Corrected: INSIGHT: Focus on technology will enable companies to grow

04 October 2011 16:25  [Source: ICIS news]

Correction: In the ICIS story headlined “INSIGHT: Focus on technology will enable companies to grow” dated 4 October 2011, please read in the fifth paragraph … in a very reliable and competitive manner … instead of … in a very reliable and competent manner …. A corrected story follows.

By Nigel Davis

BERLIN (ICIS)--For petrochemical players upstream, the upgrading of process technologies and the sweeping-up of molecules to crack is vitally important.

It comes down to getting the most from the production units you have while recognising that there is always more that can be done.

Shell, for instance, emphasised on Tuesday that it is very much focused on process technologies.

You may not expect the company to say that – it should be obvious. But it means that the energy giant is becoming more sharply focused on cracking technology at its research centres, looking to improve process efficiencies and reduce the reactions – such as coking – that hinder them.

“We should be able to make olefins in a very reliable and competitive manner,” Brian Davis, head of base chemicals at Shell says.

The company is doing a lot of work on improving cracking processes, he adds. “It is a key enabler of driving efficiency and getting more from what you’ve got.”

Shell’s leading technologies are in products such as propylene oxide styrene monomer (POSM) and monoethylene glycol (MEG) – which use the OMEGA process technology. But as Shell has sought to crack heavier feeds (the so-called "advantaged" feeds such as hydrowax that come out of the refinery), so its cracking know-how has been extended.

“We have a lot of heavy liquids cracking around the world,” Davis said on the sidelines of the 45th European Petrochemicals Association (EPCA) meeting. The company now only cracks "advantaged" liquid feeds in its US crackers at Deer Park in Texas and Norco in Louisiana.

The cracking capability at both locations has also been shifted significantly towards gas, to tap into greater ethane availability driven by the shale gas revolution.

“Over the past year we’ve cracked more gas [in the US],” Davis says. By doing that, production records were reached in the last quarter.

Davis says that Shell is “investing in the core” in chemicals and has a number of incremental debottlenecking projects alongside plans to add new feedstock streams.

“Stretching and creeping capacity” is the name of the game in the US – alongside, that is, ambitious plans to build a worldscale cracker somewhere along the Ohio river in the US northeast.

Shell wants to lift output of C5s and crude C4s and is planning to debottleneck the large cracker on Singapore’s Pulau Bukom. A 10–15% increase in the capacity of this 800,000 tonne/year unit is expected when the cracker shuts for maintenance in 2014/15.

In Europe, Shell wants to enhance its aromatics capabilities and raise output from its 260,000 tonne/year 2A cracker in Wesseling, Germany. The 240,000 tonne/year nameplate capacity 2B cracker at Wesseling will close in November.

Shell has taken steps in recent years to integrate chemicals more fully into its refining and gas operations.

Advancing thinking along the various feedstock streams it has now – or may have in the future – opens up opportunities that before may not always have been apparent.

By: Nigel Davis
+44 20 8652 3214

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