China Team Claims Group III Innovation

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The Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics claims to have developed a process for turning Fischer-Tropsch wax into high viscosity index base stocks. The process was successfully tested at PetroChina’s refinery in Karamay, China, officials said.

Researchers developed the process in an attempt to help the country beef up its domestic production of API Group III base stocks.

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Located in the northern port city of Dalian, the institute operates under the Chinese Academy of Sciences. According to local news reports, the institute announced May 17 that it had developed a process that uses hydrogenation and isomerization.

The institute’s statement said the process uses Fischer-Tropsch wax made by coal-to-liquids facilities. It said that coal-based Fischer-Tropsch wax has yielded base oils with V.I. of up to 150 but that it had been difficult previously to make such oils with pour points as low as those desired by lubricant formulators.

The institute said the main innovation of its researchers was to use isomerization catalysts that do yield acceptable pour points.

China is one of the world’s two largest lubricant markets and domestic refiners have installed huge amounts of base oil capacity in recent years. Most of that capacity is Group II, however, so lubricant manufacturers still rely largely on imports for their Group III needs.

Fischer-Tropsch is a technology used to make liquid petroleum products from natural gas or from coal when used in combination with coal liquefaction. The processes were developed in the 1920s but have been commercialized only in a handful of cases until recent years. Chinese companies have opened at least eight coal-to-liquids facilities in the past 13 years, and China now has the highest number of such operations.

A few of those facilities already make Group III base stocks, but they do so using technology provided by Western companies.

Wax is one by-product of CTL plants. The Dalian institute said the process it developed for base stocks also produces non-aromatic solvents, drilling fluids and white oils.

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