HOUSTON (ICIS)--ExxonMobil held on Friday a ceremony at the site of its new cracker in Texas, which will feed two new polyethylene (PE) lines when it is completed.
ExxonMobil's new ethane cracker at Baytown near Houston will be completed in 2017, and it will have a capacity of 1.5m tonnes/year. The PE plants will each have a capacity of 650,000 tonnes/year at ExxonMobil's Mont Belvieu site, which is 13 miles (21km) away.
It is the largest investment the company has ever made in the US, said Steven Pryor, president of ExxonMobil Chemical. "We've designed this plant to be the most competitive petrochemical plant in the world," he said.
When ExxonMobil completes the project, it will be the company's largest PE supply point on the planet, said Woody Paul, manager of the Baytown Olefins Plant.
ExxonMobil is among several companies expanding PE capacity in the US. During their comments, Paul and Pryor discussed the reasons behind the expansion and the challenges US producers have in finding skilled employees to fill these new roles.
Like many of its peers, ExxonMobil is expanding capacity to take advantage of low-cost ethane, made possible by the advent of shale gas.
This has given US producers a cost advantage against much of the world, which relies on oil-based naphtha as a feedstock.
Paul remarked on how drastically the fortunes of the US petrochemical industry have changed in less than a decade. Then, the US was considered a mature region with few prospects for petrochemical growth.
"What a difference 10 years has made," Paul said. "It's absolutely fantastic to see this expansion being built in our backyard."
Much of the expanded capacity being developed by ExxonMobil and other producers will not be commodity grade.
ExxonMobil's new PE lines will produce advance resins.
The PE plants that Chevron Phillips Chemical is building at its Sweeny complex in Old Ocean, Texas, will be the first of their kind that are world scale and that are not retrofitted.
Dow Chemical's new plants will produce its ELITE PE as well as specialty low density PE (LDPE).
LyondellBasell's new PE plant in La Porte, Texas, will feature new technology.
US producers are expanding capacity at a time when the country has a shortage of skilled labour that can fill these new positions.
This shortage, in fact, was one of the major themes of this year's International Petrochemical Conference (IPC), held in San Antonio by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).
To address the shortage, ExxonMobil is funding a training programme and collaborating with nine community colleges in and around Houston.
During Friday's programme at the Baytown site, the company introduced some of the students who have participated under the programme.
The following lists the new PE plants being proposed in the US.
|US POLYETHYLENE PROJECTS|
|Sasol||New unit||450,000 tonnes||LLDPE||Lake Charles, Louisiana||2016|
|Sasol||New unit||420,000 tonnes||LDPE||Lake Charles, Louisiana||NA|
|Sasol/INEOS||New unit||470,000 tonnes||HDPE||La Porte, Texas||2016|
|Braskem||New unit||NA||UHMWPE||La Porte, Texas||H1 2016|
|ExxonMobil||New units||1.3m tonnes||PE (premium)||Mont Belvieu, Texas||Late 2016|
|Chevron Phillips||New units||1m tonnes||HDPE, LLDPE, other||Sweeny, Texas||2017|
|Dow Chemical||New units||NA||PE (high-value), LDPE||Freeport, Texas||2017|
|Formosa Plastics||New unit||625,500 short tons||LDPE||Point Comfort, Texas||2017|
|Shell||New units||NA||Unspec||Monaca, Pennsylvania||2019-2020*|
|Odebrecht||New units||NA||Unspec||West Virginia||NA|
|LyondellBasell||Debottleneck||100,000 tonnes||Unspec||US||Early 2014|
|LyondellBasell||New unit||454,000 tonnes||Unspec||US||Mid 2017|
|* ICIS estimate|
|Source: Companies, ICIS analysis|