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Effective Fouling Control Methods for Improving CDU
Performance and Economics
Crude oil distillation accounts for a large fraction of the energy used in oil refining. Crude oil
contains a variety of substances that tend to deposit as fouling layers in heat exchangers, and
which result in decreased energy recovery and increased fuel input to the furnace. CDU pre-heat
train fouling is estimated to cost over $2 billion per annum in the USA. In addition, fossil fuel
savings from fouling mitigation would result in significant reduction of CO
This paper proposes a broad strategy for fouling mitigation and control consisting of:
- crude oil storage under non-oxidizing conditions
- crude-oil blending to minimize fouling caused by asphaltene precipitation
- addition of chemicals to retard deposition of asphaltenes and other foulants
- revamping the HEN structure to keep tube wall temperatures such that fouling rates are
kept to acceptable levels
- retrofitting the HX bundle and channels (eg. twisted tubes, E-to-F conversions) to
increase velocities and shear rates
- replacement of Shell & Tube HX with alternative designs that lead to reduced fouling and
easy to clean in place
- use of tube inserts to promote high shear rates
- smart HX cleaning strategy, based on fouling rate models

Chemical analysis and visual observation of the deposits are key diagnostic tools that indicate the
probable cause of fouling, and suggest the appropriate control/mitigation/cleaning strategy.
Fundamentally, heat transfer efficiency is all about improving flux: (q/A) = U.AT
Pinch analysis seeks to improve the system flux by optimizing the global AT
for the HEN.
Fouling control effectively improves the first term, U, in the HX design equation.
Fouling in the heat exchangers used for pre-heating crude oil prior to distillation incurs three
kinds of costs: (a) increased energy consumption, (b) reduced throughput, and (c) increased
emissions of greenhouse gases. Figure 1 shows the estimated costs of fouling without an
effective mitigation program for an average-sized 200 MBD refinery, using typical operating
parameters and assumptions as listed in Table 1. Avoidable lost production varies by refinery,
depending on type of crude, design of the existing CDU preheat train, and operating practices,
but generally ranges from 4-10 days.
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2 4 6 8 10 12
Avoidable lost production, equiv Days/yr
CO2 credits

Figure 1: Cost of Fouling in a Typical 200 MBD Refinery

Table 1: Assumptions used for Example in Figure 1

Figure 2: Components of Fouling Costs
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Causes of CDU Fouling
Fouling in heat exchangers associated with petroleum streams can be caused by a variety of
mechanisms including chemical reactions, corrosion, deposit of insoluble materials, and
precipitation of materials (particularly polymer gums and asphaltenes) at high temperatures. The
paraffin and aromatics content of the crude oil, contaminants such as iron oxides, iron sulfides,
and trace heavy metals in petroleum derived heavy fractions can all have significant influence on
precipitation rates.
The exact mechanism by which molecular masses and deposit structures relate to components in
the feedstock, and the effect of time-temperature history on the chemical transformations leading
to deposit formation are still not fully understood. Nevertheless, sufficient empirical knowledge
has been accumulated to mitigate fouling by adjusting the chemical composition of the crude oil
feedstock through addition of anti-fouling chemical additives, and judicious feedstock blending.
Because the physical and chemical mechanisms associated with crude-oil fouling are very
complex, effective application of mitigation methods is challenging. First we must recognize that
there are multiple causes of fouling both organic and inorganic and they depend on the
composition of the crude oil as well as operating conditions within the HEN. For example, in
some cases it has been found that the presence of dissolved oxygen, even at trace levels of 10
ppm, can increase the fouling rate up to 3 times compared to the rate experienced at 1 ppm. In
such instances, fouling rates can be minimized by eliminating air from the crude oil storage tank,
either by use of inert gas blanketing or a floating roof.

Figure 3: Fouling Mechanisms in Different Parts of the CDU Feed Preheat Train

Fouling Mitigation and Control Options
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Up until about 10-15 years ago, fouling was generally accepted by refinery engineers as an
inescapable fact of life. Conventional mitigation techniques typically consist of using chemical
additives (anti-foulants), shear promotion (tube inserts, velocity control), and off-line cleaning
(requiring temporary bypass of the HX being cleaned). However, recent new insights into
fouling mechanisms have led to the development of effective strategies for combating the
Chemical analysis of fouling deposits is a key diagnostic technique. Upstream of the desalter,
and at temperatures below around 200
C, the deposits tend to be mostly inorganic iron sulfides
and clays. At the hot end downstream of the desalter, however, it has been found that the
deposits are mostly precipitated organic asphaltenes (see Figure 4). The new understanding of
fouling mechanisms suggest a broad multi-pronged strategy for mitigation of post-desalter
asphaltene fouling, which is by far the more damaging of the two, and also more difficult to
(a) Crude oil composition control (blending, additives)
(b) Managing temperature and shear-rate profiles through individual heat exchangers
within the network
(c) Optimized cleaning methods/schedules

Figure 4: Likelihood of different types of Fouling Deposits [ref. 1]

Managing Crude Oil Chemistry
Here we have two options feedstock blending and the use of anti-fouling additives.
Blending of crude oils in refineries is common, but certain blends are incompatible and cause
precipitation of asphaltenes that can rapidly foul process equipment. If an incompatible blend is
processed, rapid fouling and coking is likely, which invariably requires a slowdown or even a
temporary shutdown for HX cleaning, resulting in lost production capacity. Two alternative but
similar methods have been independently developed for predicting the fouling propensity of
crude oil and crude oil blends based on crude oil chemical composition.
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Wiehes method, which is covered by Exxon patent number 5871634, requires two laboratory
tests to determine two key parameters the Insolubility number and Solubility Blending number
[refs 2, 3]. Based on these, it is possible to predict the likelihood of fouling of crude oil blends
(Table 2), and to adjust the blending ratios so as to ensure compatibility.

Table 2: Crude Compatibility Predictor (Exxon Method)

E and Watkinson [ref 4] attempted to predict the fouling tendency of crude oil blends using a
more fundamental approach, using the Hildebrand solubility parameters reported in Ref 5. Their
criterion for crude oil blend stability (i.e. minimal precipitation of asphaltenes) was that the
Colloidal Instability Index (defined below) should be less than 7 according to solubility theory,
but less than 2 in practice (see Figure 5).
] [
] [
resins aromatics
s asphaltene alkanes
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Provided the chemical composition of the crude oil blend is known sufficiently well to calculate
the CII, this method has the advantage of not requiring further laboratory tests. Unfortunately,
insufficient data are available on the reliability of this method in field applications.

Figure 5a: E and Watkinsons Data for Fouling Rates [ref. 4]

Figure 5b: E and Watkinsons Data for Fouling Rate vs CII [ref. 4]

The CII approach suggests that using chemical additives (solvents) rich in resins and aromatics
could be a potentially attractive solution to the fouling problem [e.g. ref 6]. However, it can get
expensive, because such additives are usually the product of fractional distillation, and therefore
far more valuable (costly) than the crude oil itself. Effectively, their use constitutes partial
product recycle and incurs reprocessing costs which would have to be balanced against the
economic gains from fouling suppression.

Design & Operation of Hot-End Heat Exchangers to Minimize Asphaltene Fouling
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Hot-end fouling can be characterized as being chronic when it is occurring at moderate or low
rates throughout the operating period or acute when a sudden increase occurs that is associated
with a specific event in time. Acute fouling events need to be identified and their cause
established. Extreme care should be taken when processing off-specification feedstocks (e.g.
slops left over from tank cleaning or some plant activity), as they often contain oxidized organics
that can undergo rapid conversion to insoluble polymer gums.
Although proper blending of crude oils can prevent acute fouling problems, even the best
blends are still subject to chronic fouling, and there will always be a need to optimize
exchanger design and operation in order to hold fouling rates within acceptable limits.
A significant advance in understanding post-desalter asphaltene fouling was the fouling
threshold concept developed by Ebert and Panchal [ref 7], who proposed that the fouling rate
can be effectively modeled as a competition between deposition (due to high temperature) and
suppression (due to shear).



= exp
Pr Re
33 . 0 66 . 0

The parameters A, E, and can be determined by fitting this equation to actual plant data as in
Figure 6, using the ExpressPlus software. These parameters are dimensional, and contain
contributions from a number of physical and chemical mechanisms, which depend upon the
composition of the crude. Above critical values of the velocity (and hence wall shear stress), the
fouling rates should be minimal.

Figure 6: Modeling the Overall Fouling Rate in Express+

A recent careful review [ref. 20] of the laboratory data used by Ebert & Panchal [ref. 9] suggest
that fouling appears to proceed in two stages and that different mechanisms may be involved
during an initial low-rate stage when the surface is relatively clean, and a subsequent high-rate
InternationalPetroleumRefining,January2012 Page8of17
stage after the incipient fouling deposit has been established. The implication is that laboratory
data, which is usually taken over a period of just a few days or weeks during a period when the
heat transfer surface is still relatively clean, may not yield an accurate model of long-term
fouling rates in industrial heat applications. Nevertheless, the basic insight about competition
between deposition and removal is correct, and this understanding has led to effective methods
for adjusting HX/HEN design and operation to control asphaltene fouling in CDU preheat trains.
The next step is to determine a single set of parameters that provides best fit for all the measured
data. Here the question of how much weight should be given to individual units arises. When
plant measurements are of comparable accuracy, the weighting should be based upon the effect
that fouling has upon HEN performance, which in turn is governed by the contribution of each
individual HX towards the final Furnace Inlet Temperature (FIT). Generally, the lower the
effectiveness factor c of the HX, the more sensitive the outlet temperature will be to changes in
overall heat transfer coefficient and the more reliable the measurement of fouling rate.
Analysis of individual exchangers starts with placing its operating conditions on a fouling map
as in Figure 7. This map indicates what fouling rate can be expected in the exchanger for given
temperature and velocity conditions. It can be used to determine what mechanical modifications
if any could be made to the unit changing the number of passes, use of tube inserts [ref. 10],
replacement of the tube bundle only (twisted tubes, helical baffles), or complete replacement of
the unit (eg. Plate Heat Exchangers and Compabloc) in order to move its operating point
closer to the target zone. Another possibility is to change the existing hot/cold stream matches
themselves (viz. reconfiguring the HEN) so as to avoid excessively hot tube wall temperatures.

Figure 7: Operating Point of existing HX can be moved from deep within Fouling Zone towards
the Safe Operating Zone (Fouling rate 0.5) through an economically feasible design revamp.

Optimum Cleaning Strategies
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Regular cleaning of fouled exchanger is established operating practice in oil refineries the world
over. The three most common techniques for removal of CDU exchanger fouling deposits are:
- Chemical wash, using a light cracked oil (LCO) or similar resinous solvent [ref. 6, 11]
- Mechanical cleaning of softer deposits (eg. salts and clay sediments) using plastic pigs and
brushes [ref. 12]
- Mechanical cleaning of hard deposits using a HydroDrill [ref. 12]

Hydrodrilling is generally considered to be the most effective method [ref. 12] for asphalt, gums,
and coke deposits. See Figure 8. It takes about 2 hours for setup and then 30-90 seconds per tube.
Normal cleaning times range from 3-14 days per HX, depending on its size, the severity of
fouling, and whether the work is done on-site or off-site. For offsite cleaning, costs are typically
in the range of $40-50K per HX for the mechanical work [ref. 11], but this pales into
insignificance by comparison with the cost of lost production capacity.

The focus of optimization, therefore has been on minimizing the downtime for cleaning and
choosing the optimum time between cleaning so as to maximize refinery throughput.

Figure 8: Effect of Cleaning on Fouling Factors [ref. 11]

Conventional methods for monitoring fouling rates are based on computing the overall heat
transfer coefficient U over time. HX cleaning schedules are developed based on historical data
on when the fouling rate has become too high (as estimated from fuel costs of reduction in
furnace inlet temperature and throughput loss). This method is reasonably effective when crude
feedstock slates and blend compositions are stable, and the refinery has long term supply
contracts for crudes from specific fields.

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Recent industry trends, however, are for refiners to purchase increasing amounts of low-cost
opportunity crudes, which tend to be heavier and more prone to fouling. Some Indian
refineries process blends selected from up to 50 different crudes, with typical run lengths of only
3-10 days per blend. In such scenarios, it is folly to assume that future fouling rates will
duplicate those of the past, and it behooves the refinery to proactively develop fouling models (as
in Figure 6) for each feedstock blend, and to plan HX cleaning schedules based on localised
fouling behaviour (see Figure 9).


Pr Re
t o



33 . 0
Max film temperature (




Figure 9: 3-D Fouling Map helps pinpoint HX that should be targeted for cleaning [ref. 13]

In the recent past (2-3 years), significant progress has been made by researchers in academia as
well as industry on finding a better way to determine the optimum HX cleaning schedule in CDU
preheat trains. A new software program called SmartPM
is being developed, which is
currently in the Alpha-testing stage using actual data from real refineries, including one in India.
It was found that accurate and consistent data are absolutely critical to success. An advanced
Data Reconciliation algorithm (see Figure 10) has been incorporated that has so far given good
results, and appears very promising [ref. 21]. Commercial roll-out is expected within the next
couple of years, after additional testing is completed.

Taking exchangers off line for cleaning affects the flow, pressure drop and fouling behaviour of
downstream HX, and these effects also need to be considered. For example, lower flow rates
(velocities) can shift the operating point of a critical HX from the acceptable operating regime
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into a high fouling regime on the fouling map of Figure 7. It has now been amply demonstrated
that significant cost savings can accrue from optimizing HX cleaning schedules based on fouling
threshold models [refs. 14, 16, 17, 18].

Figure 10: Data Reconciliation Algorithm used in the SmartPM prototype software

Case Study
Ishiyama et al. [ref. 14] have described a hi-fidelity PHT simulator that was developed at
Cambridge University within the Crude Oil Fouling (CROF) research program [ref. 19]. This
simulator incorporates network and fouling dynamics, predicts thermal and hydraulic
performance, and offers the capability to develop smart cleaning schedules based on reliable
assessment of the potential benefits from making mechanical changes to the heat exchangers
(using the ExpressPlus computer program) or using chemical additives. The simulator
considers the full range of refinery configurations and operating procedures, including
throughput limitations arising from the hydraulic impact of fouling.

This simulator was used to explore optimisation of HX cleaning schedules for a PHT network
consisting of 14 HXs, a desalter and a flash tower (Figure 11). The crude is split into two parallel
streams downstream of the flash tower. The crude split fraction, and those of the hot streams
serving HXs #9-14, add additional control variables to the simulation. In the standard case
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adopted, the PHT starts in a clean condition with equal flow splits and operates continuously
until a shut-down 3 years later.

Fouling rates of HXs downstream of the desalter were described by the Ebert-Panchal equation.
Upstream of the desalter in HXs #1-5, the deposition mechanism is dominated by crystallisation
and particulate fouling, which is characterized by constant, i.e. linear, fouling. These values can
be easily extracted by analysis of plant monitoring data.

Evaluation of plant monitoring data and fitting extracted fouling rate data to the Ebert-Panchal
equation for the network in the clean condition indicated that initially HXs #8-14 were operating
above the fouling threshold, i.e. in the range where fouling would be significant. The highest
fouling rates were found in HXs #10, 11, 13 and 14. Not surprisingly, they were located at the
hot end of the preheat network with the highest surface and film temperatures during operation.

The analysis clearly illustrated the importance of modelling pressure drop across the network and
handling the crude flow splits (between stream 1 and stream 2 in Figure 8) during a cleaning
action. The cleaning schedule optimization methodology therefore includes the modelling of
network pressure drop and calculation of lost throughout in addition to the heat duty loss, the
actual cleaning cost, and other costs associated with excess emissions due to fouling.

Figure 11: Case study HEN. Solid line cold stream, dotted line hot stream.
Stream temperatures indicate network performance under clean conditions.

When HX located in one branch of a flow split is taken out of service for cleaning, the drop in
heat transfer duty in the other branch can be substantial, but such reduction can be minimized by
flow-split optimization for the duration of the outage. The simulator is capable of modelling this
effect. Likewise, any temporary increases in flow rate or duty in other HXs can also be modelled.
For illustration, Ishiyama et al minimised the crude stream pressure drop across the two parallel
trains by manipulating the flow split. An upper limit 10 ft/s

(3 m/s) was set for the tube-side flow
velocity to incorporate operational considerations such as the avoidance of erosion and vibration.
InternationalPetroleumRefining,January2012 Page13of17
The hot stream flow fractions to the HXs #9 and 12, 10 and 13 and 11 and 14 were then changed
to match the crude stream, to maximize heat recovery.

The furnace coil inlet temperature (CIT)-time profiles and cleaning schedules are shown in
Figure 12. The optimized cleaning schedule maintains CIT at 203-204
C. HXs #11 and 14 are
cleaned most often, as these are the units with the highest surface temperature and so (a)
influence CIT directly and (b) experience the highest fouling rates.

0 6 12 18 24 30 36
Time (months)

0 6 12 18 24 30 36
Time (months)

(a) (b)
Figure 12: (a) CIT variation over time (b) optimized cleaning schedule

It should be noted that this particular case study was focused exclusively on optimizing the
HEN cleaning strategy and testing the simulation capability of the prototype software. The
scope of work did not include a consideration of mechanical modifications to the existing
HX, or of retrofitting the HEN by applying Pinch Analysis.

In modern CDU high-efficiency preheat trains, which typically have FITs of 250-290
the asphaltene fouling problem is far more acute, and the benefits of adopting a more
comprehensive approach to fouling control are correspondingly greater.
Recent advances in the understanding of fouling mechanisms were discussed and the available
tools and techniques for fouling control were reviewed. Energy efficiency and production
capacity can both be improved considerably by undertaking a holistic fouling mitigation program
that includes optimized management of crude blending, HX cleaning schedules, and optimum
design and operation of the HEN by judicious application of the fouling threshold model.
A case study was presented to illustrate the methodology for using the fouling threshold model in
combination with HEN simulation to develop a smart HX cleaning schedule.
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The potential cost savings to oil refineries through elimination of fouling were quantified as
being in the range of $20-50/MB with fuel priced at $6/MMBtu. The potential benefits from
increased throughput because of reduced downtime for cleaning are even greater, in the range of

CDU Crude oil Distillation Unit
CII Colloidal Instability Index
CIT Coil Inlet Temperature (to CDU fired heater)
HEN Heat Exchanger Network
HX Heat Exchanger
LCO Light Cracked Oil
MB Thousand barrels of oil
MBD Thousand barrels per day
MM million
PHT Pre-heat train

Compabloc is a registered trademark of Alfa Laval Corp AB, Sweden
ExpressPlus and SmartPM are registered trademarks of IHS-ESDU Ltd, London, UK.
This article is an updated version of an award-winning paper presented at the AIChE Spring
National meeting in 2010 [ref. 22].
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About the Author


Additional Figures that could be included in the published article, space permitting

Asphaltene fouling inside a HX tube (severe case)

InternationalPetroleumRefining,January2012 Page17of17

Asphaltene fouling on shell side (severe)