Norwegian and Indian Scientists Find Cheap Way To Reduce Sulphur Content In Petrol
Scientists from Norway and India say they have found a way to reduce the sulphur content in petroleum in a cost efficient way. They’ve developed a porous material which eliminates the need for costly hydrogen to clean up petrol and are set to use the product in commercial production.
The scientists, part of SINTEF, Scandinavia’s largest independent research and development company, and the Indian Institute of Petroleum, have worked for the past five years at their porous substance, which they are considering getting patented. That might be a wise idea because the removal of sulphur tends to be a costly affair.
Big oil refineries reduce the sulphur content in petrol through hydrotreating but this is an expensive process requiring lots of hydrogen. SINTEF’s head of the project to produce cost efficient ways to reduce sulphur in petrol, Elisabeth Tangstad, says that the scientists also focused on creating a fuel that has lower emissions of CO2.
IIP has already carried out commercial trials in its labs. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is financing the project to the tune of NOK 2.7 million ($532,600) and pledged further support of up to NOK 5.7 million ($1.1 million) should it be necessary.
Low sulphur petrol, also known as 'city petrol', is in high demand because in recent years countries around the world have put up tough regulations restricting sulphur levels in petrol to between 5 ppm to 150 ppm. US petrols have relatively high sulphur levels. The national average of sulphur in US non-reformulated (conventional) petrol amounted to around 350 ppm in 2006. Sulphur levels in diesel fuels are known to be higher than those in petrol. Typical levels in reformulated petrol were 150 ppm in the US in 2006 according to a petroleum industry survey.
Regulations on sulphur levels have been a considerable factor in petrol prices and taxes, because the type of oil that is most abundantly available has high sulphur levels, making refining costly. The sulphur levels of what’s known as ‘sour’ crude oil are way higher than ‘sweet’ crude oil, which refiners love because it has naturally low levels of sulphur.
The competitive importance of low sulphur petrol production was underscored on July 1, when the US backed International Energy Agency (IEA) publicly questioned India’s government’s decision to allow Reliance Industries, the Indian refiner with operations in Jamnagar (Gujarat) to export 10 ppm sulphur content petrol to the tune of 580,000 barrels per day. The company now ranks as the world’s largest refinery plant. "The impact on global crude allocations will be felt across Asia and as far afield as the US," the IEA complained, warning that the extra petrol on the market will end up undermining global refinery margins.
The Indian company remodeled its refinery which can now process various high grade products which means that it can source crudes from every major exporting region, possibly with a bias towards heavy Middle Eastern and Latin American grades. The Indians, who are not part of the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) are aiming to sell their processed oil on the international market, having reconfigured their oil refinery to produce 10ppm sulphur diesel (down from 50 ppm) to be able to sell it in Europe after January 2009.
Sulphur is a major contributing factor making petrol harmful to the environment and deteriorating air quality because it poisons the catalyst in vehicles, which in turn increases the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, other air toxins and particulate matter.