Coal was the original source of most chemicals.
It was then replaced in the 1960's by oil-based feedstocks. Their lower cost of manufacturing led to the boom in applications and volumes seen over the past 50 years.
More recently, biomass' potential is now being explored.
At the same time, major companies such as BASF, Dow, TOTAL and Eastman, as well as engineering company Uhde, have been looking again at using coal or natural gas as sources for olefins and polymers. Whilst Shenhua Baotou Coal, in China, plan to produce 300 KT of ethylene and propylene from coal, along with PE and PP, later this year.
This week, ICIS news report that TOTAL's Methanol to Olefins (MTO) process, developed with Hydro and UOP, is working well at pilot stage. Based on the Feluy, Belgium site, the 45KT plant converts methanol into ethylene, propylene and heavier olefins. The UOP/TOTAL Olefin Cracking Process (OCP) then converts the heavier olefins to propylene.
TOTAL have produced on-spec polypropylene from the propylene, and plan to produce polyethylene over the next few months. And they add a key benefit of the process is that "more than 85% of the carbon entering the unit will come out as ethylene and propylene".
TOTAL will now start to "develop MTO/OCP projects with potential partners in coal or gas rich countries that are looking for developing their petrochemical industry based on their own raw materials," according to Francois Cornelis, TOTAL VP responsible for the area.