Last week, I along with my ChE 179 class went on a field trip to the Bayway Refinery in Linden, New Jersey. The refinery is about one and a half hours away from school, so we took a coach bus and spent around four hours at the plant. The Bayway refinery is one of the largest in the United States and processes around 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day. One of the most remarkable aspects about the refinery is the magnitude and complexity. The site is truly like its own city. Apart from the necessary piping, reactors, etc, there are control rooms, a cafeteria, a gym, and housing among several other amenities. The site is absolutely enormous and for some comparison, it’s a little bit larger than the Lehigh campus. The main goal of the trip was to learn about career possibilities as chemical engineers. Up to this point, I really have no idea what chemical engineers are or actually do. This trip provided a great opportunity to witness an example of chemical engineers in the workplace and pick their brain about the transition from school to a job.
Upon arriving at the plant, we first had to make our way through security. Security is very intense at the site, the refinery itself is dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing and the plant is imperative to the U.S. and could be targeted during an attack. Likewise, we were not allowed to take any photos when on the premises. The pictures could be used by others companies to replicate equipment on the plant or steal mechanisms.
To open our tour, we were given presentations by two of the main companies that operate on the plant. One of the most interesting aspects about the refinery was that there are several companies that actually house their operations on the site. These companies use the products and by-products from other systems on the plant. This reduces waste and makes the overall refinery more efficient. The first presentation was given from a representative from Phillips 66, who coincidentally is also a Lehigh graduate. Basically, Phillips 66 takes the crude oil and turns it into usable fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and heating fuels to name a few. The crude oil is supplied from tankers and then travel through Bayway refining units including one of the world’s largest fluid catalytic cracking units, two hydrodesulfurization units, a reformer, an alkylation unit and other processing equipment. I found it extremely interesting that the refinery receives no fuel from the Middle East, all of the fuel comes from Canada, U.S. (Gulf and North Dakota) and West Africa.
For the first part of the driving portion of the tour, we traveled around the Phillips 66 part of the plant and were able to see all the different reactors, pipes, and flares. Flares are fail-safe mechanisms that are employed if a pipe has pressure issues or some other problem. The component in the malfunctioning line is sent to a large tower and burnt (like a flare) to avoid any backup or explosions. For obvious safety reasons, we were not allowed to exit the bus as it drove around the plant. We were, however, allowed to explore the control room for a section of the plant. These plant is basically run from these control rooms and the employees in there gave a little rundown of what they do and showed us some of the complex schematics that represent the plants. They make sure everything is running correctly and ensure everything is operating safely. For the last part of the tour, we went through the Infinieum section of the plant. It was much smaller than the Phillips 66 complex, and Infineum produces lubricants and fuels. Two Infineum employees directed this part of the tour and gave insight into their everyday operations.
To end the field trip, we were given the opportunity to have a Q&A session with employees from both Phillips 66 and Infineum. This gave my class insight into what the employees do everyday and the different challenges they face. They also were able to share their experiences of transitioning from schooling to a career. This information was very valuable and I will definitely used it as a proceed toward a future career.