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In the field where crude oil is produced, water that is co-produced

with the oil is separated, and the oil stabilized to the desired RVP
by flash vaporization of light hydrocarbons. Some salt remains in
this crude in the form of brine and solid particles.
Desalting of the crude oil is normally considered a part of the
crude distillation unit (CDU) since heat from some of the streams
in the CDU is used to heat the crude in the desalting process. First,
water is mixed (as much as 7 volume percent) with the crude to
dissolve salt crystals and to dilute the brine already present in the
crude. In the case of some heavier crudes, naphtha is added as a
diluent to reduce the viscosity of the crude. One or more chemicals
are added to facilitate the separation of the aqueous phase from the
crude oil. The pH of the effluent water is held between 5.5 and 6.5.
This is particularly important in the case of naphthenic crudes with
TAN greater than 1.0. The mix is heated to a temperature just
below the BP for the pressure on the mix (usually below 325F).
The mix is then passed through an electrostatic field to further
facilitate the separation of the aqueous phase. Depending on the
amount of salt contained in the crude and the difficulty in remov-
ing it, a second stage of desalting may be employed to reduce the
salt remaining in the crude down to a tolerable value.
The crude is further heated by exchange with other streams and
finally passes through a fired heater where it is heated to the tempera-
ture desired for introduction into the atmospheric distillation column.


The reduced crude from the atmospheric tower is heated and charged
to a vacuum distillation tower. In order to reduce the production of residual
fuel oil and increase the yield of gas oil cracking stock, many refiners are
going to lower flash zone pressures (as low as 20 mm Hg) and a flash zone
temperature approaching 750F to be able to cut between gas oil and resid
at an atmospheric equivalent temperature as high as 1,100F.
Seldom is a finished product produced by the CDU today. The basic pur-
pose of the CDU is to separate the crude oil into fractions suitable for further
processing. Even the fuel gas (essentially ethane and lighter) that is to be
burned in the refinery usually must be treated or blended with sufficient
sweet gas to be in compliance with regulations covering sulfur emissions.
The disposition of the remaining streams produced by the CDU is typ-
ically as follows:

Stream Disposition
Light ends Fed to a saturate gas plant (that may
or may not be considered a part of the
CDU) producing fuel gas, propane,
butanes, light naphtha, and including
amine treating to remove acid gases

Propane Probably Merox treating then to LPG


Butanes Probably to alkylation unit feed treater

then to its deisobutanizer

Light naphtha Treating then gasoline blending or iso-

merization unit

Heavy naphtha Hydrotreating then catalytic reforming

or possibly to jet fuel

Kerosene Treating then sales or jet fuel

Diesel fuel Treating then sales


Atmos. gas oil Feed to fluid catalytic cracking unit

(FCCU), possibly after hydrotreating

Vacuum gas oil Feed to the FCCU, possibly after


Vacuum residue SDA, coking, or blending to fuel oil

Figures 71, 72 and 73 are simplified process flow diagrams of an

atmospheric CDU, a vacuum distillation unit and a saturate gas plant

Fig. 71 Atmospheric Crude Distillation


Fig. 72 Vacuum Distillation

Fig. 73 Saturate Gas Plant


Estimating the yields of the desired fractions that might be obtained from a
single crude is a fairly simple task. However, the refiner is rarely processing
a single crude, but a mixture of a number of crudes. Assays are usually
available for single crudes, but only for very few blends and these are
unlikely to be the ones of interest.
Performing a complete assay of a crude is an expensive (and time con-
suming) procedure. The blend being charged to the CDU could change sig-
nificantly before an assay could be completed. The refiner, therefore, must
have some other means of estimating the amounts of the various streams he
should realize from his current blend of crudes.
Fortunately, computer programs are available that can take crude assay
data and derive from them a complex of pseudo hydrocarbon components
that will satisfactorily represent the actual crude. Such pseudo assays for a
number of crudes can then be blended together in the proportion desired to
produce a pseudo assay for the blend. The refiner can then specify the boil-
ing ranges (or cut temperatures) desired for the various streams and the
computer program can determine not only the yields to be expected, but
certain properties for these streams as well (e.g., API gravity, PONA, octane
number, cetane number, etc.).

What about the individual who does not have access to such sophisticated
means? In general there are three kinds of assay data available:

1. Cursory data of the type produced by the Bureau of Mines,

based on a Hempel distillation at ambient pressure to a cut tem-
perature of 527F, continued at 40 mm Hg to 572F.
2. Cursory data of the type published in the Oil & Gas Journal
much like the Bureau of Mines reports, but based on true BP
(TBP) distillations (Fig.74).

Fig. 74 Oseburg Crude Assay

3. Comprehensive assays by the producers of the more promi-

nent crudes. These vary considerably in detail. Some include
yield and property data for catalytic reforming of naphthas
and catalytic cracking of gas oils. Where appropriate, con-
siderable detail on lubricating oil potential and/or asphalt
production is given. These assays are proprietary and avail-
ability is usually limited to potential buyers/processors and
sometimes to process design engineers.

Crude Break-Up Procedure

Assuming TBP data are available:

1. Establish TBP cut temperatures for the cuts desired.

For example:
Light naphtha IBP194
Heavy naphtha 194356
Jet fuel 356464
Diesel fuel 464608
Atmospheric gas oil 608707
Light vacuum gas oil 707788
Heavy vacuum gas oil 788977
Vacuum residuum 977+
(These cut temperatures have been chosen to correspond with
cuts in the Oil & Gas Journal assay of Oseberg Crude.) 1

2. Tabulate volume percent and gravity of each cut and calcu-

late the corresponding weight percents (Table 71).

3. Usually some minor adjustment is required to obtain a

weight balance. This may be done by normalizing (dis-
tributing the necessary adjustment proportionally over all
the cuts) or adjusting one or more of the largest streams
(Table 72).


Table 71 Data on Certain Cuts from Oseberg Assay

Table 72 Data on Selected Cuts after Normalizing

4. Estimate the sulfur content and the UOP K factor for each cut.

5. If the cuts are to be processed further, estimate pertinent

additional properties for certain cuts, such as:

Naphthas PONA, octanes

Jet fuel Smoke point, percent aromatics
Diesel fuel Pour point, CI
Gas oils Carbon residue, nitrogen, metals
Resid Carbon residue, nitrogen, metals


To determine the yields and properties of streams with different cut

temperatures than those of a particular assay, the engineer may resort to lin-
ear regression of the assay data by a procedure described by the author.2 It
was found that a third or fourth order polynomial could be used to satis-
factorily describe the yields and properties at the cut temperatures of the
assay for any temperature over the range of the distillation. These equations
can be used to obtain the necessary data to make blends of crudes.

Crude distillation operating requirements

The following values may be used for the operating requirements for
crude distillation:
Electric Fuel Steam
(kWh/b) (kBtu/b) lb/b
Atmospheric 0.5 100 25
Vacuum 0.3 100 50

Crude distillation capital cost

Data on a total of 19 announced projects were scaled to 100,000 BPD
and translated to the first month of 1991. The average value was $38 mil-
lion. Data were found for eight vacuum units. Scaled to 60,000 BPD and
the first month of 1991, the average value was $30 million.

1. Corbett, R.A., Oil & Gas Journal, July 24, 1989, pp. 56-57

2. Maples, R.E., Oil & Gas Journal, November 3, 1997, ff. 72