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Iran explores arcane ways of gasoline making

Dubai, December 19, 2009

Iran is exploring several untraditional ways to produce gasoline, including using petrochemical plants and natural gas liquids, to cope with any UN sanctions.

It also plans to boost gasoline production by using petrochemical refineries, but impure products and high configuration costs will make it only a short-term solution.

In November, Iran produced gasoline from petrochemical plants as an emergency test to counter any possible sanctions on gasoline.

"With this move we would like to show that the West cannot use any limitations on selling gasoline to Iran as a tool against the Islamic Republic," Massoud Mir-Kazemi, Iran's oil minister, said after the test run.

But analysts were sceptical.

"One cannot magically use a petrochemical plant to produce more gasoline without having the basic petroleum components," said Olivier Jakob, managing director of Swiss-based oil consultancy Petromatrix.

"If Iran could magically use petrochemical plants to become self-sufficient in gasoline production, it would already be doing so," he added.

The US House of Representatives has approved legislation to impose sanctions on foreign companies that help to supply fuel to Iran, a measure lawmakers hope could deter Tehran from pursuing its nuclear energy programme.

Mir-Kazemi said in November that petrochemical facilities could be used to produce about 14 million litres of gasoline per day.

This would raise total output to 58.5 million litres, against domestic consumption at about 66.5 million litres per day, according to the minister.

"Some of the principles -- at least in some of a petchem plant's units -- might be turned to work on lighter crude, or indeed with less of a problem condensate and NGLs," said Samuel Ciszuk, energy analyst at IHS Global Insight.

He said impurities in crude would quickly clog units up.

"Units in petrochemical facilities are able to convert refined products such as ethane, benzene into further products like plastic, or fertilizer. These units would therefore be unsuited to accept crude as feedstock for their distilling operations," Ciszuk said.

To get high-quality gasoline Iran could use hydro-treatment on naphtha feedstock to remove metals, olefins, sulfur, and nitrogen.

But still high configuration fees will prevent Iran from using its petrochemical facilities to produce fuel.

Mir-Kazemi had admitted in November that production costs of the added volumes exceeded the import cost.

Iran could also divert naphtha supply to its refinery catalytic reforming units to produce reformate.

Natural gas liquids option

Analysts say natural gas could better help boost gasoline production than the reconfiguration of its petrochemical plants.

"Other natural gas liquids (NGLs) could be turned into gasoline relatively easily -- perhaps with the help of finer distilling facilities normally used for the processing of petrochemical feedstock," Ciszuk said.

Condensate could be another alternative.

"This is a very 'clean' petroleum product and the last needed adjustments could perhaps be done in some of the petchem plants," Ciszuk said. "It shows characteristics so close to gasoline that it can almost be poured straight into cars."

Vivek Mathur, a petrochemical analyst at Energy Security Analysis, said Iran was likely already busy experimenting with ways to increase its output.

"We feel Iran could be lowering the production of benzene, toluene, and xylene (BTX), and instead, diverting pygas or reformate -- both used in aromatics production -- to maximize gasoline supply," he said.

Iran is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter but produces only 60 per cent of its domestic gasoline demand and imports the remaining 40 per cent at much higher international prices. – Reuters




Tags: Iran | Sanctions | Refineries | gasoline production | Petrochemical plants |

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