16 April 2012 00:00 [Source: ICB]
Continued technological development is vital to retaining competitive advantage for major producer Shell Chemicals.
Ed Daniels, head of downstream technology, describes Shell Chemicals as a chemical engineering company, not a chemistry company. The difference is important to Daniels and the UK-headquartered company, which spends $25bn-30bn every year on projects and technology.
"Technology is fundamental to our business," says Daniels, who explains that Shell considers technological development over three different planes: how to run daily operations optimally; develop step-change process improvements; and create options to do things differently or far better.
The company has global technology hubs in Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Bangalore, India; and Houston, US, and employs more than 45,000 people in its technology and engineering business.
"The most important feedstock for our industry is technical talent," says Daniels.
The company's focus is on maximizing value through petrochemicals, by upgrading and adding value to hydrocarbons as well as optimizing synergies with refineries and upstream production.
Daniels says that the move to advantaged feedstocks has been a major driver in the company's profitability in the past few years.
More than half of Shell Chemical's feedstocks will be advantaged by 2012, with more than three-quarters targeted by 2020.
The company is looking for incremental improvements in base chemicals and core intermediates such as ethylene oxide (EO) and ethylene glycol (EG), styrene monomer (SM)/propylene oxide (PO), higher olefin derivatives, phenol, acetone and solvents. In operational excellence, corporate attention is concentrated on increasing yields, feedstock flexibility, product innovation and reducing environmental footprint. Future research is focused on unconventional feedstocks and process routes.
© Shell Chemicals
Future research is focused on unconventional feedstocks and process routes
Technology highlights showcased during a visit to Shell Chemicals' Amsterdam center last October included OMEGA (EG), gas-to-liquids (GTL), chemicals enhanced oil recovery (cEOR), and diphenyl carbonate (DPC).
GTL is an engine of growth for a number of Shell Chemicals' products, including chemicals, says Daniels. Surfactant-based EOR could enable the recovery of 150bn barrels of oil globally that is trapped in rocks. On average, about 60% of the oil in a typical field stays in the ground after secondary recovery.
OMEGA, launched in 2008, is the world's first entirely catalytic process for producing EO/EG and, unlike conventional processes, produces virtually no glycol byproducts, namely diethylene glycol (DEG) and triethylene glycol (TEG).
The technology is used in three production plants - Lotte Petrochemicals in South Korea; PetroRabigh in Saudi Arabia; and Shell Eastern Petrochemicals in Singapore.
A feasibility study is underway for a major producer in the Middle East and Daniels says that OMEGA will be used in other Shell plants too. It will be part of Shell Chemicals' proposed joint-venture complex in Taizhou, China. Much of the front-end work is completed but a timeframe for the project, which is part of China's current five-year plan (2011-16), has yet to be confirmed.
Shell says it is possible that startup of the complex may slip past 2016 as timing is subject to China's approval process.
Meanwhile, at a pilot plant in Amsterdam, Shell continues to invest in further process improvements and is developing OMEGA II, which, Daniels says, will have even lower capital costs.
GAME CHANGER FOR PC INDUSTRY
Work focuses too on DPC technology, which Shell describes as a game changer for the polycarbonate (PC) market because of the absence of phosgene in the process. "PC is a strong growing sector and we need to claim our space in that supply chain," says Daniels, who adds that there has been plenty of interest in the technology from customers.
The company is developing options as to how the process can be applied commercially with its current aim centered on making the demonstration unit in Singapore a success.
Shell has been producing chemicals for nearly 90 years. Its ongoing investment in innovative technological solutions will undoubtedly reinforce its competitive edge and unlock more value in the future.
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