an alternative to hydrofluoric and sulphuric acid systems. It produces a stellar alkylate product, but with much simpler catalyst-handling procedures. Another important introduction is our new line of Unity hydroprocessing catalysts, including high-performance hydrotreating catalysts.
Modular refining and petrochemical solutions also represent an important new breakthrough in technology delivery. Numerous technologies now can be built in factories and shipped in parts to a project site, vastly improving unit quality and reducing the time to project completion. These modular units can be for individual processes, or for an entire refinery, petrochemicals or integrated plant.
What are the major challenges Honeywell UOP is facing in the Middle East?
The past two years have been unlike any other time in our history, clearly showing the need for greater flexibility in processing a wider range of feedstocks into a wider range of products, and doing it with far greater efficiency and less waste.
Many of our customers are working to expand into fuel production and integrate petrochemicals production into their refining fleets. This makes perfect sense, to avoid imports of refined products – itself a sign of vibrant and growing economies, and developing the means to derive even greater value from the region’s tremendous natural resources.
What are the advantages of Middle East in oil and gas refining and petrochemicals manufacturing?
The Middle East as a whole has significant cost advantages, growing domestic economies, growing export demand, and a rapidly developing pool of professional talent – all ingredients for a prosperous industry. With the promise of raising the standard of living for generations, nations across the Middle East have created ambitious modernisation programmes, which will generate new demand for fuels and petrochemicals.
Through strengthening manufacturing capabilities within the region, regional governments and industries can also diversify their economies, create jobs, unlock more revenue and contribute significantly to business development and economic growth. And we are very proud to be part of that movement.
How do you foresee the future of the downstream industry in the Middle East?
We expect greater stability in oil prices, and this is the primary factor in financial planning. The analysts who cover the industry agree that this stability is likely to continue, despite short-term anomalies, and that oil prices will rise slowly but steadily for the foreseeable future. This sets a favourable environment for economic development in the region, and a rare but urgent opportunity for expansion and investment in new technologies. We believe that the world will continue to rely on hydrocarbons for centuries, not just as a fuel, but as a source of petrochemicals for millions of products that will enable a higher standard of living, including plastics, synthetic fibres, the detergents that keep us clean, the fertilisers that help feed us, and the pharmaceuticals that keep us healthy.
This consideration has been driving investments into downstream capabilities, as manufacturers work to improve yields and profitability through smart investment in new technologies, while getting more out of what they have. We see this trend continuing, and 2017 is only the beginning of that journey.