Market driven pressures on refining margins continue to be tough and fluctuating, and operational excellence is a key requirement for refiners to maximise opportunities throughout the value chain. Shell is committed to technology development and operational innovation in areas like feedstock supply, refinery processing, blending, product quality management and catalyst solutions. The identification and selection of opportunity crudes (crudes with a discounted price relative to their inherent hydrocarbon value) is one way of taking advantage of these developments. A flexible refinery processing configuration and product slate is another way: Innovative solutions are capable of responding to shifting demand, more stringent product specifications and the introduction of non-traditional blending components.

The safe and reliable processing of a range of hydrocarbon feedstocks, including heavy, sour and sometimes contaminated crude oils of increasingly varying quality and origin (eg syncrudes from oilsands), is a key requirement for refineries to maximise margin. This is becoming more difficult as a consequence of the decline in the supply of traditional stable crude oils. To support the performance of on-going operations, Shell has developed and deployed novel technology that links quick and cost effective analytical methods to hydrocarbon processing and reliability modeling, enabling the rapid screening of crude oil parcels against key processing constraints, such as corrosion, fouling and impurities. This technology is accessible to trading, supply and refinery practitioners around the world via a global web based platform. In this way Shell can pro-actively manage crude processing risks (e.g. mitigating constraints by optimizing feedstock blending on a cargo by cargo basis) and a rapid feedback loop supports Supply and Trading in their next crude Supply decisions, turning challenge into opportunity.

On the product side, challenges are diverse. In many parts of the world, demand is shifting from gasoline to diesel. Opportunities to maximise distillate yields have driven catalyst and reactor internals development resulting in novel applications in hydrocrackers and hydrodesulphurisation units. Technology developments also enable more efficient treating and upgrading of heavy cat cracked gasoline and light cycle oils to maximise low sulphur distillate production.

Simultaneously, product specifications are continuing to become more challenging. In regions with still relatively high sulphur in mogas and diesel this will lead to deeper desulphurisation. In regions with already low sulphur mogas and diesel, it is typically the off-road diesel and heating oil that needs treating. In addition, refiners will shortly be seeing stringent specs on marine fuels in the SECA's (sulphur emission control areas), with S spec reducing to 0.1% in 2015. This will create a growing demand for low sulphur distillates and surplus in the higher sulphur grades.

On the back of a sound understanding of product quality and blending behaviours, it is also possible to find new opportunities from new components, for example Shell will be making best use of products from the Qatar Gas-to-Liquids plant which will be taken into production shortly. GTL diesel and kerosene are premium components that can provide significant uplift of a constrained refinery product pool. In this way, novel product characteristics can create significant new business value.

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