Passing the acid test

Source: ECN


Peter Taffe reports on how BSL's new acrylic acid facility will fit into plans for an integrated petrochemical complex in the former East Germany.

The groundbreaking ceremony last month for a new acrylic acid and ester plant at Buna Sow Leuna Olefinverbund's (BSL) site in Böhlen represents one of the last crucial phases in the development of an integrated petrochemical complex in the former East Germany that is competitive with the best in Europe.


Speaking at the ceremony, Mike Parker, executive vice president of Dow Chemical, said: 'In combination with a naphtha pipeline integrated with an expanded cracker, it [the project] will provide a formidable entrant into the acrylic acid business both in Germany and globally.'

There has been considerable progress following the deal with the privatisation agency Treuhandanstalt in 1995 when Dow agreed to acquire an 80% share in BSL, which took control of plants in Schkopau and Böhlen along with ldPE units at Leuna. The remaining 20% is expected to be bought by Dow in mid-2000.

The investment numbers have also been huge. Up to DM5bn ($2.78bn) will be spent on new plants with the last due onstream in mid-2000. Dow will contribute around DM2.5bn. State aid will amount to DM9.5bn of which DM6.5bn will be spent on environmental and remediation projects, improvements to the sites' competitiveness and the cash-flow problems created by closing older plants until the new units come onstream in 2000.

The integration of the sites start with a new 430km pipeline that brings naphtha from the port of Rostock on the Baltic Sea to the steamcracker at Böhlen.The pipeline was completed at the end of last year.

The cracker was expanded in 1997 from 330000 tonne/year to 450 000 tonne/year of ethylene with propylene capacity lifted to 225 000 tonne/year. A further expansion of the cracker will be completed in August 1999 lifting capacities to 510 000 tonne/year of ethylene and 255 000 tonne/year of propylene.

Alongside the cracker, aromatics and butadiene plants are being built. An extractive distillation unit based on Krupp Koppers technology and capable of producing 200 000 tonne/year of benzene is now being started up. An HDA plant using HRI technology will add a further 120 000 tonne/year benzene capacity when it is onstream this June. The new 120 000 tonne/ year butadiene plant, which employs BASF's process and is being engineered by Lurgi, will be commissioned in September 1999 replacing an old 43 000 tonne/year unit.

The first new downstream plant to be completed at Böhlen was the 130 000 tonne/year aniline unit in October 1997. It is the first aniline plant built by Dow with the majority of the output feeding the firm's expanded methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) facility in Stade.

As well as the aniline unit, benzene with ethylene will also be supplied to a new ethyl- benzene (EB)/styrene facility due onstream in October 1999. The 280 000 tonne/year plant employs ABB Lummus Global technology for the EB section and Dow's for the styrene unit.

The acrylic acid and esters facility, also a first for Dow, will be onstream at Böhlen at the end of 1999, consuming the additional propylene from the cracker. The units will be able to produce 80 000 tonne/year of crude acrylic acid, 60 000 tonne/year of glacial acrylic acid and 60 000 tonne/year of butyl acrylate. Half the output will be taken by Hoechst's subsidiary Celanese, which will also provide technology and management services. Fluor Daniel has been contracted to carry out the detailed engineering and construction management.

Dow entered the acrylic acid market because it is a major consumer of glacial acid for its superabsorbent polymers as well as acrylates, explained Parker. However, Dow did not have acrylic acid technology, which is tightly held with only a few world-scale players.

He added: 'Acrylic acid plants are very capital-intensive and complex. They are not easy to bring up to speed and operate.' Dow selected Celanese not only because it had excellent technology, but the plant fitted in with Celanese's strategy for Europe.

The operations at Böhlen are being integrated with Schkopau through pipelines carrying ethylene, propylene, butadiene, styrene and hydrogen. Schkopau has traditionally been a synthetic rubber producer with chlor-alkali and EDC/VCM/PVC plants added at a later date.

A major project just completed at Schkopau has been the commissioning last month of a 210 000 tonne/year lldPE facility. It is also the first grassroots PE plant to incorporate Dow's Insite single site catalyst technology and will produce both Dowlex and Elite resins.

The PP plant at Schkopau, due onstream this month, will mark Dow's debut as a PP producer. The 200 000 tonne/year unit built by Tecnimont uses Montell's Spheripol process.

At the end of this year, Dow will start PET production at Schkopau. The 140 000 tonne/year bottle resin plant will employ Zimmer technology with a Bühler solid state crystallisation unit.

Dow's first plant for its syndiotactic PS, Questra, will be onstream by mid-1999. It will be able to produce 36 000 tonne/year of crystalline polymer using Dow's metallocene catalysts. It will be joined with a 130 000 tonne/year PS plant based on conventional technology.

A new solution elastomer plant will complement the existing SBR and polybutadiene plants. The 60 000 tonne/year SBR plant employing Nippon Zeon technology will be on-stream in early 2000.

The chlor-alkali and VCM/PVC facilities are undergoing modernisation and expansion. The chlor-alkali plant will be converted from mercury cells to membrane technology provided by Asahi Glass by the end of this year. Capacity will be unchanged at 200 000 tonne/year. A 130 000 tonne/year VCM plant, started up in 1996, will be joined by a new 180 000 tonne/year unit employing Hoechst technology licensed from Krupp Uhde at the end of 1999.

The PVC plants will also be expanded but by EVC following its agreement to acquire BSL's PVC assets (ECN 2 March 1998). Capacity for s-PVC will be increased from 85 000 tonne/year to 280 000 tonne/year by expanding the existing plant and building a new unit based on EVC's technology. The 40 000 tonne/year e-PVC plant will be debottlenecked by 10 000 tonne/year. These expansions will be completed by the end of 2000 or early 2001.

At Leuna, BSL's operations are limited to ldPE manufacture. The 160 000 tonne/year facility is being modernised including the installation of a new process control system.

Alongside these projects, storage capacity for ethylene and propylene will be increased in the underground salt caverns at Teutschenthal. The flushed brine from the caverns is taken to Schkopau for chlor-alkali production.

The other major effort at BSL concerns the environmental projects. According to Bart Groot, general manager of BSL, satisfactory progress is being made. At Schkopau, a rotary kiln for destroying solid wastes and similar to Dow's unit in Stade will be completed by the middle of 1999. A new 146 metre flare stack for the cracker at Böhlen complies with all safety and environmental regulations. Considerable progress has been made in safety with BSL's site record in terms of accident frequency rate around 90% better today than five years ago, claimed Groot.

Two long-term remediation projects are the treatment of groundwater and mercury contamination related to the old chlor-alkali plant. Progress has been slow due to delays in completing financial arrangements with various government bodies, explained Groot. But he added: 'We have the management and technology in place to remediate these complexes.'

Parker concluded by stressing the strengths of the revamped complexes. 'BSL is excellently located to supply our ever-increasing needs in the central and eastern European markets. It also gives us the ability to supplement capacity needs in western Europe,' he added. 'We have ended up with a very strategic site.'.


Product Capacity Completion
Ethylene (x)450 000T 1997
Ethylene (x)510 000T Aug 1999
Butadiene 120 000 Sept 1999
Benzene 320 000 May/June 1998
Aniline 130 000 Oct 1997
Acrylic acid 80 000 end 1999
Glacial acrylic 60 000 end 1999
Butyl acrylate 60 000 end 1999
LldPE 210 000 April 1998
PP 200 000 May 1998
PET 140 000 end 1998
PS 130 000 mid-1999
sPS 36 000 mid-1999
SBR 60 000 early 2000
Chlor-alkali Revamp end 1998
VCM 180 000 end 1999
s-PVC (x)280 000T end 2000
e-PVC (x)50 000T 2000
Key: (x) = expansion; T = total capacity after expansion