Coal to Petrol Plant at Billingham

One of the pictures shows the process route, which (a) enables one to understand what the pictures mean and (b) describes a technology that is now lost. The photograph shows one of the liquid phase “stalls” at Billingham. Liquid phase, in this case, means that the oil stayed as a liquid.

Each stall contained a set of three reactors in which hydrogen reacted with a coal oil slurry, whereby part of the coal formed more oil. The oil was separated off from the unreacted coal, and sent round to a distillation column. The lightest fraction from the distillation column was similar to petrol and mixed with the output from the second stage of the process,

In the second stage, the fraction of the oil, from the distillation column, with an intermediate boiling point was sent to the two vapour phase hydrogenation reactors. More petrol was made. It will be apparent that the whole process was very complex and can only be understood by working through the diagram.

Images and details courtesy of Fred Starr.

3 thoughts on “Coal to Petrol Plant at Billingham

  1. My dad, Harry Appleton, was General Foreman for Oil Works. He told me a story that, during the war, a particular process shift would have a much better product than others so, one night he followed the Process Foreman soon after the shift had started, the process foreman went to the Distillation column and adjusted a valve for one of the reflux tray sections which, changed the quality of the final product. At the end of his shift he would adjust the valve back again. (My dad was very well versed in the process side of things, his brother Cliff being a research chemist in the research department), he confronted the process foreman and threatened to expose him if he did not make it common knowledge what he was doing. It’s hard to believe that during a war that someone would care more about his ego than the safety of his country. The process foreman let management know after that.


  2. This is absolutely fascinating. What is the date of the picture? And since I am not a chemist, was the process similar to the one used in South Africa, or a different one? Further historical detail much appreciated; please feel free to communicate offline – contact for my email address (to someone who after almost four years living here now feel very much a Teessider)


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