Huge ExxonMobil/Sabic Ethane Cracker Coming Online at Corpus Christi, Texas

by Duane Nichols on August 31, 2021

Startup of Ethane Cracker Complex at Baytown three years ago

ExxonMobil/Sabic cracker complex to be fully online by year’s end

From an Article by Kristen Hays & Astrid Torres, S&P Global Platts, August 26, 2021

ExxonMobil and Sabic’s joint-venture petrochemical complex near Corpus Christi, Texas, is undergoing commissioning ahead of its fourth-quarter startup, the plant’s manager said August 26th. “We’ll be up with everything by the end of the year,” the plant manager, Paul Fritsch, said during a tour of the facility.

Built on a former cotton field, and surrounded by cotton fields and sunflowers, the new complex features a 1.8 million mt/year ethane-fed cracker, the world’s second-largest, and the world’s largest monoethylene glycol unit at 1.1 million mt/year. The complex also has two linear low density polyethylene units, each with capacity of 650,000 mt/year.

The companies announced in October that the joint venture would come online in Q4 2021, earlier than 2022 as originally planned. The JV brought on-site utilities online first, to ensure adequate flows of water, steam, nitrogen and other inputs to the downstream products. “We’ve been working on that for most of the year,” Fritsch said. “As we start up in the fourth quarter we’ll have more hustle and bustle.”

The complex has all laboratory facilities on site to test raw materials and PE and MEG produced to ensure output meets necessary specifications, which was finishing its commissioning process. Huge screens with intricate data glowed in the dimly lit control room, and a simulation laboratory takes engineers through scenario after scenario of what would happen to the production units or utilities in potential events, from heavy rain to minor pressure changes in valves to sudden power outages.

The complex was built with modules, which were transported to the site from September 2019 through June 2020, the companies said. The module plan allowed the companies to continue the work with fewer contractors on site than projects that build units on site from the ground up, so construction was not suspended or slowed at the height of COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. Fritsch said the project had 4,000 contractors on site at its height, and maintained COVID-19 safety protocols. A similar project without modules could have twice that number of contractors or more.

Fritsch also said the project has provided medical oversight, including administration of 2,800 vaccinations so far to workers and contractors who want them. Other major petrochemical projects temporarily slowed or suspended work to implement COVID-19 safety protocols, such as Shell’s new petrochemical complex under construction in Pennsylvania and LyondellBasell’s new propylene oxide/tertiary butyl alcohol unit in Texas.

The ExxonMobil-Sabic project is part of 9.77 million mt/year of new US PE capacity under construction or planned to start up in 2021 and beyond. As of 2020, the US had 23.4 million mt/year of PE capacity, according to S&P Global Platts Analytics.

The new cracker is among more than 10 million mt/year of ethylene capacity under construction or planned in the US to come online in 2021 and beyond, which includes Total’s new 1 million mt/year joint-venture cracker in Port Arthur, Texas, which began starting up in June. US ethylene capacity in 2020 was 40.56 million mt/year, according to Platts Analytics.

The MEG unit will increase US MEG capacity by 23.6% to 5.75 million mt/year. US MEG capacity has more than doubled to 4.65 million mt/year since late 2018 as Lotte Chemical, MEGlobal, Sasol and Nan Ya Plastics brought a cumulative 2.5 million mt/year in new production online.

The joint venture also includes a marine terminal to export liquids, including MEG, propane and butane streams.


See also: Shell cracker plant 80% complete; first electricity exported to grid, Chrissy Suttles, Beaver County Times, July 9, 2021

BEAVER COUNTY, PA — Shell Chemicals’ ethane cracker plant is now 80% complete, as workers continue to commission the site’s 250-megawatt natural gas and steam cogeneration facility.

Employees at the Beaver County petrochemical complex have now exported power to the PJM electricity grid from each of the power plant’s three units – a major milestone on the project’s path to startup.

Once operational, the cogeneration plant will provide electricity to the complex while exporting approximately one-third of its power, or 80 megawatts, to the wholesale grid in an average day. “We are proud to have successfully tied our cogeneration facility to the grid and exported power from our site,” said Shell Senior Vice President Hilary Mercer.

Workers will soon begin commissioning the complex’s ethane cracking unit and three polyethylene production units, using power from the cogeneration facility to do so. The company began “first fire” activities in early June to prepare the power plant’s piping.

The multi-billion dollar project is expected to be completed and operational by next year. It will convert fracked gas ethane into ethylene, used in plastics manufacturing to make a range of products from automotive parts to food packaging.

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