05 October 2009 18:17 [Source: ICIS news]
By Nigel Davis
The sector doesn’t attract a great deal of research and development (R&D) investment, at least relative to some other parts of the chemicals business and relative to sales.
But technology is a cornerstone of petrochemicals; it always has been.
ExxonMobil has a great term for its work on feedstock capabilities (flexibility) and cracking technology, for instance. “We call it self-help,” said ExxonMobil Chemical president Stephen Pryor, who was speaking on the sidelines of the 43rd European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) meeting on Monday.
The company’s technology programmes are focused on three areas, Pryor said: feedstocks, lower-cost processes and advantaged products.
The company was showcasing in
It was also talking a great deal about its polymer-based lithium ion battery separator, which is more than likely to find increasing use.
The point with this technology focus, however, is, as Pryor said: “If it doesn’t fit, we don’t do it.”
The (petro) chemical industry has always been about process technology. It has been driven by process innovations that initially lead to novel products but essentially also to lower costs.
And the lower-cost drive is central to ExxonMobil's thinking. Producing something better more cheaply could be the name of the game.
ExxonMobil’s work on steam cracking technology is a case in point. The company brought the first steam cracker on stream in
Its cracking research is focused on improving energy efficiency, lowering emissions and, critically, the expansion of feedstock flexibility.
“We are also working on some breakthrough concepts that could significantly change the nature of cracking,” said Pryor in
“A lot of it goes back to feedstock,” he said. And it is built around the search for the next wave of advantaged feed.
The nature of cracking will have to change as finite resources of advantaged ethane are exploited.
The key is feedstock flexibility, and to build in that flexibility, Pryor said. The company’s new cracker in
Currently, in the
Sometimes it can be difficult to justify the economics, but over time the shift will still be towards heavier feeds. And the focus will have to be on the flexibility of the cracker to supply the olefins and aromatics needed downstream to produce advantaged products. In ExxonMobil’s world, premium products can only be made from a “low-cost, world-scale manufacturing platform”.
“Our strength has always been to do it as part of the integrated complex,” said Pryor.
ExxonMobil Chemical is building up a much stronger production platform in Asia with its up and coming plants in
“We have put in exceptional feedstock flexibility,” said Pryor, including the ability to crack very heavy feeds. “We have a wide range of products,” he added, including metallocene polyethylene.
Making the right products from the right platform at the right time has always been vitally important in this business. ExxonMobil Chemicals has geared itself up to apply the technology, and the money, to capture developing
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