Also known as: hydrodesulfurization, HTU, HDS unit

The purpose of a hydrotreater unit is primarily to remove sulfur and other contaminants from intermediate streams before blending into a finished refined product or before being fed into another refinery process unit.

Hydrotreaters have become increasingly important as sulfur limits have been lowered in finished products. Also, for some key conversion units such as the reformer, feed must be hydrotreated to keep contaminants from poisoning the conversion catalyst.

Hydrotreaters also saturate aromatics and olefins if operated at high pressure, which is great for diesel quality (raises cetane) but bad for gasoline (reduces octane).

Types of hydrotreaters

It is quite common for a refinery to have multiple hydrotreaters. Some of the more common are:

How it works

The hydrocarbon is mixed with hydrogen and heated to 500-750F. The mixture is injected into a reactor vessel filled with a solid metal catalyst (cobalt-molybdenum or nickel-molybdenum).

In the presence of the catalyst and heat, the hydrogen reacts with the hydrocarbon, removing sulfur (to form H2S), removing nitrogen (to form ammonia), and saturating olefins and aromatics with hydrogen.

Typically, there is also a small amount of hydrocarbon cracking to form methane, ethane, propane, and butane.

The operating pressure of any hydrotreating unit is elevated to reduce the amount of coke laydown on the catalysts, which are normally in fixed beds. In general, the heavier the type of feedstock, the higher the operating pressure of the unit.

McKinsey uses cookies to improve site functionality, provide you with a better browsing experience, and to enable our partners to advertise to you. Detailed information on the use of cookies on this Site, and how you can decline them, is provided in our cookie policy. By using this Site or clicking on "OK", you consent to the use of cookies.