Catalytic reforming and isomerization are processes which rearrange hydrocarbon molecules to produce products with different characteristics. After cracking, some gasoline streams, although of the correct molecular size, require further processing to improve their performance, because they are deficient in some qualities, such as octane number or sulphur content. Hydrogen (steam) reforming produces additional hydrogen for use in hydrogenation processing.
Catalytic reforming processes convert low-octane heavy naphthas into aromatic hydrocarbons for petrochemical feedstocks and high-octane gasoline components, called reformates, by molecular rearrangement or dehydrogenation. Depending on the feedstock and catalysts, reformates can be produced with very high concentrations of toluene, benzene, xylene and other aromatics useful in gasoline blending and petrochemical processing. Hydrogen, a significant by-product, is separated from the reformate for recycling and use in other processes. The resultant product depends on reactor temperature and pressure, the catalyst used and the hydrogen recycle rate. Some catalytic reformers operate at low pressure and others at high pressure. Some catalytic reforming systems continuously regenerate the catalyst, some facilities regenerate all of the reactors during turnarounds, and others take one reactor at a time off stream for catalyst regeneration.
In catalytic reforming, naphtha feedstock is pretreated with hydrogen to remove contaminants such as chlorine, sulphur and nitrogen compounds, which could poison the catalyst. The product is flashed and fractionated in towers where the remaining contaminants and gases are removed. The desulphurized naphtha feedstock is sent to the catalytic reformer, where it is heated to a vapour and passed through a reactor with a stationary bed of bi-metallic or metallic catalyst containing a small amount of platinum, molybdenum, rhenium or other noble metals. The two primary reactions which occur are production of high-octane aromatics by removing hydrogen from the feedstock molecules, and the conversion of normal paraffins to branched-chain or isoparaffins.
In platforming, another catalytic reforming process, feedstock which has not been hydrodesulphurized is combined with recycle gas and first passed over a less expensive catalyst. Any remaining impurities are converted to hydrogen sulphide and ammonia, and removed before the stream passes over the platinum catalyst. Hydrogen-rich vapour is recirculated to inhibit reactions which may poison the catalyst. The reactor output is separated into liquid reformate, which is sent to a stripping tower, and gas, which is compressed and recycled.
Operating procedures are needed to control hot spots during start-up. Care must be taken not to break or crush the catalyst when loading the beds, as small fines will plug up the reformer screens. Precautions against dust when regenerating or replacing catalyst are needed. Small emissions of carbon monoxide and hydrogen sulphide may occur during regeneration of catalyst.
Water wash should be considered where stabilizer fouling has occurred in reformers due to the formation of ammonium chloride and iron salts. Ammonium chloride may form in pretreater exchangers and cause corrosion and fouling. Hydrogen chloride, from the hydrogenation of chlorine compounds, may form acids or ammonium chloride salt. The potential exists for exposure to aliphatic and aromatic naphthas, hydrogen-rich process gas, hydrogen sulphide and benzene should a leak or release occur.