New trilateral consortium aims to make crackers more sustainable / Project of EU-based petchem giants backed by national and regional governments
For several years, Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” has dominated discussions in the global petrochemicals and plastics sector. Now Europe has its own vision, which – perhaps intentionally – uses the same name. In contrast to the Saudis, whose primary goal is to become established as a major global player, the forward-looking trilateral plans developed by six established players operating in Northwestern Europe’s “cracker corridor” straddling Germany and the Benelux region are aimed at making petrochemical production more sustainable.

The industry’s heavy footprint on the environment of the trilateral region and beyond could be lightened considerably, depending on the outcome of the “Cracker of the future” collaboration launched jointly by six petrochemical producers – BASF (Ludwigshafen / Germany;, Borealis (Vienna / Austria;, BP (London / UK;, LyondellBasell (LYB, Houston, Texas / USA;, Sabic’s (Riyadh / Saudi Arabia; European arm and Total (Paris / France; in cooperation with the Dutch national government, Belgium’s Flanders regional government, the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the region’s three chemical industry associations. An important target of the joint strategy to slash greenhouse gas emissions is to explore the viability of switching the energy base of the region’s crackers from naphtha or natural gas to electricity derived from renewable sources.

The consortium’s approach rests on the three pillars of R&D, energy and feedstock as well as chemical industry infrastructure. The participants have created what they call an “Innovation Table” based on three success factors – technical innovations to enable the energy and feedstock transition, digital transformation to enhance competitiveness and the framework conditions to enhance innovation across borders.
Challenges to step in time with EU sustainability goals
Key challenges, the members say, will be to ensure that the process is technologically and economically feasible, that it fits into a future low-carbon value chain and that it can be implemented in time to meet the targets of the EU’s circular economy and other environmental initiatives. The companies will provide funding and the technological capability to stem the effort while each explores the possibility of transitioning its own production of base chemicals such as ethylene, propylene, butadiene, benzene, toluene and xylenes to renewable electricity.

Within the consortium, which grew out of the trilateral strategy for the chemical industry presented by the companies and their cooperation partners to EU authorities in 2017, steps toward exploring and screening technical options have already been taken. After identifying a potential solution, the partners will decide whether to pursue one or more joint development projects, including R&D activities that could include a demonstrator for proof of concept.

“This is a unique collaboration that aims to reduce our industry’s global footprint for the betterment of society as a whole,” said Bert Kip, CEO of the chemical park Brightlands Chemelot Campus in the Netherlands, who chairs the consortium. He added that it “demonstrates the commitment of our industry to collectively seek technological solutions to minimise greenhouse gas emissions from our operations.”

For the European Commission, which is supporting the project, head of the Chemicals Unit Luisa Prista said the EU sees the need for a “more holistic” approach to CO2 reduction that would include the linking of projects. The role of the commission in ensuring the success of such strategies is to leverage “compelling projects” put forward by independent intra-EU collaborations rather than to invest by itself, she said.
03.09.2019 1034 [243298-0]
Published on 03.09.2019

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