Repository logo

Developing an integrated decision support system for an oil refinery.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis considers the problem of residue upgrading operations in an oil refinery. Visbreaking is a residue-upgrading process that improves profitability of a refinery. The economics of converting the heavy residue into the lighter and more valuable streams, coupled with the installation of a modem visbreaker unit at the Engen Refinery in Durban, provides sufficient motives to develop a mathematical model to simulate the unit's capability and estimate the economics of the visbreaking process and fuel oil operations. Furthermore, the proposed model should provide a crude-dependent visbreaking yield that can be used in the refinery's global linear programme (LP), employed to evaluate and select the crude and to optimise refinery's operations. Traditionally, kinetically based models have been used to simulate and study the refining reaction processes. In this case, due to the complexity of the process and some unknown reactions, the performances of existing visbreaking simulators are not fully satisfactory. Consequently, a neural network model of the visbreaking process and fuel oil blending operation is developed. The proposed model is called the adaptive visbreaker paradigm, since it is formed using neuroengineering, a technique that fabricates empirically-based neural network models. The network operates in supervised mode to predict the visbreaking yields and the residue quality. It was observed that due to the fluctuation in the quality of feedstock, and plant operating conditions, the prediction accuracy of the model needs to be improved. To improve the system's predictability, a network reciprocation procedure has been devised. Network reciprocation is a mechanism that controls and selects the input data used in the training of a neural network system. Implementation of the proposed procedure results in a considerable improvement in the performance ofthe network. 3 To facilitate the interaction between the simulation and optimisation routines, an integrated system to incorporate the fuel oil blending with the neurally-based module is constructed. Under an integrated system, the economics of altering the models' decision variables can be monitored. To account for the visbreakability of the various petroleum crudes, the yield predicted by the adaptive visbreaker paradigm should enter into the visbreaker,s sub-model of the global refinery LP. To achieve this, a mechanism to calculate and update the visbreaking yields of various crude oils is also developed. The computational results produced by the adaptive visbreaker paradigm prove that the economics of the visbreaking process is a multi-dimensional variable, greatly influenced by the feed quality and the unit's operating condition. The results presented show the feasibility of applying the proposed model to predict the cracking reaction yields. Furthermore, the model allows a dynamic monitoring of the residue properties as applicable to fuel oil blending optimisation. In summary, the combination of the proposed models forms an integrated decision support system suitable for studying the visbreaking and associated operations, and to provide a visbreaking yield pattern that can be incorporated into the global refinery LP model. Using an integrated decision support system, refinery planners are able to see through the complex interactions between business and the manufacturing process by performing predictive studies using these models.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1998.


Mathematical models., Oil industries--Mathematical models., Theses--Mathematics.