Challenges facing operators is a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ test

Asian Downstream Insights interviews Matthew Viergutz, Head of Sulzer GTC Technology, as he discusses how Sulzer GTC is partnering with operators across the world to make them more profitable, and giving them a sustainable long-term competitive advantage.

Matthew Viergutz, Head of Sulzer GTC Technology
How did you get involved in the industry and your current role at Sulzer GTC?

I’ve spent my entire career in process technology licensing and have had a growing interest in emerging trends the past several years.  It’s an exciting time as some of the world’s most brilliant people are trying to solve traditional industrial problems in new ways that will better sustain our planet’s limited resources. I joined Sulzer GTC six months ago to lead the global technology team and am focused on strengthening our core technologies while increasing our attention to new markets that require innovative technical solutions. Sulzer GTC’s agility and robust technology platform give us a winning combination to serve this rapidly evolving market.

Talk to us about the impact of COVID-19 on the refining & petrochemical industry. Where do you think the industry is headed?

In the US, the impact was most greatly felt in March and April of 2020 when gasoline consumption fell due to lockdowns throughout the country. I believe that long-run trends related to carbon reduction will have a greater impact on the industry, with refiners around the world looking to optimise the utilisation of their assets in the face of a shifting demand on their core products.

What will the post-pandemic recovery look like for operators in Asia?

We believe the market will eventually recover to pre-pandemic era operating levels. There will be much more emphasis on producing petrochemicals as the post pandemic work culture will reduce transportation fuel demand further. It’s just that the recovery will be much slower in Asia as it will take time for this region to get the needed vaccinations.

Tell us a little bit more about your process design and mass transfer solutions for refining, petrochemical and chemical processes.

For refining, Sulzer GTC offers various solutions for utilising refinery intermediate streams for petrochemical production enabling the integration. For example, GT-BTX PluS℠ technology offers a viable solution to extract benzene, toluene and mixed xylenes from the FCC naphtha stream. The same technology can also be used for reducing octane loss and H2 consumptions in the FCC naphtha desulfurisation process. The iC4/iC5 reverse isomerisation process converts iso-paraffins to corresponding n-paraffins in the LPG stream from the refinery that is being used as feedstock to the ethylene cracker. This will help increase the ethylene yield as n-paraffins crack better than i-paraffins.

In a cracker complex, Sulzer GTC offers technologies to recover high value petrochemicals such as styrene, benzene, toluene and xylenes from the pyrolysis gasoline stream. For mega crackers, we can offer technologies for the recovery of isoprene and dicyclopentadiene from raw pyrolysis gasoline.

What kind of support can Sulzer GTC offer to refiners and petrochemical players that are looking to generate higher value petrochemicals?

Sulzer GTC can support the refiners and petrochemical players throughout the project cycle from very early stages of conceptualisation to accomplishment of their vision for generating high value petrochemicals. Some of the solutions that Sulzer GTC can offer are:             

  • Conceptualisation studies            
  • Preliminary assessment of various options including grass roots units, revamps, or utilisation of existing idle equipment   
  • Detailed feasibility studies for preliminary economic assessment Supply License, Basic Engineering packages for selected technologies       
  • Supply of proprietary and non-proprietary items 
  • Start-up and operational support
When it comes to implementing more sustainable solutions, what do operators have to consider as challenges, and how can they overcome them?

The challenge facing operators is a once-in-a-lifetime test. The forces that have supported this industry are changing rapidly and are doing so in ways that are irreversible. The most successful operators, and in some cases we can say the ones who will survive, will be the ones who accept this challenge and adapt with greater speed and resolution than their peers.

Can you tell us more about Sulzer GTC’s BioFlux® technology?

BioFlux® technology is a low-CAPEX, low-OPEX solution for hydroprocessing of bio-based materials. These materials present unique challenges to HVO producers because of their higher levels of contaminants and olefins. Built on MaxFlux® technology for petroleum feedstocks, BioFlux® overcomes the key deficiencies of the conventional design by completely dissolving hydrogen into the liquid. The reactor design maximises volumetric flux and the proprietary reactor internals ensure that the feed and hydrogen are completely mixed and evenly distributed for complete catalyst wetting. In this process, the reactions are managed more effectively, which yields higher volume of the valuable, drop-in renewable diesel product.              
The BioFlux® Pretreatment is a completely novel process that removes contaminants and provides a low-cost alternative to the conventional design. BioFlux® Pretreatment reduces CAPEX by more than 75% as compared to other pretreating units.     

Please tell us about your alliance with Axens and the advantages of this alliance for the gasoline and the petrochemical segments.

The alliance combines Sulzer GTC’s GT-BTX PluS℠ technology and Axens’ Prime-G+® technology, to form a unique combined solution that:

  • In gasoline mode – the combined solution can reduce octane loss to nearly zero, much lower than any other technology including Prime-G+ alone. It also reduces the H2 consumption to less than half, and reduces the HDS size to less than half. It also eliminates the possibility of sulfur recombination, so there is no need for the H2S stripper and polishing reactor, therefore saving significant CAPEX and OPEX.
  • In petrochemical mode – the combined solution can convert FCC gasoline to petrochemical products, i.e. aromatics (BTXC9A) and additional propylene with the same unit configuration as the gasoline mode, by simply switching from gasoline mode to petrochemical mode operation. It provides invaluable flexibility for the refineries in the regions where gasoline demand is expected to shrink.
What would be the main priority for operators to survive and thrive in the post-pandemic era?

Competition is only going to strengthen as long-run demand for conventional fossil-based products wanes, and the key to competition is finding ways to do something different and better than one’s peers. That’s where Sulzer GTC comes in – we are partnering with operators around the world to bring new innovative solutions such as BioFlux® to make them more profitable, giving them a sustainable long-term competitive advantage.

Tell us a bit more about your virtual workshop at ARTC 2021, and what operators can expect from your session.

Our virtual workshop will showcase the unique process technology solutions that Sulzer GTC offers to upgrade available feedstock to high value products that can enhance the operating margins of refinery and petrochemical plants, as well as helping to meet sustainability objectives for longer term investments.

The presentations will highlight case studies and experience sharing by our business segment leaders covering the following topics:

  • Sulzer GTC View of “The Refinery of the Future”
  • GT-BTX PluS℠ – Reconfiguring FCC Naphtha Processing for Unlocking Your Refinery’s Profitability
  • BioFlux® – The Hydrotreating Solution for Challenges of Renewable Feeds to Produce Biofuels
  • Chemical Recycling of Plastics: Coming Full Circle – Sulzer’s Value Proposition
  • Techtiv™ Solvents: Solutions to Make High Value Aromatics Effectively and Efficiently
  • Sulzer GTC Advanced Distillation – Dividing Wall Column Technology

Matthew Viergutz is Head of Sulzer GTC, located at the group’s headquarters in Houston, Texas.  Mr. Viergutz has more than 20 years’ experience in process licensing of both commodity chemical and bio-based technologies and has held various leadership positions in licensing and sales, including a role as Asia Pacific Business Director for a division of DuPont from 2010-2014. 

Before joining Sulzer earlier this year, Mr. Viergutz was CEO of Butamax Advanced Biofuels, a joint venture between DuPont and BP.  He has a BS in Chemical Engineering and an MBA, both from Washington University in St. Louis.