Lubes plant

Also known as: base oil plant

The lubes unit extracts high-viscosity heavy material from VGO and vac resid to produce base oils. Base oils are the blend stocks for producing finished lubricating oils such as motor oil.

Base oils are a specialty product of very high value. So even though the volumes of base oil produced in a plant may be very small, it can contribute significantly to overall refinery profitability. However, the capital cost per barrel of lubes plants is relatively high, so only a subset of refineries have installed them.

The lubes or base oil plant typically consists of several different steps of processing, though not all plants will have all of the steps. These include:

  • Propane deasphalting - A solvent extraction process that uses propane to separate asphaltenes and other undesirable material from vacuum resid to yield base oil
  • Lubes aromatics extraction - A solvent extraction process that uses furfural, phenol, or NMP to extract aromatics from VGO or deasphalted vac resid
  • Dewaxing - A solvent extraction process that uses ketone (or sometimes propane) to remove wax from base oil
  • Lubes hydrocracking - Selective hydrocracking of aromatics-extracted base oil to reduce pour point and to crack waxy molecules
  • Lubes hydrotreating - Mild hydrotreating of base oil to improve color and stability by removing chemically active compounds

The Refinery Reference Desk includes content derived from our industry experts as well as from public data sources such as company websites. Nothing herein is intended to serve as investment advice. This material is based on information that we believe to be reliable and adequately comprehensive, but we do not represent that such information is in all respects accurate or complete. McKinsey Energy Insights does not accept any liability for any losses resulting from use of the content.



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