Shale gas There is No End in Sight to the Shale Gas Boom in the US
On August 1st, 2013, Karsten Radtke took over as Chief Executive Officer of Uhde Corporation of America, a business partner of ThyssenKrupp Uhde. The current economic trends in the US are good news for Uhde Corporation of America, which has offices in Greenwood Village, Colorado and Bridgeville, Pennsylvania.
PROCESS: Mr. Radtke, Shale gas was a hot topic at the end of 2012. What is your current assessment of the US market?
Radtke: The euphoria has not subsided. The basic rule in the US is “no investor wants to be the first one, everyone wants to be the first one second“. Following in the wake of the first wave of pioneers who have already invested in power stations and chemical plants, the customer base continues to expand. Gas prices should remain moderate in the long term, and it is our expectation that a considerable number of chemical plants will be built. ThyssenKrupp has firm roots in gas-based chemical plant engineering, and the company has many years of experience with this type of plant in other regions around the world such as the Middle East and the US. So we believe that Uhde Corporation of America is ideally positioned here.
PROCESS: The ammonia and fertilizer business has been the main benefactor of the shale gas boom at ThyssenKrupp up to this point. What next?
Radtke: We have already had very considerable success across all gas-based technologies with the patented Uhde Steam Reformer for hydrogen and ammonia/urea. Particularly in the fertilizer business, our aim is to surpass our own records. Also because oil prices remain high, there is considerable interest in gas-based fuel production (GTL). ThyssenKrupp Uhde offers a methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) process which already has a proven track record on an industrial scale. We have been working with Exxon Mobil on this technology for more than 30 years. Fischer-Tropsch plants are also currently in the planning pipeline in the US, and that is another potential business opportunity for us.
PROCESS: Low gas prices have made the conventional refinery route unattractive in the US. What significance does that have from the technology standpoint?
Radtke: When natural gas is used instead of crude oil as a petrochemical feedstock, the gas must first pass through a fractionation process. The ethane and propane fractions can then be used to produce the desired end products. The ethane is processed in a steam cracker and from that point on many products which are also part of the ThyssenKrupp Uhde portfolio can be produced.
PROCESS: What specific opportunities does that create for Uhde Corporation of America?
Radtke: We have the technologies that are needed to make products such as PE, LDPE and HDPE among others. Uhde’s propane dehydrogenation technology (PDH) is already being used in the US to produce propylene and other derived products such as PP and PO.
PROCESS: The STAR process for propane dehydrogenation competes worldwide with the two US suppliers UOP and CBI (Lummus). What are your persuasive arguments?
Radtke: The STAR process (Steam Active Reforming) is the result of ThyssenKrupp Uhde’s experience in the design and construction of steam reformer based plants over a period of many years. The catalyst used in the STAR process is also proprietary. It is up to the customer to decide which process is best. However, we have very impressive technological strengths which enable us to compete very effectively. Only a few days ago, we acquired an order for our STAR process for a PDH plant in the US. That is the fourth PDH order which is based on this process. Our technology portfolio gives us a strong position in the US. Only those processes which are most attractive from the CAPEX and OPEX perspective will be successful over the long term. We have taken on that challenge.
PROCESS: Are you relying fully on your technological expertise to compete with the large US plant engineering and construction firms?
Radtke: Customers choose us because of our technological expertise, and they also welcome the fact that as an integrated technology supplier and licensor we can act as a specialist EPC contractor and provide complete solutions as well. The current level of success we are having in the US reflects the strength of this concept. We are able to compete with the big US engineering and construction firms because customers make their decisions based on our technology.