In the News this Year Top 3 E-Cracker Projects to Watch Out For

From Charles Butcher

E-crackers are the next big thing within the chemical process industry as it has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 90 %. The transition of this core industrial process has already begun with leading petrochemical companies looking to establish pilot e-cracker plants across Europe. PROCESS Worldwide revisits its ‘Progress on E-Cracking’ article by highlighting the top 3 e-cracker projects in the news this year.

Related Companies

BASF, Sabic and Linde are evaluating the construction of a multi-megawatt demonstration plant at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site in Germany, targeted for start-up as early as 2023, subject to a positive funding decision.
BASF, Sabic and Linde are evaluating the construction of a multi-megawatt demonstration plant at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site in Germany, targeted for start-up as early as 2023, subject to a positive funding decision.
(Source: BASF)

Steam crackers form the foundation of the petrochemical industry, turning ethane, propane, butane and naphtha into ethylene, butylene and other reactive unsaturated hydrocarbons. The large amount of heat needed to drive the endothermic cracking reactions is normally supplied by burning natural gas or other hydrocarbons from the refinery. It’s in this scenario that electric crackers (e-crackers) with very low carbon dioxide emissions, coupled with an effective system for recycling plastics, could go a long way towards creating a climate-friendly petrochemicals industry.

The revolutionary ‘e-cracker’ technology has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 90 % and hence, companies are racing towards developing e-crackers to meet their net-zero targets in the coming years.

Shell-Dow’s ‘E-cracker’ pilot plant

In 2020, Dow and Shell announced a joint development agreement to accelerate technology to electrify ethylene steam crackers. Innovation project teams located in Amsterdam, Terneuzen, the Netherlands, and Texas, U.S., are focused on designing and scaling ‘e-cracker’ technologies. Down and Shell say they have been working on electrification solutions for existing steam crackers as well as novel electrified crackers for the longer term. The dual-path approach supports the emissions reductions required to meet the companies’ 2030 CO2 ambitions as well as their net-zero target of 2050 or before.

In June this year, the companies announced that they had secured funding from the Government of the Netherlands that will allow them to move forward with a multi-megawatt pilot plant. Start-up is currently scheduled for 2025. A press release from ISPT suggests that the demonstration plant planned for 2025 will be based on existing crackers, and that the e-cracker pilot plant will have to wait until 2027 as the plant is not included in the current project period.

The companies have also joined forces with two more sources of technological expertise: the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT).

In their latest announcement, Dow and Shell confirmed that they will receive 4.6 million dollars (3.5 million euros) under the MOOI (Mission-driven Research, Development and Innovation) subsidy scheme funded by the Dutch Government through the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

Electric crackers enable key process routes for the circular economy.
Electric crackers enable key process routes for the circular economy.
(Source: Brightlands Chemelot Campus)

Electrically heated steam cracker furnaces by BASF, Sabic and Linde

BASF, Sabic and Linde have also signed a joint agreement to develop and demonstrate solutions for electrically heated steam cracker furnaces. The partners have already jointly worked on concepts to use renewable electricity instead of the fossil fuel gas typically used for the heating process.

The partners applied for financial grants at the EU Innovation Fund and the funding program Decarbonization in Industry (new program of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment). The parties are evaluating the construction of a multi-megawatt demonstration plant at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site in Germany, targeted for start-up as early as 2023, subject to a positive funding decision. The project is part of BASF’s Carbon Management R&D program with which BASF aims to significantly further reduce its CO2 emissions beyond 2030.

PROCESS Worldwide previously estimated that a cracker yielding 1 million t/y of ethylene would need a furnace with a thermal rating in the range 170–315 MW. Extra power might also be required for compressors normally driven by steam turbines coupled to the furnace heat recovery system. BASF agrees that power supply will be critical for a full-scale e-cracker, in terms of both competitive renewable energy prices and expanded electric grids. Investment costs are likely to be higher than for a conventional cracker, especially in relation to the electricity infrastructure, BASF suggested.

Cracker of the Future

The European ‘Cracker of the Future’ consortium—comprising Borealis, BP, Total Energies, Repsol and Versalis (Eni)—has also revealed that it will soon announce one of its game changing technologies for the electrification of the steam cracking process. Demonstration for the technology is currently being planned for 2023 and there is a good chance that commercial availability could be delivered by 2026.

European crackers predominantly operate on fossil-naphtha feedstock with some light feedstock such as LPG and ethane originating from refining of oil and from natural gas liquids. With electric crackers, they will also be able to convert bio naphtha and pyrolysis oil from waste plastics (chemical recycling) which will help to promote the circular economy and meet the goals of Europe’s Green Deal.

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