Turning sticky heavy bitumen into liquid gas fuels inside the towering fluid cokers at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake facility is a complex process where intense heat crack opens hydrocarbon chains into smaller fractions. And it creates a bit of a mess inside, too. 

Petroleum coke, similar to charcoal, builds up in different areas of the the six-storey units as they operate. If certain areas inside the unit get too congested with buildup, it can restrict the performance or even bring down the unit.

Solving this problem has brought back-to-back record run lengths for Syncrude’s two original fluid cokers, 8-1 and 8-2. Coker 8-1 set a new benchmark for run length at 844 days on March 6, besting the previous mark set in 2010.

A shot overlooking an upgrading complex from the top of a coker.
Two of Syncrude’s original cokers set new benchmarks thanks to work to keep the units clear of buildup. 

“This is a result of a tremendous amount of work from hundreds of people right across our operations, maintenance and technical organizations as well as our Turnaround group, whose work helped set us up for success,” says Ankar Dhillon, Director for Conversion Operations at Syncrude. “Its sister unit, 8-2, set a new record for run length in 2020. Setting these records is a great example of goal setting and having the end state in mind. Our organization looked at our past performances and made decisions focused on delivering three-year run lengths on the coker. The decisions we make each shift are building blocks to our goal.”

Innovation also helped prevent downgrading events that would have historically led to unplanned outages. Routine snout lancing, where a high-pressure water stream is used to knock off coke buildup, has helped curb throughput restrictions and applied to other areas of the reactor to remove fouling in the sheds.

With 8-1 going down for planned maintenance this summer, Ankar credits the unit’s team, led by Maninder Nandha, Business Team Leader for Conversion South and Mark Kelly, Production Day Supervisor for Conversion South, together with the shift operations, maintenance and technical teams for maintaining focus each and every shift.

“We need to deliver mission runs – it’s that simple. And the team has the mindset to ensure we operate safely and reliably to get there.”