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News and comment from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander

Optimizing oil refining

March 23, 2010

A press release crossed my desk yesterday, and it connected two things that have been recent discussion points. The main topic of the release is that ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) has signed a licensing agreement with Invensys to use some of the refinery process models that EMRE has developed. The suite of models will be available to other refiners through Invensys Operations Management’s SimSci-Esscor optimization software, using its ROMeo solution to enable clients to model and optimize process units.

Sudipta Bhattacharya, president and chief executive of IOM makes an interesting observation about the current situation of the refining industry: “With depressed demand, decreased margins, and increased environmental mandates, refiners no longer have the option to simply operate at maximum throughput. Over the course of the coming decade, we will see a drastic shift in the oil industry as refiners constantly optimize their operations in the face of changing feedstock and energy costs, product specs, and margins. Refiners will increasingly rely on accurate modeling technologies to construct a refinery-wide picture and assess the financial impact of different operating scenarios. Our SimSci-Esscor optimization software and ROMeo solution, combined with EMRE process models, enables refiners to make improved economic decisions throughout the refinery, from crude feed to final product blending.”

The first area that this connects with is two recent postings on the changing nature of the oil industry now that consumption in the U.S. seems to have peaked and refiners are now finding themselves with excess capacity in North America and Europe. The notion that refiners have the opportunity to evaluate processes with something other than maximizing production in mind could be an interesting change.

The second point is the concept of processes and process models as intellectual property. There is a feature story on this very topic in our April issue which will be coming very soon. A sidebar in the article brings up the area of legal agreements between system providers and end users and how notions of who owns what need to be defined clearly. The situation between IOM and EMRE is something of an extreme case, but the same concepts apply if an end user is working with a control system supplier in a much more conventional application. Watch for it.