2021 ERTC Conference Newspaper - Day 1

ERTC 2021

Refiners weigh opportunities for circular asset decarbonisation polymer production

Rene Gonzalez Consultant

Zero to single-digit returns for European refiners compel the development of reve- nue streams around low carbon products. In addition to biofuels, hydrogen and other decarbonisation opportunities, the man- ufacture of circular polymers is pivotal to eliminating the nearly 300 million mtpy of plastic waste produced worldwide. The industry can leverage this waste to pro- duce products for the circular economy. Petrochemical demand is increasing, stimulating demand for polymers produced from waste plastics. Circular polymers help downstream processors’ participa- tion in a sustainable industrial operation, while also providing margins opportuni- ties for companies that have not necessar- ily considered producing polymers in the past, but nonetheless have the supporting infrastructure. Large amounts of recycled plastics are required for circular plastics manufactur- ing to succeed, involving both mechanical and chemical recycling. Information avail- able from Plastics Europe indicates its member companies are already planning to increase chemical recycling investment to €7.2 billion in 2030, yielding 3.4 million mtpy of recycled plastics. Partnerships EU regulatory rulings on the use of recy- cled content in plastics packaging will help drive the market. Its uptake avoids green- house gas (GHG) emitting incineration of plastic marine and land debris. Converting waste plastics to circular plastics seems like an undisputable win-win proposition considering the current demand for cer- tain polymers like polypropylene. However, wide-scale commercialisation still needs to happen. Partnerships are developing in Europe between chemical producers and technol- ogy suppliers to commercialise advanced waste plastics recycling for polymer pro- duction. Together, Dow Chemical, Haldor Topsoe and other contractors with special- ised capabilities are moving forward with the design and engineering of a 10,000 tpy market development unit (MDU). The MDU project at Dow’s complex in Terneuzen, the Netherlands, will dem- onstrate the ability to efficiently reclaim waste plastic into circular polymers. Full commercialisation is expected by 2022. The MDU is using Haldor Topsoe’s PureStep TM chemical recycling technology to purify pyrolysis oil feedstock derived from waste plastics, yielding circular poly- propylene and polyethylene. Difficult-to-recycle plastics Industrial-scale purification of circu- lar feedstocks is needed to meet strong demand for targeted polymers, including polypropylene and polyethylene. These waste plastics are difficult to recycle, according to recent reports. A range of difficult-to-recycle plastics are under con- sideration as basic building blocks for new

Light naphtha & ranate Benzene

Tol. Alkyl. EMTAM SM

BT. AE Morphylane

BT. Frac. DWC/Conv.

Tol. Disprop. PxMax SM





Aromatics extraction

Transalkyl. TransPlus SM

CCR. Ref



Aromatics rearrangement


Aromatics production

PX Purif. Eluxyl®


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EB Dealk XyMax SM

EB Ref Oparis®

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Naphtha splitter

Xylene pre-run column

Figure 1. Aerial view of Dow’s Terneuzen complex in the Netherlands. Refo mate splitter Heavy aromatics RS HA

Pure Xylene Isomer production

Heavies Orthoxylene

Figure 1 Axens’ bio-based PX process

build, own and operate a plant adjacent to ExxonMobil’s petrochemical complex in Notre-Dame-de-Gravenchon, France. Up to 25,000 mtpy of post-consumer mixed- plastic waste feedstock at the French plant will be recycled into raw materials by 2023, which ExxonMobil will then turn into certified circular polymers. DID you KNOW that A growing number of refiners are turning to waste recycling technologies to provide sustainable feedstock? Polymers from refineries Circular polymers from SABIC’s Trucircle portfolio are produced using advanced recycling, converting low-quality mixed and used plastic, otherwise destined for incineration or landfill, into pyrolysis oil. Collaboration between SABIC and BP at the Gelsenkirchen production site facili- tates the processing of pyrolysis oil as an alternative to traditional hydrocarbon feedstocks. The pyrolysis oil is then processed through SABIC’s Gelsenkirchen polymer units to produce certified circular prod- ucts, with identical properties to virgin- based polymers. To stimulate the uptake of recycled content in plastics packaging, a plastic packaging tax is being introduced on plastics packaging manufactured or

imported into the UK if it does not contain at least 30% recycled content. Huge amounts of waste, both in Europe and globally, end up in natural environ- ments, harming wildlife and biodiver- sity, with up to 80% of marine debris being plastic. Many of the globe’s refin- ers have noted that to increase margins in the biodiversity transition, they must increase the use of alternative feedstock in the shift towards greater petrochemical production. Petrochemical shift A growing number of refiners are turning to waste recycling technologies to provide sustainable feedstock while reducing their reliance on the exploration and production of fossil fuels. The consultancy McKinsey also highlighted this opportunity, suggest- ing this could represent a global profit pool of nearly €50 billion per year by 2030. Elsewhere, Axens is teaming up with downstreamoperators to process renewa- bly sourced aromatics, primarily for recov- ery of high-purity bio-based paraxylene, which can help develop renewable chem- icals from non-food biomass. Increased demand for substitutes of conventional petrochemical products, exposed to vola- tile crude oil prices, is likely to drive bio- based paraxylene market growth. Widespread utilisation of bio-based par- axylene in various applications, such as in polyethylene terephthalate (PET), is likely to generate double-digit growth opportu- nities for the worldwide bio-based parax- ylene market. Against this backdrop, the imminent closure of many European refin- eries may be avoided as these facilities play the role of first movers in the global circular economy.

chemicals. One option is for offsite purifi- cation of the pyrolysis oil. To increase pyrolysis oil feedstock pro- duction, the Fuenix Ecogy Group’s unit in Weert, the Netherlands, will be capable of processing 20,000 mtpy of post-con- sumer plastics into pyrolysis oil feedstock for Dow’s Terneuzen circular plastics operations. Dow has committed to offer at least 100,000 mtpy of recycled high- quality plastics sold in the EU by 2025, such as for packaging applications. The Fuenix Ecogy ® process cracks whatever polymers are in the plastic to a molecular level, essentially upcycling end- of-life plastics that would otherwise go to waste, and instead creates high-quality raw material feedstock for process facili- ties. These facilities could include refin- eries with the necessary infrastructure, including asset integration and scale. Objectives Continuous recycling ofwaste plastics into circular polymers is a strategic objective for other major chemical manufacturers. For example, Chevron Phillips Chemical’s (CPC) circular polyethylene matches the performance and safety specifications of CPC’s virgin polymers. Compared to tra- ditional recycling, advanced recycling is designed to operate with the capability to handle impurities, mixed polymers, etc. Before 2027, ExxonMobil plans to open several advanced recycling plants worldwide in the Netherlands and else- where, with a total combined capacity of 500,000 mtpy. ExxonMobil’s other reported advanced recycling plans centre around a collaboration with London-based Plastic Energy, which operates two such plants in Spain. Earlier this year, the two companies announced that Plastic Energy would

Contact: editor@refineryoperations.com


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