InterviewEPCA ’13: Ascend PDH plant not about propylene but downstream chems

08 October 2013 15:51  [Source: ICIS news]

Ascend PDH plant not about propylene but downstreamBy Jeremy Pafford

BERLIN (ICIS)--Ascend Performance Materials views its planned propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant not necessarily as not just about propylene but also the prism of the myriad products it can produce more effectively thanks to a more stable feedstock environment, an executive with the US-based producer said on Tuesday.

“For me, this is a tremendous example of how you could use shale gas to change the complete competitiveness of US-based chemicals,” said Thomas Verghese, vice president of Ascend’s Chemicals division. He made his comments on the sidelines of the 47th annual European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) conference.

As a private company, Ascend does not have to file public financial information about its assets or conduct quarterly earnings calls. But Verghese and John Ferguson, global business director for the company's chemicals division, gave a look inside the US producer during an interview with ICIS.

Ascend has come a long way since being at one time the nylon division of Monsanto. The global chemical producer spun off the division in 1997 to form Solutia, which ran into bankruptcy issues in the 2000s and ended up selling the nylon division to private equity firm SK Capital in June 2009, who renamed it Ascend Performance Materials.

The former Monsanto division makes nylon 6,6 and a host of other chemicals, Verghese said. Headquartered in Houston, its five plants are all located in the southern US, which is beneficial to Ascend economically and logistically due to the Gulf of Mexico’s close proximity.

At the company’s Chocolate Bayou, Texas, complex, the company takes propylene, ammonia and methanol and converts it into acrylonitrile (ACN) and hydrogen cyanide.

Ascend and guest operations at the site convert the hydrogen cyanide into other products on site – the dangerous chemical “is never shipped off site”, Verghese said.

About 70-80% of the ACN Ascend produces is consumed internally, with the rest sold to customers, Ferguson said.

The ACN Ascend keeps is sent to Ascend’s Decatur, Alabama, plant – the only world scale adiponitrile (ADN) plant in the world based on ACN, where it is be converted into ADN and then into hexamethylenediamine (HMD).

The HMD is transported to the company’s Pensacola, Florida, site, where it is combined with adipic acid to make nylon 6,6.

Ascend’s two other plants – in Greenwood, South Carolina, and Foley, Alabama – get into how the nylon 6,6 is used in applications.

Along the chemical production chain, a host of co-products are created as well, including amines, nitriles, acids and esters, that have proven to be very profitable, Verghese said.

About 40% of Ascend’s total production is sold in North America, with Europe taking about 30%, Verghese said.

The US shale gas advantage has led to increased cracking of lighter feedstocks and an influx of cheap natural gas liquids (NGLs). Such an environment has led to more volatility in the propylene market, but also an opportunity to use cheap propane to secure propylene.

“We insulate ourselves from raw material swings,” Verghese said. The decision to build a PDH plant “wasn’t driven by our [ACN] business. It was driven more by nylon and the other chemicals we sell”.

The EPCA conference runs 5-9 October.


By: Jeremy Pafford
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