The Project

The EU oil and gas sector is facing important changes. First, the current internationl situation has dimished the oil exports to Europe from Russia, which amounted at 25.7% this year; second, other challenges like the transition to renewable energy sources and the increasing phase off of internal combustion engines to EV models, have dictated that reifineries had to change their traditional business model in favour of a more flexible one using different sources of crude oil in their plants.

However, oil is presently the most widely used energy source, and as Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani once said: “The stone age did not end because the world ran out of stones, and the oil age will not end because we run out of oil.”

The increased use of heavy and sour crude types has determined that refineries obtained access to cheaper crudes compared to the light sweet. On the flip side, these plants needed to upgrade their exisitng plants with more complex refining cycles. Complex High Conversion Refineries, such as the SARAS one of the biggest in the Mediterranean with 300,000 b/d capacity, can work a wider variety of crude compared to simple topping refineries, which heavily relies on light sweet oils.

What are the main differences between heavy and light crudes, and what does it means if these are sweet or sour ? Crudes are categorized using two main criteria: density and sulfur content. Density is measured via the API formula which takes into account the specific gravity of each crude. Light crudes usually range between 35-45 API, with the higher the value the lighter the crude. For example, industry standards like the WTI and the Brent have a 39.6° and 38.6° respectyively, whereas crudes with an API of between 35-25 are considered medium light and a heavy crude is in the 15-25 API range. Anything below 15 API would be considered an extra-heavy crude.

Picture: Tipologies of refineries

A crude is considered sweet when it contains less than 1% of sulphuric content. Brent has 0.38% and WTI 0.24%.

Why these two parameters are important in determining the type of crudes? Light and sweet crudes like the WTI and Brent are easier to produce, transport, and refine and have been thus used as the bellwether crudes of the refining industry for much of the XX century. These crudes requires simple topping facilities to transform the raw material into high yield distillates, like gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, whilst producing few top and bottom of the barrel by-products, like LPG and coke.

However high oil prices and the developement of new transport and refining technologies have allowed refineries to tap into heavier and sour crudes types. It has been estimated that heavy crudes reserves are at the double of the conventional light oil ones. Their abundancy and availability for lower prices has determined an increment in use of this type of material, confirmed by the increased import of heavier and sour crudes and dwindling of light sweet ones. This is also demonstrated by the increase imports of heavier crudes in US West Coast and Gulf refineries.

A major example of this shift can be seen in of the Mediterrenean biggest refineries, SARAS, where the investements to upgrading their plants into a high-conversion refinery are bering fruits especially in times of geopolitical crisis. For instance, the 2011 crisis in Libya, halt the production of med light crudes, and now the ban on imports of Russian crudes could have been a major issue for the refinery. However, the investments into newer technologies have created a higher resistance to crude supplies disruption for SARAS.

Picture: Map of crudes types in the North Sea

However high oil prices and the developement of new transport and refining technologies have allowed refineries to tap into heavier and sour crudes types. It has been estimated that heavy crudes reserves are at the double of the conventional light oil ones. Their abundancy and availability for lower prices has determined an increment in use of this type of material, confirmed by the increased import of heavier and sour crudes and dwindling of light sweet ones. This is also demonstrated by the increase imports of heavier crudes in US West Coast and Gulf refineries.

A major example of this shift can be seen in of the Mediterrenean biggest refineries, SARAS, where the investements to upgrading their plants into a high-conversion refinery are bering fruits especially in times of geopolitical crisis. For instance, the 2011 crisis in Libya, halt the production of med light crudes, and now the ban on imports of Russian crudes could have been a major issue for the refinery. However, the investments into newer technologies have created a higher resistance to crude supplies disruption for SARAS.

Picture: Map of crudes types in the Meditterenean region

The Sardinian refinery’s plans in expanding its Renewable Energy Sources (RES) production pool is also another step in this direction. Modern refineries heavily on hydrogen to refine high sulfur content (sour) crudes, which companies usually produce via natural gas. This has two main issues: high costs and emission of CO2 in the atmosphere. The shift to RES, is confirmed by SARAS’s planned construction of a new photovoltaic farm of 79MW close to its main plant in Sarroch, Sardinia, which increases its already existing pool of solar and wind farms. These will allow for the production of green hydrogen to be used in the desulfurization of heavy crudes on the refinement process.

Picture: Map of crudes types in the Gulf of Guinea

Star Sardinia’s decades-long experience in the tanker agency sector also makes it a reliable and trustworthy local logistic partner, committed to a more environmentally sustainable business model (read our environmental policy here).

Our support to RES brought us to take on challenging jobs like becoming the local support in the construction of one of Sardinia’s largest wind farms. Discover more about our services here.

Picture: Saras location