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Understanding the Use of Compressors in US Refineries

Over the years, there has been widespread use of compressors in US refineries whether it is a petroleum oil refinery or food oil refinery, in a bid to turn raw materials into products.

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Let’s take the petroleum oil refinery, for instance, machines with optimal airpower convert natural oils into petroleum fuel that powers vehicles. What’s more, the gas that fuels vehicles has to undergo a high-pressure refining process, which is possible with the use of compressors.

Similarly, compressors in oil refineries convert the oil in fruits and vegetables to bottled goods for cooking. Some of these products include vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil, peanut oil and coconut oil, each of which has to go through a refining process.

But more about that later!

Types of Compressors Used in U.S. Refineries

There are different types of compressors, but some are more suitable for use in refineries.

These facilities require high-powered and medium-powered compressors to aid the refining processes. Some of these include:

  • Gas Compressors
  • Centrifugal Compressors
  • Rotary Screw Compressors
  • Reciprocating Air Compressors

1. Gas Compressors

Gas compressors operate by pressurizing gases while reducing its volume.

This compressor type is unique to the functions and needs of the oil and gas industry, which is why it is common in refineries.

2. Centrifugal Compressors

You can find centrifugal compressors in oil and gas refineries, which requires constant pressure for continuous operation.

In this case, these machines make it possible for oil to move through pipelines since they rely on ongoing fluid flow.

3. Rotary Screw Compressors

The air power in this refining process includes hydrotreating, and these rotary screw compressors provide catalytic and steam reforming.

What happens here is the pressurization of air along the threads of a screw within an airtight chamber.

4. Reciprocating Compressors

Reciprocating compressors are common in the oil and gas industry and they are one of the most common pressurization machines.

A reciprocating compressor has a crankshaft which helps to draws ambient air into the machine with a crankshaft.

Within a cylinder featuring a piston, it pressurizes the air.

US Refineries Using Compressors for Multiple Products - KB Delta

Common Uses of Compressors in U.S. Refineries

Some uses of compressors in US refineries include:

1. Hydrocracking

Hydrocracking enables vehicles to run and lights to shine. Specifically, it helps to get the gas that refuels cars.

But what does it entail?

Hydrocracking involves the addition of active substances to crude petroleum oils.

In this catalytic process, the boiling of hydrocarbons is reduced while there is a conversion of raw oil into various fuels including gas, kerosene and diesel oil.

Kerosene, for instance, is in fuel heaters, lamps, and even jet engines.

It is also worth noting that hydrocracking is a high-pressure process that demands over 1,500 psig. The latter brings a need to use a reciprocating compressor to meet the demand for high-pressure.

2. Hydrotreating

The removal of oxygen, sulfur, and chlorine from hydrogen is referred to as hydrotreating.

Fuel refiners employ this process to upgrade heavy crude oil into high-grade fuel products, as well as fuels used in high-tech factory machinery and large commercial vehicles.

On the other hand, there are several categories of hydrotreating processes and the aim of these processes is to purify fuels.

There’s a process of catalytic hydrotreating which helps to remove as high as 90 percent of contaminants including metal, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen from petroleum products.

In the case of compressors, oil-injected screw compressors are used since this is a mid-pressure hydrogen process. And interestingly, this type of compressor usually requires low maintenance to keep the machine fully functional for hours of nonstop hydrotreating cycles.

It has, therefore, made it a preferred compressor type due to its low maintenance.

3. Hydrodesulfurization

The extraction of sulfur from gas and petroleum is known as hydrodesulfurization. Sulfur is removed to ensure that metals that come in contact with the fuels contained in the vehicle’s engine do not degrade.

Accordingly, gasoline, kerosene, petrol and diesel fuel undergo hydrodesulfurization.

What this does is to reduce the level of gas emissions from cars, ships, trains, and aircraft, that take advantage of these fuels.

Reciprocating processors are used to carryout hydrodesulfurization since it is also a mid-pressure refining process.

4. Catalytic Reforming

High-octane fluids from petroleum can be distilled through a process known as catalytic reforming.

Here, there is a dehydrogenation of low-octane hydrocarbons which could cause a possible side effect.

This effect is evident in the production of hydrogen gas which also occurs in different techniques such as hydrocracking at refineries. Hydrogen gas also helps in the production of agricultural products and plastics.

In addition to that, there is a process of continuous catalytic reforming (CCR) which is a mid-pressure operation that requires approximately 1,500 psig. As such, it takes advantage of oil-injected screw compressors.

CCR also helps in the generation of hydrogen gas in fertilizers which helps in harvesting crops.

5. Steam Reforming

The synthesization of natural gas and other fuels in a bid to create carbon monoxide, syngas, and other compounds is steam reforming.

The process takes advantage of the heat and high pressure in a reformer device.

Agriculture benefits greatly from the process of steam reforming since it creates syngas, that helps in the production of fertilizer.

Industrial plants also use steam reforming, where oil-injected screw compressors reform steam methane.

6. Flare Gas Recovery

Gases can be saved from waste for other uses through the process of flare gas recovery. Accordingly, the gas can be prevented from flaring and releasing harmful emissions.

The process itself involves isolation of headers, removal of liquids and the compression of gases.

Flare gas recovery is also beneficial in environmental cleanup, which helps to lower the amount of greenhouse gases that refinery plants release. On the other hand, flare gas recovery helps to render gas that is clean and pure as possible.

That being the case, this process relies on oil-free screw compressors and there is often no lubricant.


Compressors are essential in U.S. refineries to produce fuels for vehicles and oils for cooking. They help in the conversion of raw materials to products including:

  • Fuel
  • Diesel
  • Kerosene
  • Vegetable oil, and lots more

As such, they are employed on a daily basis in the refinery process in a bid to separate chlorine, sulfur, or other elements in a mixture.

Much more, the importance of compressors has spread across the agricultural sector since hydrogen gas is produced and used in fertilizers.

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