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LyondellBasell Considers Metathesis Ethane to Propylene Unit

LyondellBasell mulls US metathesis unit for new ethylene capacity

24 April 2015 21:27 Source:ICIS News

LyondellBasell mulls US metathesis unit for new ethylene capacityHOUSTON (ICIS)–LyondellBasell is considering a new metathesis unit as a possible outlet for the new ethylene capacity the company is adding through debottlenecking projects, the CEO said on Friday.

Such a unit would produce propylene from ethylene. The metathesis unit would thus provide LyondellBasell a route to produce propylene from ethane, versus the monomer's more common raw materials, such as oil-based feedstocks and propane.

LyondellBasell already has metathesis unit in Channelview, Texas. It had considered expanding this unit earlier in the decade, but called off the plans because many companies had announced plans to build propane dehydrogenation (PDH) units. These plants would use propane to produce propylene.

CEO Bob Patel mentioned the metathesis plant as one of three possible outlets for the company's new ethylene capacity. He made his comments during an earnings conference call.

LyondellBasell may also sell its additional ethylene to other companies in the merchant market, Patel said.

LyondellBasell is also considering a 1bn lb/year (454,000 tonnes/year) polyethylene (PE) plant that could start operations in the middle of 2017.

"We have many options in front of us," Patel said.

For the metathesis unit, one factor that LyondellBasell would consider is the future price of propane, which would affect the competitiveness of the PDH units, Patel said.

So far, companies are either considering or actively pursuing nine PDH plants in North America.

Sunoco Logistics became the latest to join the list, with a proposal to build a PDH unit at its Marcus Hook site in Pennsylvania.

Another new source of propane demand will come from export terminals. Companies such as Enterprise Products are expanding their propane export capacity, allowing them to ship the material overseas.

All of these projects will increase demand on propane, putting pressure on prices, Patel said.

Unlike a PDH unit, a metathesis plant would use ethane, and would be insulated from these higher propane prices.

On the other hand, US propane production is expected to continue increasing. The country may need these new PDH plants and propane terminals just to handle the increased supplies of propane.

"There are a lot of factors that impact the propylene price," Patel said. "Before we make an investment, we need to think through all of these factors."

In the past, LyondellBasell has chosen to expand existing plant capacity instead of building new plants. The company pursued this route to increase its ethylene capacity.

The strategy has allowed LyondellBasell to quickly add new capacity at a lower expense and to avoid escalating labour costs.