US Shale Gas Boom Drives Cracker Plants & Process Improvements

by Duane Nichols on August 3, 2012

Chevron Phillips Chemical Plant

US Shale Gas Boom Drives Cracker Plants & Process Improvements

LONDON (ICIS) — The US shale gas boom is helping to drive new developments in technology, Dennis Holtermann, vice president for research and technology at Chevron Phillips Chemical (CPChem), said late on Monday.

New petrochemical projects based on ethane derived from US shale gas are providing new opportunities to improve plant design, he said.

“As we build new plants associated with this new resource, we can further leverage the technology we have. When you’re not building anything, it’s hard to advance technology,” Holtermann said.

“Collectively, this is a huge development for our country in terms of a new untapped resource,” he continued. “It’s a game-changer, particularly in natural gas liquids, which the industry, including CPChem, converts into petrochemicals and further derivatives.”

CPChem, a 50:50 joint venture between US companies Chevron and Phillips 66, plans to build a 1.5m tonne/year ethane cracker at its Cedar Bayou site in Baytown, Texas. It will also construct two polyethylene (PE) plants with a combined 500,000 tonne/year capacity at its Sweeny site in Old Ocean, Texas.

Other chemical companies planning to take advantage of the shale gas boom by building new crackers in the US include ExxonMobil, Shell, Dow Chemical and Formosa Plastics.

Holtermann said CPChem is confident that its integrated cracker and PE project will be the first of these projects to come on stream. “The project is proceeding at a very quick pace, we’ve executed FEED [front-end engineering and design] agreements, the environmental filings are in place and we are targeting full funding in 2013 and start-up in 2017,” he said.

CPChem said in April that it has awarded the FEED agreement for the PE facilities to US-based firm Jacobs Engineering and the FEED agreement for the cracker to fellow US company Shaw Energy & Chemicals.

It is important for CPChem to be first so it can establish its position as a shale gas consumer, because resources could be limited, Holtermann said. “Shale gas is a great game-changer. Therefore, you want to establish your position and get all your long-term contracts in place to ensure profitability.”

The project will allow CPChem to advance its loop slurry PE technology, using the company’s latest catalyst technology developments. Process advancements will help improve operational reliability and safety, reduce costs and decrease the environmental footprint, Holtermann said. These improvements can be achieved, for example, through better heat integration and process simplification, he added.

The company’s on-purpose 1-hexene project at Cedar Bayou will also benefit from technology improvements, Holtermann said. The 250,000 tonne/year project will be more than double the size of CPChem’s joint venture Saudi Polymers 1-hexene plant in Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia, which is currently in start-up, he said. The Saudi Polymers plant is currently the world’s largest on-purpose 1-hexene plant, he noted.

The 1-hexene project at Cedar Bayou is scheduled to start up in the first quarter of 2014, and will incorporate process design improvements that will reduce by-product formation, improve catalyst efficiency and reduce energy consumption, CPChem said.

The company is also studying a petrochemicals project in Iraq. “We have a non-binding [letter of intent] with the Iraqi ministry to look at an integrated petrochemical complex there,” Holtermann said. He declined to provide further details.

Saudi Company to Start-up New Cracker Complex

LONDON (ICIS) — Saudi Polymers will start up its new cracker and polymers project in Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia, “in the very near future”, Dennis Holtermann, vice president for research and technology at Chevron Phillips Chemical (CPChem), said late on Monday.

“Mechanical completion was achieved late last year and we’re in the process of starting all the units up,” he said, without providing further details on the timing.

Saudi Polymers, which is 35% owned by CPChem subsidiary Arabian Chevron Phillips Petrochemical (ACP) and 65% by Saudi Arabia’s National Petrochemical (Petrochem), had planned for a first quarter start-up.

The project includes capacities for 1.165m tonnes/year of ethylene, 440,000 tonnes/year of propylene, 1.1m tonnes/year of polyethylene (PE), 400,000 tonnes/year of polypropylene (PP), 200,000 tonnes/year of polystyrene (PS) and 100,000 tonnes/year of 1-hexene.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Duane Nichols August 3, 2012 at 7:14 pm

In Beaver County, PA, for a site on the Ohio River, Governor Corbett continues his strong push for an ethane cracker chemical complex. This is adjacent to the “wet gas” region of
Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia. See this article:


Duane Nichols August 3, 2012 at 7:25 pm

The proposed Aither ETHANE CRACKER plant that could be sited in WEST VIRGINIA boasts a lower capital cost, lower operating cost, lower energy input and lower carbon dioxide emissions over traditional ethane cracker plants, which are non-catalytic. According to a previous release from Aither, the project is seeking to raise more than $750 million in capital and create more than 2,000 construction jobs and 200 permanent direct production jobs. See the recent article below:


Duane Nichols August 3, 2012 at 10:22 pm

New projects by chemical suppliers highlight growth of shale gas fracking


Looking for a word to describe the potential influence of shale gas fracking on the North American plastics industry? How about “transformative”?

In the few years since the energy industry started to tap deposits in the Marcellus Shale Formation in New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio, U.S. natural gas reserves increased almost 30 per cent. The full impact remains to be seen but chemical suppliers are practically breaking their necks in the rush to tap into this new wellspring. Dow Chemical Co., Formosa Plastics Corp. USA, and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. LP already have announced North American expansion plans; ExxonMobil Corp., meanwhile, is considering building two new polyethylene lines in Mont Belvieu, Tex., as well as a new ethane cracker in Baytown, Tex.

North of the border, Nova Chemicals Corporation has a series of growth projects of its own in development in Ontario’s Chemical Valley, including the possible construction of a new world-scale polyethylene plant in Sarnia-Lambton.

A decision on the Sarnia-Lambton plant isn’t expected until 2013, the Calgary, Alta.-based company said, and hinges on the progress of two other projects. “In June of this year we began cracking an ethane/propane mix from Conway, Kansas, and in the second half of next year we expect to begin cracking ethane from the Marcellus Shale basin,” Chris Bezaire, senior vice president, Polyethylene Business, told Canadian Plastics. “These changes allow us to think about the expansion of our Corunna, Ont. cracker that would support a new polyethylene facility in the Sarnia region, and a de-bottleneck of our low-density polyethylene facility in Mooretown, Ont.”

The company is waiting for approval from the Ministry of the Environment for the estimated $250-million Corunna plant revamp, which would make it capable of running with 100 per cent natural gas liquids feedstock.

Another project set to take off is an eight-kilometre Genesis pipeline from an existing St. Clair River, Ont. crossing that will deliver natural gas liquids, originating from the Marcellus Shale basin to Nova’s Corunna plant. “National Energy Board approval has been granted as of June 13, 2012, and construction is scheduled to start in early 2013, with expected start up in the beginning of the third quarter of 2013,” Bezaire said. “The pipeline extension will enable access to additional ethane for our Corunna cracker.”

Analysts see the moves by Nova and other domestic resin producers as attempts to develop low-cost feedstocks and create more widespread reshoring of manufacturing to North American suppliers before outside pressures reign them in. “The rapid development of shale gas resources in North America has helped make local producers of resins produced from large amounts of ethylene, such as polyethylene and PVC, some of the most cost competitive resin producers in the world,” said Phillip Karig, a managing director at research firm Mathelin Bay Associates Inc. “North America has a huge head start on taking advantage of low cost shale gas, but the future will depend on how quickly other parts of the world adopt fracking technology, how long low cost natural gas can stay bottled up in North America and isolated from world energy markets, and how environmental concerns might affect North American production.”


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