Multi-scale modelling of crude oil fouling: from molecular to plant scale

The aim of this Theme on is to integrate mathematical modelling of crude oil fouling deposition at multiple scales of investigation to produce a fully predictive model for fouling in refinery heat exchangers. Work in the areas of molecular and thermodynamic modelling at the micro level will be used to predict key physical properties and integrated with first principles models of mass, heat and momentum transfer. These models will provide necessary information to a refinery-scale model to predict the fouling behaviour as a function of oil composition, process conditions and equipment design.

Fouling in crude oil refineries is an extremely costly problem, leading to increased operating costs (from reduction in throughput and extra fuel burnt at the furnace), increased emissions, maintenance issues and safety concerns. It is estimated that this problem costs a medium size refinery several million US dollars annually.

Theme 1 develops and integrates mathematical models developed at multiple scales of investigation, from the molecular to the plant scale, to enable the prediction of crude oil fouling in refinery heat exchangers.


Key Objectives

  • To develop thermodynamic models capable of predicting asphaltene deposition
  • To introduce more accurate fluid dynamic and heat transfer coefficient calculations
  • To guide design and operations of refinery heat exchangers


  • Refinery operations guidance (e.g. cleaning strategies)
  • Design of fouling-free units with potential benefits estimated in the hundreds of thousands of US dollars yearly in individual plants