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Petroleum Refinery Life Cycle Inventory Model
NETL Team Updates Model to Describe Environmental Impacts of Petroleum Refining

NETL recently led a technical team that updated a petroleum refinery life cycle model that provides information on environmental impacts of petroleum refineries. A manuscript detailing the work has been published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology and is available here.

Tim Skone, lead of the NETL Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) Team, explained that the study updates the Petroleum Refinery Life Cycle Inventory Model (PRELIM) to provide a more complete environmental life cycle inventory, which can be translated to environmental impacts for consideration as part of LCA studies.

PRELIM is an established, freely available, open-source tool for estimating energy use by and greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum refining. PRELIM allows users to explore the sources of emissions within refineries, which are predominantly associated with energy demands such as process heat, electricity, hydrogen production, and catalyst coke burn-off within the process units.

“Prior to this update, PRELIM provided results that were limited to energy use and greenhouse gas emissions,” Skonesaid.  “The value in this work is the addition of criteria air pollutants, hazardous air pollutants, releases to water, releases to land, and managed wastes using data from a variety of publicly available data sources. The addition of these emissions will allow a more comprehensive analysis of the potential environmental tradeoffs associated with the shifts in refinery practices that are largely being driven by shifts in the U.S. crude supply and environmental regulations.”

He said the updated version provides a template to allow users to import PRELIM inventory results into the open LCA software tool as a unit process that can be connected to other portions of the petroleum life cycle, such as crude extraction and transport. The expanded version of PRELIM offers users a reliable, transparent, and streamlined tool for estimating the effects of changes in petroleum refineries on LCA results in the context of policy analysis.

Petroleum refining is a major global industry with significant environmental impacts. In 2014, domestic refineries generated approximately 3 percent of U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, refineries generate other criteria air pollutants, wastewater effluent and solid wastes that contribute to the environmental burden of refining activities.

Refinery operations have seen significant changes in recent years due to changing chemical composition of the crude oil, fuel specifications, and environmental requirements and these changes are expected to continue in coming years. Domestic crude oil extraction has grown 75 percent in the last decade.

In addition to NETL, the team consisted of experts from the University of Calgary, Alberta.