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Modeling the World’s Refineries

New Research Models the Environmental Impact of Refining Different Crude Oils

PITTSBURGH (Oct. 12, 2020) — Petroleum refining is the third-largest global source of stationary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and accounts for about 40 percent of emissions from the gas and oil supply chain, according to the IEA’s World Energy Outlook. The refining industry has had to adjust to keep up with changing market demands and increasing environmental regulations. However, not every type of crude oil has an equal impact, and those who use and sell petroleum products are not aware of the environmental footprint each refining process has.

New research in the journal Nature Climate Change uses engineering-based refinery modeling on crude oils to assess and track the lifecycle climate impacts of the oil and gas industry. The authors, including Mohammad Masnadi, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, provide guidance on refining choices that will lessen the environmental impact of the industry and recommend future investments in emissions mitigation technologies. 

“This paper helps to define a detailed baseline of current global refining emissions at a crude and country level, as well as an investigation of the drivers of these emissions and mitigation potential using a transparent, open-source tool. This provides a scientific basis for transparently tracking emissions reduction progress from this sector,” said Masnadi. “Our work can help policy makers quantitatively to design better energy and environmental strategies and provide insights for investors and risk assessors in their future decision making process in a carbon-constrained world.”

The researchers modeled 93 percent of the world’s oil as it flows to 153 refineries across the world, finding that global refining emissions could potentially be reduced by 11 to 58 percent by targeting the primary emission sources.The research will, for the first time, estimate GHG emissions of oil refinery operations using a granular, engineering-based, bottom-up approach.

“Understanding the refining climate impact of individual marketable crude oil networks is instrumental in guiding climate-sensitive refining choices and informing policies that incentivize investment in emissions mitigation technologies,” explained Masnadi. “For example, the different types and amounts of energy consumed in different refineries and regions can help decision makers prioritize the focus of improvements to achieve the biggest emissions reductions at the lowest cost.”

The paper, “Carbon intensity of global crude oil refining and mitigation potential,” (DOI: 10.1038/s41558-020-0775-3) was led by the University of Calgary’s Liang Jing and co-authored by the Aramco Research Center’s Hassan M. El-Houjeiri and Jean-Christophe Monfort; Stanford University’s Adam R. Brandt; Pitt’s Mohammad S. Masnadi; Brown University’s Deborah Gordan; and the University of Calgary’s Joule A. Bergerson.

Author: Maggie Pavlick

Contact: Maggie Pavlick