You can find ultrasound in several industrial processes, but the trend toward using sonochemistry (driving and accelerating chemical reactions through the application of ultrasonic energy) for size reduction and oil processing applications is garnering the most attention these days.
A Sound Process Within Oil Processing Since its inception in 2001, SulphCo’s mission has been to add value to crude oil and its distillate streams based on catalyzing chemical reactions with Sonocracking™ ultrasonic technology, which is specified as the application of sonochemistry to petroleum-based liquids, while coupling ultrasound with proprietary catalysts and oxidants. According to the company, this type of oxidative desulfurization (ODS) not only reduces oil sulfur levels, but it also performs well in reacting with some the most difficult types of sulfur compounds found in crude oil and petroleum streams.
SulphCo’s process is based upon the manipulation of ultrasound—or application of high-energy, high-frequency sound waves—to alter the molecular structure of crude oil in an effort to upgrade its quality by reducing sulfur. The ultrasound helps induce cavitation in a water/oil stream, which when combined with proprietary additives, allows chemical reactions to occur.
As cavitation bubbles grow, they become unstable and collapse from the negative pressure of sound wave fronts in the liquid. The implosion then generates excess heat and pressure in and around every nanometer-sized bubble, resulting in intense shear and mixing, as well as high localized temperatures and pressures. This combination permits the reactions to transpire within milliseconds, yet at relatively low temperatures and pressures.
What are some benefits of ultrasonic ODS? First and foremost, Sonocracking oil processing is unique in that it can extract more value out of a barrel of oil. After that, it’s all about easing sulfur separation from petroleum, which can be carried out by modifying the molecular structure of the oil’s sulfur species to attain higher boiling points in the sulfur compounds. By also increasing energy within the cavitation zone, ultrasound can create more molecular surface area, so there are more opportunities for molecules to rapidly react.
SulphCo Chief Technology Officer Florian Schattenmann, Ph.D, asserts, “The [Sonocracking] solution can be cost-effective in terms of operations and capital equipment. The probes, modest utilities, some additives, that’s it.” However, Schattenmann warns that potential customers should evaluate analyses based on their own notions of value and what the ultrasonic technology can do, whether improve product quality, ULSD compliance, cost savings, etc.