North America will continue to be the focus of global petrochemical construction activity in the coming years with more foreign-based companies also investing in the region, said the head of Fluor’s energy and petrochemical business.
“We’re continuing to see a shift in the petrochemical industry where projects are being actively developed in North America because of advantaged feedstock. This is driving not only local companies, but drawing investment from other parts of the world,” said Jim Brittain, president of Fluor’s energy & chemicals business.
Fluor is a US-based engineering and construction company with worldwide operations. It led the construction of Chevron Phillips Chemical’s 1.5m tonne/year ethane cracker in Cedar Bayou, Texas, with joint venture partner JGC.
On 20 December, Chevron Phillips Chemical announced the mechanical completion of its ethane cracker. The plant is undergoing commissioning activities, system checks and final certifications.
“The project came along well after the flooding [from Hurricane Harvey] and is now ready for the introduction of feedstocks,” said Brittain.
Fluor is also working on LyondellBasell’s propylene oxide/tertiary butyl alcohol (PO/TBA) projects at its Channelview and Bayport sites in Texas, having been selected to provide engineering and procurement in October 2017.
“We started at the front end, from concept to [site] selection, helping the client from the beginning. They had advantaged technology, and wanted to take advantage of feedstocks, but also wanted this to be capitally advantaged,” said Brittain.
“We used our Zero Base Execution approach to reexamine how the facility could be put together to lower the capital cost,” said Brittain.
This proprietary process aims to deconstruct the project and simplify how it is built. Part of this includes modularisation, where parts of the plant are built off-site more cost efficiently – usually in countries with lower construction labor costs – and then shipped to the project site.
“Clients are asking for capital efficiency, to have us deliver the project at a certain price point,” said Brittain.
2ND WAVE OF US CRACKERS
Fluor is looking forward to being a major player in the second wave of US cracker and petrochemical construction. In this new wave, companies are giving projects more scrutiny, to ensure they are feasible.
“There is no question that another wave is coming and we are engaged in a number of those pursuits,” said Brittain.
“Clients are still driving hard for capital efficiency, and certainty of delivery and cost. They are also taking time to make decisions – there’s a fair bit of investigation, working with us cooperatively on the robustness of solutions,” he added.
Even with the challenges of higher construction labour costs in the US, Brittain is confident Fluor can design and execute projects in the US that are competitive on a global basis, he said.
Methanol projects in the US are also set to move forward in 2018, he noted.
“We are still actively engaged in a couple of [methanol] projects that we are progressing, and we definitely see interest in this area,” said Brittain. “We expect that in 2018, some methanol projects will move forward,” he added.
While Fluor is active in China where it sees some project opportunities, the company is seeing more Chinese companies seeking to invest in the US, which has advantaged feedstock as well as large end markets.
“We can leverage our relationships, and help them as they leave their comfort zone in China, to come to the US,” said Brittain.
In southeast Asia, Brittain sees “a fair amount of activity in integrated refinery/petrochemical facilities” as many countries want to take advantage of growing markets but have challenges with feedstocks.
Fluor is working on aspects of PETRONAS’ RAPID petrochemical project in Malaysia, as well as JG Summit’s cracker expansion in the Philippines.