12 December 2011 08:56 [Source: ICB]
ExxonMobil Chemical's president Stephen Pryor discusses opportunities with sustainable products and further investment in the Middle East
The sustainability megatrend presents great opportunities and challenges for Middle East producers seeking to enhance and diversify their downstream chemicals businesses.
"For Middle East producers - who represent the largest exporting region in the world - this megatrend is an especially important one," says Stephen Pryor, president of US-based petrochemicals major ExxonMobil Chemical.
"How do we move from the Middle East being primarily focused on commodity petrochemicals to becoming a more diversified supplier of both commodities and higher-value products that deliver enhanced sustainability benefits? That is the challenge and the opportunity for the GPCA [Gulf Petrochemicals & Chemicals Association] members."
Pryor defines sustainable products as those that deliver economic benefits and improve performance, as well as lower the environmental impact over their entire product life cycle.
"It is a very important point for companies to recognize that it is not just about providing consumers with products that deliver a sustainable benefit in their operation," Pryor explains.
Such consumers want to know not only the immediate sustainability benefits of the products, but also whether the products were made in an environmentally responsible way, all the way from the manufacture of the feedstock to final consumption.
But in order to provide truly sustainable products, companies must also demonstrate tangible bottom-line benefits, Pryor says.
"It is not pure altruism," he explains. "It is about products that save [customers] energy, reduce weight, reduce the amount of packaging they need and their overall environmental footprint. Those benefits - if you can demonstrate them - those are benefits they value and will pay for."
But, he warns, environmental benefits are not enough for consumers. He says: "If something is just good for the environment but it costs more and doesn't perform so well, that product isn't going to be around. It won't be sustainable."
Delivering sustainable products is something the chemicals industry has done for many years, Pryor says, but the benefits are not always fully appreciated. For example, he notes, modern agricultural chemicals are the reason crop yields are much higher than in the past, and thanks to modern packaging food spoilage rates have sharply fallen in the developing parts of the world.
"So, when you put together those two points - on agricultural chemicals and on modern packaging - this is an enormous contribution by our industry over many years to reduce world hunger," he adds.
Another example involves water conservation, he says, noting that production of synthetic fibres like polyester for clothing requires 1,500 times less water than the production of cotton. "The point is, our industry has been doing this for a long time and markets are demanding that we continue to raise the bar and produce ever more sustainable products."
Pryor plans to discuss ExxonMobil's experience in developing, manufacturing and marketing sustainable products at the Sixth Annual GPCA Forum in Dubai on 13-15 December. He points to the company's Enable line of high performance polyethylene (PE) products. The product line allows fabricators to produce a thinner film than conventional films, thereby reducing the amount of plastic that is used, which means savings in the amount of material used, lower shipping weights, less waste and ultimately less greenhouse gas emissions.
"Our product is also easier to run - it is easier to process," Pryor adds. Fabricators "can run their machines at higher rates and get better yields".
Such an approach to sustainability "takes long-term commitment to technology, and to continue with innovation in a very focused and disciplined way".
Pryor also touches on ExxonMobil's belief in large-scale integration of its production facilities as a path to success - and the growth opportunities in Saudi Arabia. The ExxonMobil joint venture with SABIC to construct an elastomers project at its Al-Jubail Petrochemical Company (KEMYA) petrochemical plant is an example of such downstream growth opportunities, Pryor says.
The project is expected to establish a domestic supply of more than 400,000 tonnes/year of butyl rubber, styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), butadiene (BD) rubber, ethylene-propylene-diene monomer (EPDM), thermoplastic specialty polymers and carbon black to serve emerging local and international automotive markets in Asia and the Middle East.
"This will be the first time we will have produced butyl rubber in the Middle East, so that is a really high-value crown jewel specialty business with a great sustainability story," Pryor says. Front-end engineering design contracts for the project have already been awarded.
"Here you have a large successful existing commodity producer [KEMYA] that will produce on the same platform both commodities and specialties," Pryor says. "You have the efficiency advantages of producing both on a large platform, and many of those higher performing, more sustainable specialties will be made from petrochemical feedstocks and other products that are produced on the site or in the Kingdom."
Quote: "[Sustainability] is not pure altruism... [there are] benefits [customers] value and will pay for"
President, ExxonMobil Chemical
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