10 March 1997 00:00 [Source: ICB]
Think of UOP and oil refining rather than petrochemicals comes to mind. But the firm is no longer taking olefins and aromatics along for the ride, they have been upgraded to separate business units. Peter Taffe reports.
UOP is well known as a licensor of technology to the oil refining industry but, apart from paraxylene and linear alkyl benzene (LAB), it is less well established in the petrochemical sector. But this could soon change. A reorganisation focused on customer sales and service has led to the formation of two business units - olefins and aromatics.
Steven Light, the new vice president of the olefins and derivatives business unit, explains: 'In the past, refining has dominated UOP's business, petrochemicals was more or less along for the ride. This is not the case anymore.'
The group is organised around business units responsible for olefins, detergents, petrochemicals and marketing. This covers C1 to C4 chemistry. 'We are trying to bring a focus of UOP's core competencies into the petrochemical areas such as our catalyst development, our technology development and commercialisation and our service expertise,' explains Light.
The basic thrust of UOP's growth initiatives is to add technologies and focus R&D on areas where UOP sees opportunities. It is also considering alliances. One example of collaboration is the development of the MTO (methanol-to-olefins) process with Norway's Norsk Hydro (ECN Chemscope May 1996). The process has been demonstrated on a 0.5 tonne/day methanol feed plant at Porsgrunn and is ready for commercialisation.
According to Light, the market for the MTO process is ethylene producers wanting to expand their steamcracker operations and who also have methanol. The most economical scenario is a debottlenecking of 100 000-200 000 tonne/year of ethylene and propylene. The MTO reactor can be incorporated into existing facilities without a major revamp. Features of the technology include the ability to vary to the C2 and C3 ratio and high product purity.
There are six projects under study, says Light, and two are extremely serious. 'I expect one or both to go ahead before the end of the year,' he claims. Both are expansions with an internal source of methanol capacity that is idle. He adds that most of the interest has come from Europe and the Middle East.
UOP is one of the global leaders in dehydrogenation technology with much success in MTBE production. However, there has been a reluctance for the chemical industry to use propane dehydrogenation because the economics of recovering propylene in refinery streams are more attractive.
But the growth in propylene demand has created interest in UOP's dehydrogenation technology. In the short term, new catalysts will make the economics more competitive. Longer term, UOP is looking for process improvements to bring the economics closer to market propylene costs. UOP has licensed four units and Light predicts up to five complexes/year could be built after 2000 using this technology.
In steamcracking, UOP is a major supplier of adsorbents, equipment such as speciality tubes and trays, and modular systems including its pressure swing adsorption (PSA) units and KLP process for butadiene selective hydrogenation. But it has no plans to break into the cracking technology itself.
Light says UOP has been putting its equipment and technologies together in one package. 'There is a lot of activity in revamps and debottlenecking. We are looking in the short term of a doubling in equipment supply.'
UOP has formed a partnership with Pacinox to provide reactor technology, called the temperature controlled reactor (TCR), that will have broad industry applications, claims Light. UOP is in the process of screening the technology for a variety of applications. The initial demonstration of this reactor has been completed in UOP's detergent technology.
UOP claims to be a leader in the detergents field with over 36 complexes licensed. It offers a full package of technologies and has process developments underway. For example, it has incorporated its TCR technology into its Pacol process for the dehydrogenation of n-paraffins to n-olefins. By upping the conversion/pass, the size of the recycle loop is reduced by a third. Light claims this allows a rise in throughput compared with the old reactor.
A 1 tonne/day demonstration unit using the Pacol TCR design is being operated by Petresa at its Algeciras facilities in Spain. UOP is now looking for its first commercial application and is holding discussions with two existing licensees.
Another development is the Detal solid catalyst for fixed-bed benzene alkylation which was commercialised one year ago at Petresa's Canadian LAB facilities. Since it does not use hydrogen fluoride (HF) it avoids the environmental and operating problems of traditional HF technology and offers 30% lower investment costs. Two more licences have been sold for projects in Dushanzi, China, and Nirma, India.
A new process to be announced by UOP at NPRA later on this month will by Linear-1, a linear alpha-olefins technology. This technique produces products with distribution in the C6 to C10 range suitable for the lubricants, detergents and polymer additives industries. Light says UOP is confident of selling up to four licences/year. UOP has also formed alliances in the olefins and light petrochemicals. We are using this area to bring a business focus into development programmes.'
In UOP's aromatics and derivatives business, the strategy is very simple, says Joseph Ausikaitis, vice president of this new business unit. 'The BTX strategy is to maintain our strong position in the marketplace by offering the best technologies. The aromatics derivative area will provide the platform to grow.' He further explains: 'We will use our strong BTX position to fund our aromatics derivatives business.'
UOP is well established in BTX with Ausikaitis claiming 80% of the market for new aromatic complexes. Over the past three to five years, the industry has been on a building spree with 7m tonne/year of new paraxylene capacity coming onstream by 1999.' He explains it is a cyclical business which is now peaking to be followed by a downturn in 1998 and 1999 and a recovery in 2000.
The heart of the business is UOP's Parex paraxylene technology. Here there are a number of developments such as a new adsorbent, ADS-27, which gives a higher throughput. However, the most significant development is a new selective TDP (toluene disproportionation) technology called PX-plus. According to Ausikaitis, it will be competitive to Mobil's MSTDP and MTPX (toluene-to-paraxylene) processes. UOP is in discussions for its first sale of a commercial scale unit.
|MAJOR NEW TECHNOLOGIES BEING COMMERCIALISED BY UOP|
Olefins and derivatives
||Demonstration unit operated
by Norsk Hydro
|Linear-1||alpha-olefins||ethylene||To be announced at NPRA|
||Demonstration unit operated
by Petresa, Spain
||Commercialised last year at
Aromatics and derivatives
||Commercial unit under
due Q3 1997
|R172-CCR catalyst||BTXs||Paraffinic naphtha||In commercial operation|
||Plant under construction in
||Commercial unit onstream
|Q-Max||cumene||benzene, propylene||First commercial plant in 1996|
|EBZ-500||ethylbenzene||ethylene, benzene||Two plants operating in Asia|
Another development is the 1210 isomerisation catalyst which will see its first commercial operation this year. The catalyst ups paraxylene yield from a mixed xylenes stream in the Isomar process. It is claimed to have 50% less cracking and ring loss than typical isomerisation catalysts and can lift yield from 84% to over 90%.
A significant milestone will be the startup in Saudi Arabia next year of the first commercial plant using the Cyclar process jointly developed by UOP and BP Chemicals. It will produce 300 000 tonne/year of paraxylene from LPGs. Discussions are underway for a second plant although this depends on feedstock availability.
UOP is seeing interest in its metaxylene (MX) technology to provide feedstock for purified isophthalic acid (PIA) production. The growth is due to demand for PIA blended with PTA in polyester production. UOP has already sold four licences for MX plants in the range 50 000-100 000 tonne/year.
UOP's aromatics derivatives business centres around phenolics and styrenics. The phenol business is experiencing growth of 3%/year with Asia higher at 6%/year, says Ausikaitis, the key driver being polycarbonates. New additions to UOP's phenolics portfolio are the Q-Max cumene and CT-BISA bisphenol-A processes.
The first plant to use Q-Max technology came onstream last year at JLM Chemicals' site in Blue Island, Illinois. This plant has a cumene yield of 99.7%, claims Ausikaitis, and was making 99.95% purity product within eight hours of startup. Two further licences have been sold, he says, with the next plant due onstream at Chevron's Port Arthur site in autumn. The key feature of the process is its zeolite catalyst which can be regenerated.
UOP has added a bisphenol-A (CT-BISA) process owned by the Japanese contractor Chiyoda to its phenolics portfolio. There are two plants operating commercially.
In UOP's styrenic portfolio, it co-licences ethylbenzene/styrene technology with ABB Lummus. The market is driven primarily by polystyrene with 4%/year growth worldwide and double that rate in Asia. However, there is a lot of capacity coming onstream between now and 1998 leading to overcapacity in 1999, explains Ausikaitis. 'This partnership with Lummus has been very successful and we have been awarded nearly ten out of the last ten non-captive EB/SM units,' he claims.
UOP and Lummus are offering a new liquid-phase EB technology based on the EBZ-500 zeolite alkylation catalyst. 'This is a very selective catalyst with over 99.6 weight % EB yield, with very long catalyst life, up to two times previous catalysts.' There are two plants using this process in the Far East and a third unit will be starting up in the third quarter in Europe.
UOP is collaborating to offer polystyrene technology and Ausikaitis hopes to make an announcement at NPRA. 'The company has not been able to exploit its technology fully and here is an opportunity to license and partner with UOP.' Ausikaitis concludes: 'We want to move our technology forward and maintain our leadership. However, it is also time to market. So we are trying to improve the cycle time of technology delivery once the customer has decided to go ahead.
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