How the Refining Industry will Thrive Long Term

How the Refining Industry will Thrive Long Term

What’s the ideal energy mix for our planet? This is an important question that I’ve thought a lot about. As a leader serving the refining industry, I believe it’s essential to understand the world’s energy needs today and in the future – and the reality is that petroleum-based transportation fuel demand is still robust.

Although environmental policy continues to evolve, internal combustion engines will almost certainly remain part of the global transportation mix through my grandchildren’s generation and perhaps beyond. Nonetheless, plateauing fossil fuel demand over decades to come will apply increasing revenue pressure on the industry. Thus, change is inevitable.

Albemarle and our Catalysts business are developing new ways to align customers with the world’s long-term movement toward cleaner fuels, greener uses of other petroleum-based products, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. We are focusing on ideas that can also preserve livelihoods, extend the return on existing capital investments, and position customers for long-term success.

Our customers understand that as an industry, we need to:

  • Quickly and cost-effectively extract more useful products from crude oil;
  • Remove unnecessary contaminants from petroleum-based products;
  • Improve the production of biofuels;
  • More efficiently turn crude into non-fuel products;
  • And, refine synthetic crude developed from waste plastics.


Our products – refining and petrochemical catalysts – support all of these processes. A catalyst is a chemical introduced to refinement that improves the process but doesn’t become part of the output. In creating fuels, catalysts reduce the time, cost, and energy requirements for turning crude derivatives into gasoline, diesel, kerosene, and lighter olefins (often used in plastics). And they maximize outputs. Catalysts increase fuel quality including removal of sulfur from gasoline and other petroleum products to reduce air pollution.

Enhancing biofuel production

In the world’s move toward net-zero carbon, one market projected to grow is biofuels. Starting from various sources and origins of renewable biomass, our catalysts convert these into high-quality biofuels.  Catalysts enable refiners to efficiently convert biofeeds such as seed oil and used cooking oil into renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel.

Producing petrochemicals and synthetic crude

Another rich opportunity for the refining industry is the trend toward higher production of petrochemicals, the fastest-growing sector of global liquid demand. Petrochemicals include raw materials for industrial chemicals, durable plastics, synthetic fibers, dyes and detergents. More refineries are being built with petrochemical manufacturing facilities on site or retrofitted to support the process. And catalysts are playing a pivotal role in making these new builds and retrofits efficient and cost-effective.  

Although most everyone wants to see a more sustainable energy mix, we know that transformations like these require time. There will be very few green innovations – whether in biofuels, recycling, or economic circularity – that don't involve catalysts. Our goal is to help our customers, and the planet, wherever they are today – and wherever they need to go.


Raphael Crawford is president of Albemarle’s Catalysts business.