The Future of Ethane Cracker Chemical Plants in the U. S.

by Duane Nichols on April 3, 2012

New ethane cracker chemical plants are in the process design phase

Today, the US shale gas boom is spurring an unprecedented wave of expansions in the petrochemical sector with four new world-scale crackers rapidly moving  towards completion by 2017,  according to US producer Formosa Plastics is the latest company planting its flag in the ground. This company announced it will spend $1.7bn (€1.3bn) to build an 800,000 tonne/year cracker at Point Comfort, Texas, along with a 300,000 tonne/year low density polyethylene (LDPE) plant and a 600,000 tonne/year propane dehydrogenation (PDG) plant to produce propylene. Construction on the projects is expected to be complete by 2016.

Local producers fully committed to building new world-scale crackers are Chevron Phillips Chemical (CPChem), Dow Chemical, Shell Chemicals and Formosa Plastics. CPChem will build its 1.5m tonne/year cracker in Cedar Bayou, Texas, while Dow will also select a site in Texas. Meanwhile, Shell is examining a location in southwestern Pennsylvania, in close proximity to the natural gas liquids-rich Marcellus Shale.  Baskem of Brazil is also known to be doing evaluations.

These four new crackers will amount to 800,000 tonnes-1.5m tonnes/year of capacity each and come on line between 2016 and 2017. South Africa-based Sasol is undertaking a feasibility study for a $3.5bn-4.5bn cracker of 1.0m-1.5m tonnes/year at Lake Charles, Louisiana, to be completed in the second half of 2013. Sasol already operates a 470,000 tonne/year cracker at the site. Dow also plans to restart its 390,000 tonne/year cracker in St. Charles, Louisiana, by the end of this year.

In addition to new crackers, four US producers are planning expansions or debottlenecks at existing sites – Westlake Chemical, LyondellBasell, INEOS and Williams. The total additional capacity from these expansions amounts to around 995,000 tonnes/year. The upgraded plants are planned to come on line by the end of 2013 through 2014.

All the above outlined expansions total an estimated 7.4m tonnes/year of ethylene capacity by 2017, representing 28% of existing US ethylene capacity of around 26.6m tonnes/year, based on the analysis work by ICIS.

Duane Nichols. April 3, 2012

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