The first wave of new US crackers backed by the shale gas boom is kicking off with four out the 11 planned crackers already under construction. Two others have secured some of the necessary permits, awaiting others. Together, these six crackers are scheduled to start up in 2017, and represent a 30% increase in existing US ethylene capacity. On a wider basis, there are a total of 11 planned new crackers in the US and seven expansions, which amount to 53% of existing capacity.
Crackers under construction include those by Chevron Phillips, Dow, ExxonMobil, and Occidental Chemical/Mexichem. Companies with partial permits include Formosa and Sasol.
On 22 August, ExxonMobil held a ceremony at the site of its planned new 1.5m tonne/year cracker in Baytown, Texas, which will feed two new 650,000 tonne/year polyethylene (PE) units 13 miles (21km) away at Mont Belvieu, Texas. It actually broke ground in June.
The investment will be the largest ever made in the US for ExxonMobil Chemical. “We’ve designed this plant to be the most competitive petrochemical plant in the world,” said president Steve Pryor.
The plants will be built within the fencelines of its existing sites with no increase in the permitted emission limits, a feat to be accomplished with state-of-the-art technology, said Pryor. It will also be the company’s largest PE supply point on the planet, said Woody Paul, manager of the Baytown Olefins Plant.
Other companies are making progress on the permitting side – the last regulatory step needed before construction.
On 6 August, Formosa received greenhouse gas (GHG) permits from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the construction of its new cracker, low density PE (LDPE), and propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plants at Point Comfort, Texas.
The size of the cracker was disclosed at 1.59m tonnes/year, up from an earlier estimate of 1.0m tonnes/year. The downstream 568,000 tonne/year LDPE unit (up from a previous estimate of 300,000 tonnes/year) will be able to produce resin at different grades, including products that use vinyl acetate as a co-monomer.
Formosa is awaiting the issue of permits from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and expects start-up in 2017.
And Sasol has secured air and water permits for its planned new cracker and derivatives complex in Lake Charles, Louisiana. It is awaiting a “wetlands” permit and expects to make a final investment decision later in 2014 with start-up targeted for 2017, said spokesman Alex Anderson on 25 August.
Meanwhile, other non-cracker projects continue to fill the burgeoning pipeline. On 25 August, LyondellBasell announced it will develop a world-scale propylene oxide (PO) and tertiary butyl alcohol (TBA) plant on the US Gulf Coast. Slated to start up in 2019, the unit will have capacity of over 400,000 tonnes/year of PO and over 900,000 tonnes/year of TBA and derivatives.
- Additional reporting by Al Greenwood, Jessie Waldheim and Tom Brown