Operating Fired Heaters More Efficiently and Reliably

by | Jun 23, 2006 | Downstream Hydrocarbons, Industry, Services, Consulting & Training

As I mentioned in an earlier post on fired heaters in refineries, this is an area where refiners can reduce energy costs by modernizing and optimizing the performance of these units.
The objective is to operate the heater at the lowest fuel cost, while being able to reliably handle the variability in fuel quality and BTU content for any waste fuels used by the heater. Many of these units operating in established markets around the globe are 20 to 30 years old and these often experience unplanned outages due to component failure. Another challenge is the tube coking / fouling in the units which can reduce operating efficiency.
Every 3-5% improvement in fired heater efficiency can mean 3 to 5 cents per barrel net margin improvement. For a 100kbpd facility, this translates into $1.8 to $2.9 million USD in annual savings.
I spoke with Chris Forland, an operations consultant for the Emerson Process Management group. Chris and the other consultants have helped refiners identify several ways to improve the efficiency and reliability of their fired heaters.
It starts with a study to baseline the performance and to confirm the operating issues impacting performance. This study helps to identify opportunities for improvement and to provide estimated costs and benefits to determine return on investment for the improvement initiative.
Beyond the SmartProcess Heater Optimizer mentioned in the earlier post, some typical opportunities Chris sees for improvement include on-line continuous measurement of fuel quality and BTU content, in-situ measurement of oxygen and carbon monoxide in the exhaust stack, predictive diagnostics for the smart instrumentation, digital valve controller actuator for the damper drives and control valves, and predictive measurements around the flame and relative coking.
These projects usually include a post project audit to determine the actual return on investment versus that forecasted one in the front-end study. This provides a measurement for the success of the project by determining the actual return on investment.

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