US ExxonMobil holds ceremony at new Baytown cracker site

22 August 2014 21:25 Source:ICIS News

Steve Pryor president of ExxonMobil Chemical.HOUSTON (ICIS)--ExxonMobil held on Friday a ceremony at the site of its new cracker in Texas, which will feed two new polyethylene (PE) lines when it is completed.

ExxonMobil's new ethane cracker at Baytown near Houston will be completed in 2017, and it will have a capacity of 1.5m tonnes/year. The PE plants will each have a capacity of 650,000 tonnes/year at ExxonMobil's Mont Belvieu site, which is 13 miles (21km) away.

It is the largest investment the company has ever made in the US, said Steven Pryor, president of ExxonMobil Chemical. "We've designed this plant to be the most competitive petrochemical plant in the world," he said.

When ExxonMobil completes the project, it will be the company's largest PE supply point on the planet, said Woody Paul, manager of the Baytown Olefins Plant.

ExxonMobil is among several companies expanding PE capacity in the US. During their comments, Paul and Pryor discussed the reasons behind the expansion and the challenges US producers have in finding skilled employees to fill these new roles.

Like many of its peers, ExxonMobil is expanding capacity to take advantage of low-cost ethane, made possible by the advent of shale gas.

This has given US producers a cost advantage against much of the world, which relies on oil-based naphtha as a feedstock.

Paul remarked on how drastically the fortunes of the US petrochemical industry have changed in less than a decade. Then, the US was considered a mature region with few prospects for petrochemical growth.

"What a difference 10 years has made," Paul said. "It's absolutely fantastic to see this expansion being built in our backyard."

Much of the expanded capacity being developed by ExxonMobil and other producers will not be commodity grade.

ExxonMobil's new PE lines will produce advance resins.

The PE plants that Chevron Phillips Chemical is building at its Sweeny complex in Old Ocean, Texas, will be the first of their kind that are world scale and that are not retrofitted.

Dow Chemical's new plants will produce its ELITE PE as well as specialty low density PE (LDPE).

LyondellBasell's new PE plant in La Porte, Texas, will feature new technology.

US producers are expanding capacity at a time when the country has a shortage of skilled labour that can fill these new positions.

This shortage, in fact, was one of the major themes of this year's International Petrochemical Conference (IPC), held in San Antonio by the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM).

To address the shortage, ExxonMobil is funding a training programme and collaborating with nine community colleges in and around Houston.

During Friday's programme at the Baytown site, the company introduced some of the students who have participated under the programme.

The following lists the new PE plants being proposed in the US.

Company Project Capacity Grades Location Start-up
Sasol New unit 450,000 tonnes LLDPE Lake Charles, Louisiana 2016
Sasol New unit 420,000 tonnes LDPE Lake Charles, Louisiana NA
Sasol/INEOS New unit 470,000 tonnes HDPE La Porte, Texas 2016
Braskem New unit NA UHMWPE La Porte, Texas H1 2016
ExxonMobil New units 1.3m tonnes PE (premium) Mont Belvieu, Texas Late 2016
Chevron Phillips New units 1m tonnes HDPE, LLDPE, other Sweeny, Texas 2017
Dow Chemical New units NA PE (high-value), LDPE Freeport, Texas 2017
Formosa Plastics New unit 625,500 short tons LDPE Point Comfort, Texas 2017
Shell New units NA Unspec Monaca, Pennsylvania 2019-2020*
Odebrecht New units NA Unspec West Virginia NA
LyondellBasell Debottleneck 100,000 tonnes Unspec US Early 2014
LyondellBasell New unit 454,000 tonnes Unspec US Mid 2017
* ICIS estimate
Source: Companies, ICIS analysis

By Al Greenwood