The 8 largest oil refineries in the world
Oil refineries play a vital role in the world’s energy market by transforming crude oil into valuable products. Refined oil is a valuable export, and countries that control it have an influence on a global scale.
In this article, we will discover the world’s largest refineries, which countries own them, and their production capacities.
What is an oil refinery?
Oil refineries change crude oil into petroleum products such as petrol, diesel oil, asphalt foundation, heating oil, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas and petroleum naphtha.
How does an oil refinery work?
All refineries have three steps: separation, conversion, and treatment.
The separation stage involves piping crude oil through hot furnaces and discharging the liquids and vapours into distillation units. In these units, the liquids and vapours are separated into “fractions” according to their boiling points.
- The lighter fractions will vaporise and rise to the top of the tower, condensing back to liquids; this includes gasoline and liquefied refinery gases.
- The medium-weight liquids, such as kerosene and distillates, are located in the middle of the distillation tower.
- The heavier fractions are liquids such as gas oils, which are separated lower down in the distillation tower.
The next step is conversion; the heavier fractions are processed further into lighter, higher-value products such as gasoline. This occurs in a unit consisting of thick-walled reactors and a network of furnaces, heat exchangers, and other vessels.
Why is it beneficial for a country to refine oil?
As oil has been the world’s most important energy source since the mid-1950, it is very beneficial for a country to have a supply of refined oil products.
The benefits include the below ones.
- Energy security: a country producing its oil can reduce its dependence on foreign sources of energy.
- Economic growth: the oil industry generates revenue, creates jobs and attracts foreign investment.
- Foreign currency earnings: exporting oil can provide a significant source of foreign revenue.
Which country has the largest oil reserve
The country with the largest oil reserve is Venezuela, which has more than 300 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. Most of the oil is located in the Orinoco Belt, at the southern end of the Eastern Orinoco River Basin.
The second-largest oil reserve in the world is in Saudi Arabia, which has a total of 297 million barrels. These reserves were the largest in the world until Venezuela announced they had increased their proven reserves in January 2011.
Finally, the treatment stage removes any unwanted contaminants. This step is vital to stabilise the product and reduce polluting effects.
The Middle East is well known for having large oil reserves, and other countries import a lot from the Middle East. This includes South Korea, which refines imported crude oil in some of the hugest facilities in the world.
What country refines the most oil?
The United States has the most oil refineries. It currently has around 130 operational facilities across the country, producing 18 million barrels daily.
Close behind the United States is China, with a capacity of 17 million barrels per day recorded in 2021. However, according to the country’s oil giant CNPC Economics and Technology Research Institute, China’s refining capacity is expected to hit 19 million barrels daily, overtaking the US soon (if it hasn’t already).
The next countries with the most refineries are Russia and India.
8 of the largest oil refineries in the world
These refineries have the largest refining capacities in the world, processing hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil per day.
Let’s take a closer look at each oil refinery by exploring its history and capacities.
1. Jamnagar Refinery
The Jamnagar refinery is a private-sector crude oil refinery in Jamnagar, Gujarat, India. Reliance Industries owns it. It commissioned in July 1999 with a capacity of 668,000 barrels per day. The refinery now has a capability of 1,240,000 barrels per day, making it the largest refinery in the world.
This refinery complex was built at remarkable speed. The unprecedented scope and methods of construction changed the way refineries of the future would be constructed.
As a result, India changed from a net purchaser of petroleum products to a net exporter, which guaranteed the country’s energy safety.
2. Paraguaná Refinery Complex
The Paraguaná refinery complex, located in north-western Venezuela, is one of the biggest refinery complexes in the world. It consists of three refineries, including the Carbon and Amuay refineries in the Paraguana peninsula and the Bajo Grande refinery in the Zulia state of Venezuela.
The Cardon and Amuay refineries have a combined capacity to process 955,000 barrels per day, whereas the Bajo Grande asphalt plant can process 16,000 barrels per day. This comes to a total processing capacity of 971,000 barrels per day.
First opened in 1976, it is owned and operated by Venezuela’s state-owned company, Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
3. SK Energy Ulsan Refinery Complex
In 1964 SK Energy developed the SK Energy Ulsan Refinery Complex, making it the first oil refinery in Korea. This complex is not only South Korea’s largest, but also Asia’s.
This complex processes up to 840,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
4. Ruwais Refinery
Initially commissioned in June 1981, the Ruwais refinery was officially launched in March 1982. The refinery is situated on the coast of the Arabian Gulf, west of Abu Dhabi City and is operated by the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC).
This facility can refine up to 837,000 barrels of crude and condensate daily. This makes it the fourth-largest refinery plant globally and the largest in the Middle East.
5. Yeosu Refinery
The Yeosu refinery is located in Jeollanam, South Korea and started operations in 1969. GS Caltex operates the refinery, which is owned 50/50 by Chevron and GS Energy.
It is South Korea’s second-largest refinery and Asia’s third, producing 800,000 barrels of crude daily.
6. Onsan Refinery
The Onsan refinery is an integrated refinery which opened in 1980 and is in Ulsan, South Korea.
The refinery is operated by the S-Oil Corporation Inc and owned by Saudi Arabian Oil, producing 669,000 barrels of crude per day.
7. Port Arthur Refinery
The Motiva refinery is situated in Port Arthur, Texas, and is the largest oil refinery in North America. Its origins can be traced back to the Spindletop oil boom near Beaumont, Texas. The first processing units of the Port Arthur Refinery were built in 1902 by the Texas Company, later known as Texaco, and officially started running in 1903.
As of May 2016, the refinery has reached its maximum capacity of 630,000 barrels per day.
8. Jurong Island Refinery
The Jurong Island refinery is a non-integrated refinery that started operations in 1973 that Chevron and China National Petroleum own.
It is located in South West Singapore and has a capacity of 290,000 barrels per day.
Why are fewer oil refineries being built?
Oil refineries are a significant investment, and many factors must be considered before one is built.
In today’s world, there is a focus on renewable energy sources and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. This has reduced the demand for petroleum products, making new oil refineries a less attractive investment. Instead, existing facilities are upgraded and modernised with more efficient technologies.
The global oil refining capacity also meets the current demand for petroleum-based fuels. This may be off-putting for anybody considering building a new refinery.
The COVID-19 pandemic affected the market in 2020 and 2021 when the demand for fuels for transport dropped across the world’s major nations. Consequently, some refineries had to close during that period.
Oil refineries need heat exchangers
Heat exchangers play an essential role in processing oil. Their purpose is to heat the crude oil to a high temperature to facilitate the separation of heavier components from lighter ones. Heat exchangers cool down the oil after the distillation process. Also, coolers such as CACW or TEWAC, CACA cooler or TEAAC, and Sterling TT’s advanced Avantair are used to cool generators and large electrical motors.
At Sterling TT, we have more than 100 years of experience designing and manufacturing heat exchangers for the oil & gas industry worldwide. Our solutions increase efficiency for cost-effective energy production. So if you’re looking for specialist heat exchange equipment, you’re in the right place.