MATERIALS science company Dow and Shell have agreed to jointly accelerate technology to electrify ethylene steam crackers, used to make chemicals for products that people use daily. The potential ‘e-cracker’ technology could contribute to a low-carbon future.
Steam crackers thermally break down hydrocarbon feedstock – such as naphtha, liquid petroleum gas, or ethane – using steam in steam cracking furnaces to produce lighter hydrocarbons. Ethylene, primarily used to produce the widely-used polymer polyethylene, is produced by cracking ethane. Crackers currently rely on fossil fuel combustion to heat the furnaces, making them CO2 intensive.
According to the partners, as the energy grid becomes increasingly renewables led, using renewable electricity to heat steam cracker furnaces could provide a pathway to decarbonising the chemicals industry. They say that the challenge is to develop a technologically and economically feasible solution.
Dow and Shell are combining their complementary expertise to develop the technology in a collaboration that is already underway. Innovation project teams in Amsterdam and Terneuzen, the Netherlands, and Texas, US are focussed on designing and scaling e-cracker technologies. Over the coming years, they will aim to prove the relevant process technologies and then scale to commercial crackers.
Keith Cleason, VP of Dow’s Olefins, Aromatics, and Alternatives business, said: “Significant technological breakthroughs are needed to reduce our industry’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, which will require companies to step out of their comfort zones and work together to achieve bold and ambitious new goals. Our partnership with Shell is an important step in making this vision a reality.”
Thomas Casparie, Executive VP of Shell’s Global Chemicals business, added: “Steam cracking makes base chemicals, which are transformed into a range of finished products that help society live, work and respond to climate change. This new work with Dow has the potential to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions from the manufacture of chemicals and to Shell’s ambition of becoming a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 or sooner."
Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.