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Allocation of energy use in petroleum refineries to petroleum products

Implications for Life-Cyde energy use and emission inventory of petroleum transportation fuels


Aim, Scope, and Background

Studies to evaluate the energy and emission impacts of vehicle/fuel systems have to address allocation of the energy use and emissions associated with petroleum refineries to various petroleum products because refineries produce multiple products. The allocation is needed in evaluating energy and emission effects of individual transportation fuels. Allocation methods used so far for petroleum-based fuels (e.g., gasoline, diesel, and liquefied petroleum gas [LPG]) are based primarily on mass, energy content, or market value shares of individual fuels from a given refinery. The aggregate approach at the refinery level is unable to account for the energy use and emission differences associated with producing individual fuels at the next sub-level: individual refining processes within a refinery. The approach ignores the fact that different refinery products go through different processes within a refinery. Allocation at the subprocess level (i.e., the refining process level) instead of at the aggregate process level (i.e., the refinery level) is advocated by the International Standard Organization. In this study, we seek a means of allocating total refinery energy use among various refinery products at the level of individual refinery processes.

Main Features

We present a petroleum refinery-process-based approach to allocating energy use in a petroleum refinery to petroleum refinery products according to mass, energy content, and market value share of final and intermediate petroleum products as they flow through refining processes within a refinery. The approach is based on energy and mass balance among refining processes within a petroleum refinery. By using published energy and mass balance data for a simplified U.S. refinery, we developed a methodology and used it to allocate total energy use within a refinery to various petroleum products. The approach accounts for energy use during individual refining processes by tracking product stream mass and energy use within a refinery. The energy use associated with an individual refining process is then distributed to product streams by using the mass, energy content, or market value share of each product stream as the weighting factors.


The results from this study reveal that product-specific energy use based on the refinery process-level allocation differs considerably from that based on the refinery-level allocation. We calculated well-to-pump total energy use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for gasoline, diesel, LPG, and naphtha with the refinery process-based allocation approach. For gasoline, the efficiency estimated from the refinery-level allocation underestimates gasoline energy use, relative to the process-level based gasoline efficiency. For diesel fuel, the well-to-pump energy use for the process-level allocations with the mass- and energy-content-based weighting factors is smaller than that predicted with the refinery-level allocations. However, the process-level allocation with the market-value-based weighting factors has results very close to those obtained by using the refinery-level allocations. For LPG, the refinery-level allocation significantly overestimates LPG energy use. For naphtha, the refinery-level allocation overestimates naphtha energy use. The GHG emission patterns for each of the fuels are similar to those of energy use.


We presented a refining-process-level-based method that can be used to allocate energy use of individual refining processes to refinery products. The process-level-based method captures process-dependent characteristics of fuel production within a petroleum refinery. The method starts with the mass and energy flow chart of a refinery, tracks energy use by individual refining processes, and distributes energy use of a given refining process to products from the process. In allocating energy use to refinery products, the allocation method could rely on product mass, product energy contents, or product market values as weighting factors. While the mass- and energy-content-based allocation methods provide an engineering perspective of energy allocation within a refinery, the market-value-based allocation method provides an economic perspective. The results from this study show that energy allocations at the aggregate refinery level and at the refining process level could make a difference in evaluating the energy use and emissions associated with individual petroleum products. Furthermore, for the refining-process-level allocation method, use of mass — energy content- or market value share-based weighting factors could lead to different results for diesel fuels, LPG, and naphtha. We suggest that, when possible, energy use allocations should be made at the lowest subprocess level — a confirmation of the recommendation by the International Standard Organization for life cycle analyses.


The allocation of energy use in petroleum refineries at the refining process level in this study follows the recommendation of ISO 14041 that allocations should be accomplished at the subprocess level when possible. We developed a method in this study that can be readily adapted for refineries in which process-level energy and mass balance data are available. The process-level allocation helps reveal some additional energy and emission burdens associated with certain refinery products that are otherwise overlooked with the refinery-level allocation. When possible, process-level allocation should be used in life-cycle analyses.

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Correspondence to Michael Wang or Hanjie Lee or John Molburg.

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Wang, M., Lee, H. & Molburg, J. Allocation of energy use in petroleum refineries to petroleum products. Int J LCA 9, 34–44 (2004).

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  • Allocation methods
  • energy use of petroleum refining
  • life cycle assessment
  • petroleum products
  • petroleum refining
  • petroleum transportation fuels