BASF US methane-to-propylene plant targets '19 start-up

02 May 2014 23:31 Source:ICIS News

BASF US methane-to-propylene plant targets By Joseph Chang

NEW YORK (ICIS)--BASF’s planned methane-to-propylene plant is targeted for start-up in 2019, although it is still being evaluated, a senior executive said on Friday.

While Germany-based BASF did not disclose capacity for the plant to be built on the US Gulf coast, it would be world-scale and could cover its propylene needs in North America.

“The exact capacity is part of the evaluation process. World-scale means that the plant will have a capacity of several 100 tonnes per annum,” said Beate Ehle, president, Market and Business Development for BASF, in an interview with ICIS.

“We aim to be able to cover our internal demand for propylene in North America,” she added.

BASF said that the proposed on-purpose propylene project would be its “largest single-plant investment to date”.

The company is aiming to take advantage of long-term low natural gas prices due to US shale gas production to considerably improve its cost position, Ehle noted.

“BASF intends to further strengthen its backward integration and grow its propylene-based downstream activities, leading to a stronger position in North America,” said Ehle.

“Due to abundant shale gas reserves in the US, natural gas will be price advantaged vis-a-vis other feedstock for the production of propylene, which would give the plant a strong cash cost position,” she added.

The project could have implications for BASF’s 60:40 joint venture cracker in Port Arthur, Texas, with France-based Total.

BASF Total Petrochemicals recently increased the feedstock flexibility at the cracker to use more natural gas liquids (NGLs) ethane and propane rather than naphtha. But that in turn has reduced its output of propylene.

“The advantage of lighter feedstocks comes at a price, as these feedstocks result in a lower production of higher olefins," Ehle said. "That’s why we are looking into on-purpose production of propylene in order to balance BASF’s supply/demand position in North America."

Ehle would not disclose details on the methane-to-propylene technology.

However, several methanol-to-olefins (MTO) processes exist, and these could provide a route to propylene via methane.

Total Petrochemicals started up an MTO demonstration plant in Belgium back in 2010. It successfully produced polypropylene (PP) from the monomer.

UOP and Air Liquide's Lurgi are among the many others that offer MTO technology.

Regardless of the technology BASF chooses for its plant, it would enter an increasingly crowded field for on-purpose propylene production in North America.

Several companies have proposed on-purpose propylene plants that would use propane as a feedstock.

The following lists the announcements for these propane dehydrogenation (PDH) units.

Company Capacity, tonnes Site Start-up
Dow Chemical 750,000 Texas Q2 2015
Ascend Performance Materials 1,000,000+ Texas Q4 2015
Formosa Plastics 658,000 Texas 2016
Enterprise Products 750,000 Texas Q1 2016
Williams 500,000 Alberta Q2 2016
REXtac 300,000 Texas mid 2016
Dow Chemical new plant US 2018
PetroLogistics expansion Texas NA
Enterprise Products new plant Texas NA
Source: Companies, ICIS

Additional reporting by Al Greenwood

By Joseph Chang