Nuclear power may play big role in cracker decarbonisation – Dow CEO

Author: Joseph Chang


NEW YORK (ICIS)--Nuclear power could play a key role in decarbonising crackers through the production of green hydrogen, the CEO of Dow said on Thursday.

“To make green hydrogen work we really need new investment in nuclear capacity to make that work at any scale because we have to be able to deliver electricity to make that green hydrogen at very low cost,” said Jim Fitterling, CEO of Dow, in an investor call hosted by Bernstein.

Using electricity and heat generated from nuclear plants can produce low-cost hydrogen via high-temperature electrolysis (HTE). These electrolysis systems would use the heat and steam generated from the nuclear plants, requiring much less electricity than traditional electrolysis, according to the Fuel Cell & Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA).

Small modular reactors (SMRs) powering electric cracker (e-cracker) furnaces “could be a strong combination to get ethylene production to zero CO2 emissions, so that’s a long-term bet that we have to have a stake in,” said Fitterling.

Dow will keep an eye on and engage with SMR developments in the US for future use in crackers, he added.

In August 2020, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) approved a design for an SMR from nuclear plant design firm NuScale Power. The NRC defines plant designs generating 300MWe (megawatts of electricity) or less as SMRs.

NuScale Power’s SMR design features a module capable of generating 77MWe. Its reference power plant can house up to 12 modules for total output of 924MWe, according to the company.

The NRC is also engaging with a number of other entities on SMRs in pre-application activities, including BWXT mPower, SMR LLC, the Tennessee Valley Authority and GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy.

Using small module reactors to generate green hydrogen is clearly a long-term development in the path to net zero carbon emissions, along with e-crackers themselves and ethane dehydrogenation (EDH), said the CEO.

Dow is targeting net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a 15% reduction from its 2020 baseline by 2030.

In the near term, Dow is focusing on making power and steam production more efficient as well as on blue hydrogen and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

“Production of ethylene and our power and steam use at our large sites are our biggest CO2 contributors. We need to refresh some of that capacity anyway because of age, and we’ll make investments there to be more efficient producers of power and steam and drop our CO2 emissions,” said Fitterling.

Over the last 10 years, Dow has reduced emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 15%, largely by using alternative energy such as wind and solar where it could.

“We will reach a limit on that, and then we’ll have to look at some of our existing combined cycle power plants and make investments there,” said Fitterling.

Dow is already making such an investment at its Plaquemine, Louisiana site to upgrade power and steam facilities, a move that would lower its CO2 emissions by 580,000 tonnes as well as make the site more cost competitive, he noted.

Also at Plaquemine, Dow plans to start up a pilot project in 2022 that will feature its new on-purpose propylene technology - fluidised catalytic dehydrogenation (FCDh) – with capacity of 100,000 tonnes/year. This would result in around a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions, said the CEO.

At its Terneuzen site in the Netherlands, Dow is working to use blue hydrogen to “co-combust in one of our existing crackers and retrofitting it to be able to capture CO2 and really bring down the emissions”, the CEO said.

“Everyone needs to understand that doing it in a way that balances low carbon emissions and low cost is going to be higher cost than what we do today,” said Fitterling.

“What we have to do is try to drive these policies to a point to where we’re not doing outlandish things. So if blue hydrogen is incrementally more expensive… and green hydrogen is 15-16 times more expensive, then let’s be smart about what we’re trying to do here,” he added.

Focus article by Joseph Chang

Thumbnail image shows an atom. Image by Shutterstock.