Fluid Catalytic Cracking

Fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) is the most important conversion process used in petroleum refineries. It is widely used to convert the high-boiling, high-molecular weight hydrocarbon fractions of petroleum crude oils to more valuable gasoline, olefinic gases, and other products. Cracking of petroleum hydrocarbons was originally done by thermal cracking, which has been almost completely replaced by catalytic cracking because it produces more gasoline with a higher octane rating. It also produces byproduct gases that are more olefinic, and hence more valuable, than those produced by thermal cracking.

The feedstock to an FCC is usually that portion of the crude oil that has an initial boiling point of 340 °C or higher at atmospheric pressure and an average molecular weight ranging from about 200 to 600 or higher. This portion of crude oil is often referred to as heavy gas oil or vacuum gas oil (HVGO). The FCC process vaporizes and breaks the long-chain molecules of the high-boiling hydrocarbon liquids into much shorter molecules by contacting the feedstock, at high temperature and moderate pressure, with a fluidized powdered catalyst.

In effect, refineries use fluid catalytic cracking to correct the imbalance between the market demand for gasoline and the excess of heavy, high boiling range products resulting from the distillation of crude oil.

As of 2006, FCC units were in operation at 400 petroleum refineries worldwide and about one-third of the crude oil refined in those refineries is processed in an FCC to produce high-octane gasoline and fuel oils. During 2007, the FCC units in the United States processed a total of 5,300,000 barrels (834,300,000 litres) per day of feedstock and FCC units worldwide processed about twice that amount.

Read more about Fluid Catalytic CrackingFlow Diagram and Process Description, Chemistry, History

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