LyondellBasell mulls chem recycling among options for US refinery

Al Greenwood

29-Apr-2022

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Chemical recycling is among the options that LyondellBasell is considering for its Houston refinery in Texas, where it plans to end operations by the end of 2023, the interim CEO said on Friday.

“The site’s unique location provides LyondellBasell with valuable options for future growth, including further development of our circular business,” said Ken Lane, interim CEO. He made his comments during an earnings conference call.

The refinery has good pipeline connections with the company’s cracker in Channelview, Texas, Lane said.

“If you think about circularity and some of the feedstocks that we would be using, a lot of those pyrolysis oils do need some hydrotreating and things like that,” Lane said.

Chemical recycling plants that rely on pyrolysis convert waste plastics into pyrolysis oil or monomers.

A cracker could then convert that pyrolysis oil into ethylene and propylene, the raw materials for the plastics polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

LyondellBasell already has its own chemical-recycling process technology, called MoReTec, which it developed with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). In 2020, LyondellBasell had commissioned a pilot plant in Ferrara, Italy, that features the technology.

The process relies on a catalyst that provides selectivity to process the waste plastics into a pyrolysis oil closer to naphtha.

LyondellBasell’s Channelview operations can crack naphtha and they are connected to the Houston refinery by pipeline.

Earlier this year, the company was trying to decide how big it should build a commercial-scale plant using its MoReTec technology.

LyondellBasell has not said whether it is considering a MoReTec plant at the refinery site. Nor has it discussed other options for the refinery.

Many companies have converted refining units to produce renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

These fuels are made by treating vegetable oils, animal fats and waste greases with hydrogen to produce fuels that are virtually indistinguishable from petroleum-based products. Such renewable fuels are attractive to refiners because they can modify existing units to convert the oils and they have access to hydrogen needed for the conversion.

Other companies have converted refineries into terminals.

LyondellBasell has not mentioned terminals or renewable diesel in its discussions about the possible options for the refinery.

REFINERY SHUTDOWN
LyondellBasell had been considering various options for the refinery over the years. In 2017, it ruled out a sale after several months of review.

Earlier this year, the company had decided to close the refinery by the end of 2023 after spending months trying to sell it.

LyondellBasell is shutting down the refinery in part because operating the complex beyond 2023 would require significant capital investments, Lane said. Leaving the refining business was the best path forward for the company.

By shutting down the refinery, LyondellBasell expects to lower its Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 15%, the company said.

The refinery can process 268,000 bbl/day of oil. It is one of the largest refineries in the US that is designed to process heavy-sulphur crude oil.

The refinery’s main products are gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and lubricant oils, according to the company.

The complex has a fluid catalytic cracking (FCC) unit, so it also produces propylene.

Significantly, the refinery lacks a catalytic reformer. These refining units convert naphtha into gasoline blendstock and aromatics such as benzene, toluene and mixed xylenes (MX).

Because the refinery lacks a catalytic reformer, it sells naphtha.

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Thumbnail shows the MoReTec pilot plant. Photo by LyondellBasell

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