INSIGHT: India's Reliance kickstarts mega-investment plan

17 August 2012 11:19  [Source: ICIS news]

By Malini Hariharan

MUMBAI (ICIS)--After years of planning Reliance Industries, the Indian refining and petrochemical major, is moving fast in implementing a $12bn (€9.7bn) investment plan aimed at improving refining margins and boosting petrochemical volumes.

The bulk of the money will be invested at Jamanagar, Gujarat, on the west coast of India where Reliance operates two complex refineries with a total crude processing capacity of 1.24m bbls/day. The key projects at this site are a massive petcoke gasification unit and a cracker that will use refinery offgas as feedstock.

Nearly $4bn will be spent on the petcoke gasification unit, said to be one of the largest in the world. The unit, based on Phillips 66’s E-Gas technology, will have 10 large gasifiers with a capacity to generate of 20m metric standard cubic metres per day (20mmscmd) of syngas. This will be utilised as fuel at the refinery and petrochemical complex replacing the liquefied natural gas and offgases that are currently being used.

The gasification unit will process nearly 6.4m tonnes/year of low value petcoke produced at Reliance's two refineries and also coal.

Another $4bn will be invested at the cracker and derivative complex. The cracker, based on technology from Technip, would initially produce 1.40-1.45m tonnes/year of ethylene but will have a designed capacity of 1.6m tonnes/year, making it one of the largest in the world.

The capacity includes the ethylene generated by cracking refinery offgas, which contain around 1.1m tonnes/year of ethane, and also recovery of 400,000 tonnes/year of ethylene from the offgas.

The ethylene would feed a 750,000 tonne/year monoethylene glycol (MEG) plant, a 550,000 tonne/year linear low density polyethylene/high density polyethylene (LLDPE/HDPE) swing unit and a 400,000 tonne/year low density polyethylene plant.

The fast-growing Indian market is expected to absorb most of the PE volumes. MEG will be needed to feed Reliance’s polyester expansions (see table below) but it will still have nearly 350,000 tonnes/year of product available for sale, says a source familiar with the project.

In the longer term the company may also look at venturing into EO derivatives at the site.

The cracker will also produce 150,000-160,000 tonnes/year of propylene, part of which will be utilised to produce polypropylene (PP) co-polymer at the existing PP plants.

“It will not be an extra line but they will be adding a little to the [PP] capacity,” says a source close to the company.

Reliance is pushing hard to complete these projects in 36 months. Technologies for the gasification plant and cracker have been selected and contracts awarded.

Technologies for the derivative plants have also been identified but contracts are yet to be signed. Fluor Corp will provide project management services while Reliance, given its vast projects experience, will handle procurement of key equipment such as compressors. The company has already carried out front-end engineering work.

“A good part of basic engineering is over and work at the site is expected to start soon,” says the source.

While the target is to commission the plants in the first half of 2015, local industry sources believe that this is probably too ambitious and the second half of the year would be more realistic.

Reliance’s $12bn investment plan also includes a new paraxylene (PX) unit at Jamanagar, doubling of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) capacity with two plants at Dahej and expanding polyester portfolio by 1.5m tonnes/year with facilities at Dahej and Silvassa.

The company will also be scaling up its presence in the elastomers business with new plants for butyl rubber, in a joint venture with Russia's Sibur, styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) and polybutadiene rubber (BR).

More petrochemical projects are in the pipeline, including an acetyls complex based on carbon monoxide recovered from the syngas produced at the gasification unit.

A plan for worldscale plants for acetic acid and vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) are at an advanced stage, says the source close to the company.

Also in the consideration zone are plants for phenol/acetone and ethoxylates.

Completion of the announced projects would provide a huge boost to Reliance’s financials and cement its leading position in the refining and petrochemicals space.

The gasification unit will add value to petcoke, improve refining margins and provide competitive fuel to the Jamnagar site.

“It is our target that this [project] will add 30 to 40% to the integrated Jamnagar complex margins within the next three years,” said chairman Mukesh Ambani in June.

Petrochemical volumes are projected to grow from the current 15m tonnes to 25m tonnes and also introduce value added products and specialities to the product portfolio.

The refinery offgas cracker will bring down Reliance’s positioning on the global ethylene cost curve, said analysts at Goldman Sachs in a recent report.

Ethylene cost of production at the cracker would be competitive against Middle East producers and would be cheaper than the new shale gas-based projects in the US, they estimated.

Major Reliance projects in India

($1 = €0.81)

Read John Richardson and Malini Hariharan's Asian Chemical Connections blog

By: Malini Hariharan
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