Refinery of the future

Very few low-carbon fuels will be feasible without the advanced manufacturing capability itself being low-carbon. In the UK this will require changes to existing refinery processes.

Existing refinery sites are well-suited locations for the construction of facilities to allow the development of low-carbon fuels. They typically have industrial land available for development, have the engineering and technical expertise required, access to maintenance and fabrication supply chains, have operational, laboratory and storage expertise, access to the necessary utilities and primary energy links, and have strong health, safety and environmental protection cultures.

Reducing emissions from refinery manufacturing processes:

Conceptual changes that could be made to UK refineries to enable reduced carbon emissions from process units include:

1. Improved efficiency of process units and utilities

2. Lowering the carbon footprint of energy sources, i.e. fuel switching, cogeneration units, electrolyic production of hydrogen, low-grade heat recovery

3. Carbon capture technology

4. Changing the feedstocks that go into the refining process as well as the energy that runs the site.

The current downstream oil sector, as well as directly providing 123,800 jobs and £8.6 billion annually in GDP, also supports security of supply in the UK by retaining a mix of domestic refining and imported product presence of domestic refineries.

UK refineries emit less carbon emissions than the global average. The difference in emissions can be 35% higher if product is imported from outside the EU when considered against domestically refined product.

What could a Refinery of the Future look like?

UKPIA forsees that a Refinery of the Future could be a highly efficient manufacturing plant that has considerably lower carbon and air quality emissions than is the norm today, is able to produce low-carbon fuels from new feedstocks and could be at the centre of highly integrated supply chains that make optimum use of available resources.

This includes:

  • Utilising people's skills
  • Choosing the right feedstocks - whether they be recycled or where necessary fossil-derived (where emissions can be offset elsewhere)
  • Using shared infrastructure, subject to an appropriate regulatory framework, to lower emissions across an entire industrial cluster that goes beyond the capabilities of individual businesses.

All of these stands could come together to deliver the low-carbon products of the future that themselves could unlock lower carbon emissions in their use, such as improved engine efficiencies from optimised fuels.

Refinery of the Future (Small)
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