US Occidental, biotech firm to build CO2-to-bioethylene pilot plant

Author: Al Greenwood

2021/04/06

HOUSTON (ICIS)--A subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, Oxy Low Carbon Ventures (OLCV), and the biotechnology firm Cemvita Factory plan to build a bioethylene pilot plant that will produce the monomer from manmade carbon dioxide (CO2), the companies said on Tuesday.

The pilot plant will have a capacity of 1 tonne/month and produce bioethylene using CO2, water and light. It should start up in 2022. The companies did not say where it will build the plant.

The technology is competitive with ethylene produced from hydrocarbons, although the companies did not specify any prices.

The process was developed by taking a gene from a banana and genetically engineering it into Cemvita's microorganism, said Tara Karimi, chief technology officer of Cemvita.

If successful, the project could provide Occidental with another source of ethylene, which it uses to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC), said Robert Zeller, vice president of technology for OLCV.

Cemvita said its technology can work with a a variety of CO2 sources with little or no modification. For the initial pilot phase, it plans to buy CO2 from a local gas supplier.

Later it will use CO2 derived from burning natural gas, the company said. It could use CO2 captured directly from the atmosphere.

OLCV itself is involved in several carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects in the US.

It is proceeding with a project that will take and ship CO2 from a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant being developed by NextDecade. From there, OLCV will store it  underground in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

OLCV formed the 1PointFive joint venture with private equity firm Rusheen Capital. The venture will build a plant that will use direct air capture (DAC) technology that will pull up to 1m tonnes/year of CO2 from the atmosphere.

The subsidiary won a consultancy services contract for the Project Tundary CO2 capture plant being developed in North Dakota.

OTHER ROUTES TO CO2-BASED ETHYLENE
The process being developed by Cemvita and OLCV is by no means the only one that can make ethylene from CO2.

For more than a decade, Brazilian polyolefins producer Braskem has been making ethylene by dehydrating ethanol at its Triunfo complex in Rio Grande do Sul state.

Earlier this year, Braskem announced plans to expand the plant's capacity.

Late in 2020, Braskem announced a research partnership with the University of Illinois at Chicago to develop a way to make ethylene from CO2 captured from the flue gas of industrial plants.

Most of the world's ethylene is made in steam crackers using naphtha, ethane and other hydrocarbons.

Thumbnail image shows pellets made from polyethylene (PE).