Built on 30,000 square meters, the refinery receives crude oil and condensate as feedstock and produces 90,000 tons of oil-based bitumen per year in the first phase

A mini refinery opened in Aras Free Zone on Wednesday with annual capacity of 200,000 tons of petroleum, including gasoline, diesel, naphtha, kerosene and bitumen, managing director of Aras Free Zone said.

“In the first phase, the refinery produces 90,000 tons of oil-based bitumen per year,” IRNA quoted Mohsen Nariman as telling the opening ceremony.

The project cost $1.5 billion and was built in 10 months. Built on 30,000 square meters, the refinery receives crude oil and condensate as feedstock.

A part of it production will be used to feed downstream industries and a part for export to neighboring countries.

Mini-refineries are installations for primary processing of hydrocarbon raw materials with a capacity of up to 1 million tons a year.

Bitumen is produced by fractional distillation of crude oil. Usually, this is done in two steps. First the crude oil is heated up to 300-350°C and introduced into an atmospheric distillation column. Lighter fractions like naphtha, kerosene and diesel are separated from the crude oil at different heights in the column.

The heaviest fractions left at the bottom of the column are called heavy residue, which is heated up to 350-400°C and introduced into a vacuum distillation column.

By second distillation under atmospheric conditions and by increasing the temperature above 400°C, thermal decomposition/cracking of the heavy residue occurs. The residue of the column is called short residue and is the feedstock for manufacturing bitumen.

Covering more than 50,000 hectares along the Aras River, Aras Free Trade-Industrial Zone is in East Azarbaijan Province in the northwest. It is adjacent to the Republic of Azerbaijan, Armenia and Azerbaijan’s Autonomous Republic of Nakhichivan.

Located in Jolfa City of East Azarbaijan, Aras Free Zone is regarded as Iran’s only gateway to Eurasia with its geography compatible with trade with Eurasia.

Exports from Aras Free Trade Zone reached $251 million two years ago. It was $518 million in the last fiscal year (March 2019-20).

Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and China were the main destinations for exports from Aras.

Besides Aras, the government operates six other free trade zones, including Kish, Qeshm, Chabahar, Anzali, Arvand, and Maku.

The zones have been set up to help facilitate international trade and offer strong guarantees and protection to foreign investors and companies.

Companies in the zones are exempt from tax and other customary fees and tariffs in the mainland.

A total of $17 billion worth of goods were exported from Iran’s free trade and special economic zones in the last fiscal year. Imports to the zones in the same period was $5 billion.