Electric Cracking Under Development for Ethylene Production in the Petrochemical Industry

by Duane Nichols on May 25, 2021

Industrial cooperation needed to develop sustainable processes

Dow advances EDH process and electric cracking to lower carbon emissions

From an Article by Joseph Chang, ICIS News, May 20, 2021

NEW YORK (ICIS)–Dow is advancing ethane dehydrogenation (EDH) and electric cracking (e-cracking) technologies in a bid to dramatically lower carbon emissions from existing crackers, and to one day build the low-to-zero carbon crackers of the future, executives said.

“If you look at both technologies, you can get 40-50% reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions [from each]. Our plan is to… get them to a point where they start supporting our net carbon neutrality goals,” said Manav Lahoti, global sustainability director for hydrocarbons for Dow, in an interview with ICIS.

“We’re trying to move as fast as we can in bringing EDH forward because there’s a high level of interest not only within the company but a need in the marketplace to have [low carbon] technologies that make ethylene economically viable,” he added.

Dow plans to cut net annual carbon emissions by 5m tonnes, or 15% by 2030 versus its 2020 baseline, with carbon neutrality achieved by 2050, including the impact of product benefits.


Dow is using its proprietary technology to develop EDH but also evaluating several potential technology providers, including EcoCatalytic Technologies.

The basis for Dow’s EDH is its UNIFINITY fluidised catalytic dehydrogenation (FCDh) technology, which it is deploying at its Plaquemine, Louisiana site. It is retrofitting one of its mixed-feed crackers there with FCDh technology to produce 100,000 tonnes/year of on-purpose propylene.

The project is expected to be built in 2021 with start-up slated for 2022. “We will demonstrate the propylene technology next year while we continue working on ethylene. Our long-term plans are to use that platform and apply it to ethane-to-ethylene [via EDH],” said Lahoti.

“It’s not going to happen in the next couple of years – it’s a little further out. It’s part of our multi-generational plan. We’re going to demonstrate EDH in one of our existing crackers and then from there we can talk about building a cracker using EDH from the ground up,” he added.


Dow is also working with Shell to develop electric cracking. Since their announcement in June 2020, “significant progress” has been made, with announcements to come in the weeks and months ahead.

In e-cracking, electricity would be used to heat cracker furnaces rather than natural gas. If that electricity comes from renewables such as solar and wind, it would largely decarbonise the process.

“We’re going to look at retrofitting some of the e-cracking technology into our crackers, demonstrating the technology. But at the same time, we are trying to figure out how to develop what we consider a novel solution that allows us to apply e-cracking to building a cracker from the ground up. That’s going to be further out,” said Lahoti.

Any decision to build a new cracker would take carbon emissions into account, and thus use one or more carbon mitigation technologies. “We build these assets for many decades. Any view [looking over] many decades has to have an ability to manage the climate conditions and regulations. I don’t see climate regulations getting easier over time,” said Edward Stones, global business director for energy and climate change.


The timing of the use of low carbon cracker technologies will depend not only on technology development, but the value customers will assign to products produced with these technologies.

“Our customers are very interested in low carbon solutions, and frankly the cost of carbon abatement rises as we get closer to net zero, and the value of our products rises. So what we can afford to do in our value chain increases, and the speed can increase as well,” said Stones.

Dow is also developing resiliency on a corporate level, working on many different technologies and methods to reduce carbon emissions, including blue hydrogen, carbon capture and storage (CCS), renewable energy and efficiency projects.

“Those are areas where we can get tangible reductions in emissions with known technologies today that build your credibility and build the customer value chain,” said Stones.

EDH and e-cracking are not one-size-fits-all technologies – they would be part of a site-wide solution, he noted. “When you [look at] game changing technologies, this is where we believe that companies like Dow have a competitive edge because we are used to dealing with the complexities that come with these large, integrated sites,” said Lahoti.

“There’s no single technology that’s going to give us what we need. It’s going to be a combination of things we know today and things we’re working on that will make a significant difference,” he added.

The goal will be to get to world-scale capacities with these new technologies. “That is definitely where we want to take these technologies. We’re not going to stop at just a furnace or two. We want to make sure that it gets to be world-scale at that point in time when it’s ready,” said Lahoti.


Dow also sees hydrogen playing a role in decarbonising its crackers, most likely starting with blue hydrogen produced when methane is fed into an autothermal reformer (ATR), which produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen.

The CO2 is captured and stored, and the hydrogen can be sent to the cracker furnace to provide the process heat. Off gas can also be recycled back into the ATR.

“You also can use that hydrogen and CO2 cycle to feed your cogeneration facility, which will be important… in mitigating volatility of renewables [in electric power generation],” said Stones.

“An integrated site in the future would have all of these technologies. What we’re trying to figure out is, what’s the right balance across the sites? And some of that depends on what the value chain allows you to do… Developing those technologies in an integrated way is really how we win,” he added.


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