Special Report: PE licensors are in active mode

06 June 2014 10:07 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

Polyethylene technology is much in demand as North American projects are planned downstream from a number of new ethane crackers. However, Asia and the Middle East are also proving active markets for licensors

The drive to use ethane feedstocks from shale gas has prompted a rush to build ethane crackers and associated downstream polyethylene (PE) units in North America. No fewer than nine companies are planning to build new PE capacity in the region (see table), although some plans are firmer than others.


 Cracker projects are driving PE licensing demand worldwide

Copyright: Alamy

Nearly all of the producers have their own PE technologies to roll out for the projects. Indeed, many of them are the key licensors of PE technology worldwide and have been enjoying considerable success in winning new business in recent years, notably in Asia.

Among the US investments, those by Sasol, Formosa Plastics and Odebrecht are the three likely to lead to in-licensing of technology. In announcing its cracker and low density polyethylene (LDPE) project at Point Comfort, Texas, Formosa specifically declined to reveal the technologies being used. Odebrecht’s plans for a cracker and three PE units in West Virginia are at an early stage and the Brazilian major and majority owner of Braskem has not revealed capacities or types of PE to be produced. It has said, though, that Braskem will market the output.

South Africa’s Sasol has been more open. Its planned high density polyethylene (HDPE) unit will be built in a joint venture with INEOS, a leading licensor of PE technology with its Innovene processes. The precise location of the project has not been revealed.

Sasol’s linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) and LDPE units, both planned for Lake Charles, Louisiana, will use Univation Technologies’ Unipol process and ExxonMobil Chemical’s tubular technology, respectively. Univation is a gas-phase PE technology company owned jointly by ExxonMobil Chemical and Dow Chemical.

In July last year, Sasol said the basic engineering of the LLDPE plant will be handled by Toyo Engineering Corp of Japan, and engineering for the LDPE unit will be handled by Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, also of Japan.

The Unipol LLDPE swing plant will be 450,000 tonnes/year in scale and will be capable of producing a broad product portfolio, including metallocene grades, says Univation. Sasol already runs one Unipol LLDPE plant, which has been in operation in Sasolburg, South Africa, since 1983.

Univation has recently signed several other major deals outside the US. In mid-2013, it announced that Qatar Petroleum and Qatar Petrochemical will use its Unipol technology in three world-class reactor lines at its Al Sejeel petrochemical complex in Ras Laffan, Qatar. Total capacity is put at 1.59m tonnes/year.

One line, with a capacity of 550,000 tonnes/year, will produce LLDPE, and two lines of 520,000 tonnes/year each will be dedicated to HDPE. Production will use Univation’s XCAT metallocene and Prodigy bimodal catalysts. Univation notes that 600,000 tonnes/year is the current ceiling for its Unipol reactors.

Further east, in Malaysia, Burel Industries has licensed the use of Univation’s Unipol technology for two PE lines, with a combined capacity of 500,000 tonnes/year, to be built in an integrated petrochemical complex being proposed for Gebang, Industrial Park, Kuantan. Again, both will use XCAT and Prodigy catalysts and produce a full range of LLDPE and HDPE grades. The development also includes a 250,000 tonne/year Unipol polypropylene (PP) plant, with technology licensed from Dow Chemical.

The proposed Sasol/INEOS 470,000 tonne/year HDPE unit, at an as-yet unrevealed US location, is one of a whole range of recently announced projects that will use INEOS Technologies’ Innovene processes. The plant will use INEOS Technologies’ Innovene S vertical reactor slurry process to make bimodal grades of HDPE. The intention is to produce a limited number of grades, allowing high grade efficiencies.

The joint venture demonstrates INEOS’ continued commitment to the HDPE market and to growing end-use applications that benefit from bimodal technology, commented Dennis Seith, CEO of INEOS Olefins & Polymers USA, when revealing the joint venture last year. The final investment decision is expected to be made in the first half of 2014 with start-up of the plant expected at the end of 2015.

As well as Innovene S, INEOS offers a second variant: Innovene G, which uses a gas-phase, fluidised-bed reactor. Both have been in high demand in recent years. The company has just signed a licensing deal with Xinjiang Bangyou Chemical of Xinjiang, China. The deal covers use of Innovene G in a swing HDPE/LLDPE unit of 250,000 tonnes/year, as well as an Innovene PP licence for a 350,000 tonne/year unit making homo-, random and copolymer PP grades.

Other recent licensees include: Unipetrol in the Czech republic, for an Innovene S HDPE unit in Litvinov; CNOOC in China, for a 450,000 tonne/year Innovene S HDPE unit at Huizhou, Guangdong province, China; Nizhnekamskneftekhim, which will build a 300,000 tonne/year Innovene G plant and a 300,000 tonne/year 
Innovene G plant in Nizhnekamsk, Tartarstan, Russia, giving it access to metallocene and premium bimodal-grade materials.

INEOS also signed a licensing deal with PETRONAS in late 2012, for a 350,000 tonne/year Innovene G LLDPE/HDPE reactor as part of the latter’s RAPID project in Johor, Malaysia. The massive refinery and petrochemicals complex has been delayed, but should start up in 2018.

INEOS has also been busy licensing its Innovene PP technology, with three recent awards, to: China Shenhua Coal to Chemical Xinjiang Coal Chemical Co, for a 450,000 tonne/year unit in Urumqi city; Oriental Energy, for a 400,000 tonne/year plant in Ningbo, Zhejiang province; and to Vung Ro Petroleum in Vietnam, for a 900,000 tonne/year project in Hoa Tam Commune, Dong Hoa District, Phu Yen province.

The other leading global licensor of PE technology is LyondellBasell Industries, which is planning to debottleneck US capacity by 100,000 tonnes/year this year, and then to build a 454,000 tonne/year plant in the US by late 2016, to take advantage of the shale expansion and planned increases in its ethylene output, totalling 840,000 tonnes/year by the end of 2015. The company has a range of PE and PP technologies for licensing, including Spherilene (gas phase), Hostalen (low pressure slurry) and Lupotech (high pressure tubular and autoclave processes) for PE and Spherizone, Spheripol and Metocene for PP.

It has recently signed a four-project licensing deal with Sinopec International, for instance, which is planning to build three Lupotech A LDPE/EVA plants and one Spherizone PP unit at sites in Zhanjiang, Dachang and Jinshan in China. Start-ups are scheduled for 2016.

Other recent licensing deals include a 400,000 tonne/year Spherizone PP plant for CNOOC Oil and Petrochemicals, at Huizhou, China; a 400,000 tonne/year Spheripol PP plant for Nizhnekamskneftekhim in Russia; a 300,000 tonne/year Lupotech T and A plant for LDPE and EVA for Jiangsu Sailboat Petrochemical in Lianyungang, China; two 300,000 tonne/year Spheripol PP plants for PETRONAS in Pengerang, Malaysia; and a 270,000 tonne/year Lupotech T LDPE unit for China Shenhua Coal to Liquid and Chemical Co, to be built in Xinjiang, China. This is the Chinese company’s second LDPE licence from LyondellBasell, as it had earlier in 2012 signed a deal for a plant at Yulin, China.

Chevron Phillips Chemical has two PE projects approved for construction at Old Ocean, near its Sweeney, Texas, site. These two 500,000 tonne/year plants will produce LLDPE and HDPE using its MarTECH Single Loop (SL) and Advanced Dual Loop (ADL) slurry technologies, which enable production of bimodal and metallocene-based grades.

The company just last month announced that its loop slurry technology will be marketed and licensed under the MarTECH trademark. In 2012, Saudi Polymers started up two 550,000 tonne/year MarTECH lines in Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, which are the largest such units so far built.

Finally, in Canada, NOVA Chemicals late last year decided to move forward with the second phase of its NOVA 2020 growth strategy in 
Ontario, Canada, and to continue to evaluate options for a second Advanced SCLAIRTECH Technology (AST) facility. This next phase of the NOVA 2020 growth strategy, expected to take place over the 2014-2018 timeframe, will concentrate on several cost-effective expansions and upgrades to NOVA Chemicals’ existing facilities in the Sarnia, Ontario region.

During this period, NOVA Chemicals will continue to investigate options for a second AST facility, which could be located in Ontario, the US Gulf Coast or elsewhere in the world, and which would be implemented in the final phase of the NOVA 2020 growth strategy.

Work continues to progress on other projects within the first phase of the NOVA 2020 portfolio including the building of a world scale gas-phase PE reactor at the Joffre facility in Alberta, to provide customers with a complete set of LLDPE offerings, which is expected to be mechanically complete in the first quarter of 2016.

By John Baker