EXXONMOBIL has brought online a new US$30m isoparaffin production unit at its Fawley complex in the UK – marking the site’s first manufacture of a new family of chemicals since the 1980s.
The 50,000 t/y hydrogenation unit produces four grades of high-purity synthetic isoparaffin – branded as Isopar – that are used in the manufacture of inks, paints, air fresheners and cosmetics. Until now, the backbone olefins used as feedstocks for ExxonMobil’s isoparaffins were produced at Fawley but then shipped to its Antwerp site in Belgium to be hydrogenated.
Speaking yesterday at the official opening of the new unit, Richard Henderson, Fawley’s chemicals manager explained that the investment has boosted efficiency of production across the organisation. Firstly, it eliminates the ‘double handling’ of having to ship the product to another site for further processing; and secondly, production has switched from a batch operation in Antwerp to a continuous one at Fawley.
“We’ve designed this plant to run continuously and then do the separation downstream,” Henderson said. “That makes the hydroprocessing significantly more efficient. It’s not a batch process anymore – it’s a continuous process - which for our industry is significantly more efficient.”
The modular construction of the unit began at the integrated refinery and chemicals complex in November 2015 and took 12 months to complete. The first shipment of finished product left the site in January, with around 75% of production from the unit slated for export.
Matt Aguiar, vice president of ExxonMobil Chemicals who visited from the company’s base in Houston, US noted than in addition to strengthening chemical production at Fawley, the new product line has also released capacity at the Antwerp complex for production of other products. Aguiar went on to note that a key buyer of ExxonMobil’s isoparaffins is HP for use in its printer inks.
Isoparaffins have very specific boiling points, are chemically stable, and odourless, which is an important property for use in cosmetic, paint and air freshener formulations.
Staff from the project gathered in front of the new plant to witness Aguiar and Local MP Julian Lewis unveil a plaque marking its official opening. Staff included IChemE members Ralf Rashbrook, Isopar project executive, and Rachel Perry, who worked as the project’s technical start-up lead.
Overall, the Fawley chemicals plant has a production capacity of 800,000 t/y and 680,000 t are exported.
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