Dow and Shell team up to develop cleaner cracking technology; Air Products to build hydrogen plant in Alberta; Mexico’s petrochemical industry faces feedstock issue; U.S. recycling rate decline shows system needs support; U.S. gas production rises

News Briefs

Dow's plant Freeport, Texas. Image courtesy of Dow Inc.

Dow and Shell team up to develop cleaner cracking technology

Dow and Shell announced on June 16 an accord to contribute to speed up technological advancements to supply electricity to ethane crackers.

The intention is to find ways to use cleaner energy because today’s steam crackers rely on fossil fuel combustion to heat their furnaces, making them CO2 intensive, they said.

“Using renewable electricity to heat steam cracker furnaces could become one of the routes to de-carbonize the chemicals industry,” according to the joint statement.

Teams in the Netherlands and Texas “are focused on designing and scaling ‘e-cracker’ technologies,” it said.

Technological breakthroughs are needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “which will require companies to step out of their comfort zones,” said Keith Cleason, Dow Olefins, Aromatics and Alternatives business vice president.

Dow, primarily a chemical company,  operates 109 manufacturing sites in 31 countries and employs 36,500 people. Dow posted $43 billion in sales in 2019.

Shell, traditionally a refiner and fuel retailer, had $352 billion in sales in 2019. The company is building a complex in Pennsylvania that includes an ethane cracker as well as polyethylene capacity. Shell’s website says it has 86,000 employees in over 70 countries.

A Shell official told Reuters Events in November that the company is moving toward having fewer refineries but more integrated.

Air Products to build hydrogen plant in Alberta

Air Products said on June 9 that it plans to build a “net-zero hydrogen energy complex” in the province of Alberta in a partnership with Canadian federal and regional governments.

“Air Products began work in 2018 on the core of this world-scale energy complex in Edmonton, which will begin with a transformative C$1.3 billion net-zero hydrogen production and liquefaction facility expected onstream in 2024,” the company said.

The company’s existing 34-mile Alberta Heartland Hydrogen pipeline will provide hydrogen “to support growth in Alberta for many years to come,” said Samir Serhan, chief operating officer of the Allentown, Pennsylvania-based company.

The new plant will use natural gas to produce net-zero hydrogen to reduce “the environmental footprint of the refining sector.”

Officials in Alberta, Canada’s biggest petrochemical hub, said during a Reuters Events conference in November that they wanted to attract investment in petrochemical and hydrogen plants.

Mexico’s petrochemical industry faces feedstock issues

Mexico’s National Association for the Chemical Industry, known for its Spanish acronym Aniq, said on June 7 that members met with Mexican federal government officials for talks that included finding ways to solve feedstock problems related to shortages at state oil company Pemex.

“With the intention of advancing in the resolution of this matter it was agreed to hold another meeting to determine actions that must be adopted and the government actors to be involved,” the association said in its website.

Hector Guerrero, Mexico’s deputy secretary of Industry and Trade, and the association’s president, Edmundo Rodarte, participated in the talks.

U.S. recycling rate decline shows system needs support

The American Chemistry Council said on June 18 that declining plastic recycling rates indicate that the system needs more support, based on data from 2019.

According to the ACC, the aggregate recycling of bottles, non-bottle rigid plastic and film declined by 27 million pounds in 2019 or 0.5% from a year earlier.

The largest increase in recycling in 2019 compared with a year earlier was in non-bottle rigid plastics (46 million pounds) and the largest drop was in PET bottles (39 million pounds), based on a survey co-sponsored by the council, the Association of Plastics Recyclers, and the Foundation for Plastic Recycling.

“There are many opportunities to support continued growth in film and non-bottle rigid recycling as well as turn the course for bottles by focusing on what recyclers need to succeed as they are the engines of the circular economy,” said Steve Alexander, APR’s president and CEO.

U.S. or Canadian recyclers bought most material recovered in the U.S. during 2019 with just 12% exported overseas, it said.

 In 2019, recyclers recovered 5,094 million pounds of post-consumer plastic sourced in the United States. Post-consumer plastics included in the study were bottles, non-bottle rigid plastics, film, and other plastic but not foam.

Plastic bottles continued to make up most plastic recovered at 55%, with non-bottle rigids representing 25%, film 19%, and other plastics, excluding foam, making up the rest.

U.S. dry gas production sees on-year rise

The U.S. dry natural gas production averaged more than 92 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) during May 2021 compared with under 88 Bcf/d in May 2020, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on June 17.

This compared with the record high for U.S. natural gas production in December 2019, when dry production averaged 97 Bcf/d, the EIA added.

As of June 8, the reported total number of active rigs in the United States had risen to 461, and 96 of those were drilling for natural gas compared with a low of 68 in July 2020, it said.

Companies that want dry gas normally target the Marcellus and Utica formations in the Appalachia Basin as well as the Haynesville formation in the North Louisiana Salt Basin of northeast Texas and northwest Louisiana.

North Louisiana is convenient for LNG shipping from the U.S. Gulf and other uses given its proximity to the chemical hub in the Gulf Coast , the EIA said.

By Reuters Events Downstream