Electrification of steam cracking: BASF demo set to operate in 2023

Article by Adam Duckett

Demo: SABIC CEO Yousef Al-Benyan, BASF Chairman Martin Brudermüller, and Linde CEO Jürgen Nowicki at the project site in Ludwigshafen

Partners aim to eliminate 90% of sector emissions

BASF, SABIC and Linde have begun electrifying a steam cracker at the huge Ludwigshafen chemicals complex in Germany, as they seek to show that the sector can eliminate 90% of emissions from the heart of chemicals processing.

Steam crackers are conventionally heated by burning fossil fuels to reach the high temperatures required to break hydrocarbon feedstocks into the olefins and aromatics used as building blocks in chemicals supply chains. But this produces huge volumes of CO2 that the industry is under pressure to eliminate.

BASF and its partners have begun constructing a demo plant that will test two heating concepts that will use renewable electricity rather than fossil fuels. Scheduled to start up in 2023, it will process around 4 t/h of hydrocarbons, using 6 MW of renewable energy.

The plant aims to show that continuous olefin production is possible using electric heating. The plant is designed so that direct heating and indirect heating methods can be tested in parallel.

With direct heating, an electric current will be applied directly to the process tubes carrying the hydrocarbon feedstock through the cracker. BASF says that Joule heating inside the tube wall, caused by the electric resistivity of the material, provides the required thermal energy for the chemical reaction. With indirect heating, the current will be applied to heating elements placed around the tubes with radiative heat transfer supplying the thermal energy needed to crack the feedstock. BASF and SABIC are funding the demonstration, along with €14.8m (US$14.8m) from the German Government’s industry decarbonisation programme. Linde is the engineering, procurement and construction partner for the project and will commercialise the technologies that are developed.

Yousef Al-Benyan, CEO of SABIC, said: “This project holds huge potential for all of the petrochemical industry around the world in our drive for low carbon emitting processes. With the milestone we are jointly announcing today on the start of construction, we hope that our three-party collaboration can inspire many more collaborations that ultimately bring the world to net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions through a circular carbon economy.”

This article is adapted from an earlier online version.

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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