Understanding and Optimising Hydrocarbon Cracking

Understanding cracking is essential. Hydrocarbon cracking is the make or break of the downstream petroleum industries. The ability to optimise the conversion of low value heavy hydrocarbons into high value lighter fractions provides the ability to extract maximum profit from feedstocks. Get it wrong and the downtime destroys profits.

Our understanding and optimising series of courses is designed to help new process or other discipline engineers and operators get the most out of plant equipment. For engineers, theory is one thing practice is another. For operators, many have never been introduced to the theory in a way they can understand.

These courses use simulation models to explore unit operations, establishing how each piece of equipment works and consequently how to maximise the performance of each unit.

Target Audience

Operations engineering support teams, technicians and panel operators will all benefit from this course. New process engineers and engineers from other disciplines will also gain from practical advice to complement the theory from school. Technicians should have at least three years field experience, engineers do not require any experience.

Course Topics

The course starts with a practical introduction to basic physics and chemistry. No maths, no equations, just simple observational explanations of relevant concepts.

Each element of a cracking furnace is then explained in the context of the contribution it makes to cracking the components of the feed. The explanation includes the process dynamics explaining how each piece of information is used to select the appropriate control techniques and hence the quality of the cracking.

Thermal cracking will be studied as the bedrock of the petrochemical industry and the upgrading of oil fractionates. Fired heater design and process safety will also be covered, before moving on to the reactions inside the coils. Thermal cracking is enhanced using steam or catalysts (and reactor design) to control selectivity, we’ll look at steam cracking, fluidized bed and hydrocracking.

All these processes require downstream and upstream treatments to control the reactions and protect the catalysts, so no hydrocarbon cracking course would be complete without considering these aspects.

Building on a thorough understanding of the basics, each participant will be introduced to our concept of optimisation such that they can explore and understand a unique operation and apply the appropriate adjustments to operation.

At the end of the course delegates will be able to identify operating problems and take the appropriate action to investigate and remedy issues.

Course Overview

In our experience, academia often lacks practicality, particularly how unit operations are regulated by process control. Conversely, most operators are perfectly capable of understanding theory so long as it is explained practically.

This programme aims to provide understanding of cracking operations through practical exercise, and an appreciation of control and optimisation requirements.

Different hydrocarbons command different prices due to their different potential uses. Cracking is used to break long chain hydrocarbons into shorter chain molecules that command higher prices or form the raw materials for other products. The different forms of cracking: thermal and catalytic are explained and the equipment used in cracking processes is examined.

Your job in the real world of operations is not to develop new techniques, we can leave that to the many specialists out there, your job is to apply known techniques to get the maximum benefit in production optimisation.

Learning Objectives

This course has been prepared to meet the specific requirements of engineers and operators who together need to gain confidence and competence in cracking.

Hydrocarbon cracking is a broad field split between thermal and catalytic cracking. Thermal cracking is widely applied to hydrocarbon gases, and some refining processes, where catalytic cracking is only applied to the products of crude oil fractionation.

On this course you will learn to understand and optimise:

  • Cracking chemistry
    o Dehydrogenation
    o Dehydrocyclisation
  • Thermal cracking
    o Fired heaters
    o Cracking Furnace (Pyrolysis Heaters)
    o Steam cracking
    o Visbreaking
    o Coking units (delayed coking, fluid coker, and flexicoker)
    o Optimising conversion
    o Decoking
  • Catalytic cracking:
    o Catalysts: Selectivity, Stability and activity
    o Catalytic reformer unit
    o Fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) unit
    o Hydrocracker unit


Howard Thomas has advocated practical approaches to handling complexity for over 20 years. He has a unique ability to make the complex clear for his clients and audiences.
He combines an in depth technical background with a wide ranging business experience but is probably best known for his engaging style of presentation.

He is formally technically accredited as a Fellow of Engineers Australia and a Chartered Professional Chemical Engineer and has worked on hydrocarbon installations all over the world, from roles as a technician to executive consultancy.