Hydrotreating and Hydrocracking are among the oldest catalytic processes used in petroleum refining. They were originally employed by I.G Farben in Germany in 1927 for converting lignite to gasoline and later used to convert petroleum residues to distillable fractions.
The first commercial hydrofining installation in the United States was at Standard Oil Company of Louisiana in Baton Rouge in the 1930s. Following World War II, growth in the use of hydrocracking was slow. The availability of Middle Eastern crude oils reduced the incentive to convert coal to liquid fuels, and new catalytic cracking processes proved more economical for converting heavy crude fractions to gasoline.
In the 1950s, hydrodesulfurization and mild hydrogenation processes experienced tremendous growth, mostly because large quantities of by-product hydrogen were made available from the catalytic reforming of low-octane naphthas to produce high-octane gasoline.
The first modern hydrocracking operation was placed on-stream in 1959 by Standard Oil Company of California. The unit was small, producing only 1000 barrels per stream day (BPSD). As hydrocracking units were installed to complement existing fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) units, refiners quickly recognized that the hydrocracking process had the flexibility to produce varying ratios of gasoline and middle distillate.
Thus, the stage was set for rapid growth in U.S. hydrocracking capacity from about 3000 BPSD in 1961 to about 120,000 BPSD in just 5 years. Between 1966 and 1983, U.S. capacity grew eight-fold, to about 980,000 BPSD.
Outside the United States, early applications involved the production of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) by hydrocracking naphtha feedstocks. The excellent quality of distillate fuels produced when hydrocracking gas oils and other heavy feedstocks led to the choice of the hydrocracking process as a major conversion step in locations where diesel and jet fuels were in demand. Interest in high-quality distillate fuels produced by hydrocracking has increased dramatically worldwide.
From the 1990s due to the implementation of stringent environmental regulations like Euro fuel standards for ultra-low sulfur, the decline in FO utilization and LSFO by IMO2020 the hydroprocessing units have become key players in refinery. Further, also applied for high conversions of the bottom of the barrel in the refinery.
As of 2023, more than 63 million BPSD of hydroprocessing capacity is either operating or is in design and construction worldwide.
- Handbook of Petroleum Refining Processes by Robert A. Meyers