Encina finds the future of BTX in plastic waste

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Encina (The Woodlands, Texas) was founded to produce benzene, toluene, and xylenes (BTX) from coal, but the company made a sharp change in direction last October after discovering that an alternative feedstock - plastic waste - dramatically improved the economics of its process, reported Chemweek.

Advanced plans to build a coal-based facility in Wyoming have since been scrapped, and Encina will soon announce the location for a USD255-million, 100,000-metric tons/year plastics-to-BTX facility. Construction is slated to begin during the first quarter of 2021, and additional plants are in the pipeline.

“Our business plan is to have at least five operating facilities with expansion capabilities (located) globally to tackle the plastic problem,” says David Schwedel, founder and executive director. “We’re looking to do an IPO in about two years, and we’re positioning ourselves to be the go-to waste-plastics-to-chemical/fuels company in the world. That is our focus.”

Encina’s process is based on pyrolysis technology developed to produce clean coal and later adapted to produce activated carbon. Encina licensed the technology with the idea of optimizing the yield of a by-product - pyrolysis gas, the aromatics-rich hydrocarbon typically produced by the steam cracking of naphtha. Working with engineering and construction firm Worley, Encina modeled the yield of BTX from coal to 6-8%, and in 2018, the company announced it would build a BTX/activated carbon production facility in Wyoming.

Encina’s engineers continued to refine the process, and while looking for a way to make it carbon neutral, they began experimenting with plastic waste. If plastic could be included on the feedslate without reducing yield, they reasoned, it would be recycled, offsetting a portion of the emissions generated. In fact, they discovered that the more plastic waste they added, the greater the yield of BTX.

Faced with this surprising result, Encina reconsidered its plans, says Schwedel. As originally configured, the plant would have processed about 4.2 million metric tons of coal per year, or about 480 metric tons per hour, to produce about 100,000-metric tons/year of BTX, for a yield of 6-8%. By comparison, completely replacing coal with plastic waste pushed the yield to 55% while eliminating the production of activated carbon and steeply lowering the capital cost.

“It costs you $550 million to build the (coal-based) plant,” notes Schwedel. “With plastics, you can build a 20-ton-per-hour facility at about half the cost and in three-quarters of the time but get the same [volume] of BTX. So that was it, we had to go in this direction.”

Encina negotiated an exit from its lease on the site in Wyoming, which had been chosen for its proximity to the coal deposits of the Powder River Basin. A new location along the Mississippi River was identified, the idea being to receive plastic waste by water and likewise to deliver BTX to the markets of Texas and Louisiana. However, the company broadened its search after hiring PLG Consulting. “You want to be as close to the feedstock as possible,” notes Schwedel. “Most of the (plastic waste) feedstock in the US tends to be in the northeast part of the country, so we’re looking strongly in that area now.”

The US Northeast already shows signs of becoming a petrochemical hub, owing to low-cost feedstock ethane supplies in the region. Shell is building a $6-billion ethylene project in Monaca, Pennsylvania; PTT Global is mulling a similar project in Ohio; and local business development groups are actively pursuing related investments. A plastics-to-BTX facility would neatly complement these projects by producing the aromatics that steam crackers consuming ethane cannot.

Securing a reliable, economical supply of suitable feedstock is one of the greatest hurdles to widespread plastics recycling. The volume of plastic waste produced is enormous, but it must be aggregated from a myriad of sources as small as the bins set out by individual households. This fragmentation compounds the fundamental problem of quality, which varies widely with respect to both resin type and purity, so that sorting and cleaning requirements become important contributors to cost. The result is that very little plastic is currently recycled, and most of that is polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or high-density polyethylene (HDPE), the more easily recycled plastics bearing codes 1 and 2.

“Plastics 1 and 2 get all the love, while plastics 3-7 go to the landfill,” Schwedel observes. “Fortunately for us, our process works best on plastics 3-7.” That’s because pyrolysis is a brute force technology that is relatively insensitive to feedstock quality. Whereas other chemical recycling technologies might dismantle a polymer, freeing the monomers, pyrolysis tears the polymer apart, producing a range of basic hydrocarbons. More of the energy consumed to produce the original polymer is lost, but this shortcoming is offset by the ability of pyrolysis to handle unsorted plastics, difficult-to-recycle plastics, and plastics contaminated with other materials.

“We have letters of intent in place with feedstock suppliers that get us today to 100% of what our current US plant expectations are, and we believe that we can double that within the next 6 to 8 months,” says Schwedel. The company recently hired a veteran of the plastics recycling industry, Mylinda Jacobsen, as its global director of purchasing. “Mylinda’s market expertise, industry connections, and the ability to develop strategic relationships are key to shaping the growth trajectory of Encina.”

Encina is not the only company planning to recycle plastics using pyrolysis, but Schwedel says its process is uniquely flexible, owing to the catalysts used. “In our case, not only can we make BTX, but we’re having conversations with companies now about polypropylene solutions, where it’s a full circular loop for them.” A “plug-and-play” capability allows Encina to convert about 20–30% of its end product to refinery-grade propylene he says.

“Our goal is to help solve [the] waste plastics problem,” Schwedel adds. “We will continue to evolve as we look at aggregating technologies that can beneficiate plastics into a multitude of other products downstream on a global basis.”

Benzene is the main feedstock for the production of sytrene monomer (SM), which, in its turn, is the feedstock for producing polystryrene (PS).

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, May total estimated consumption of PS and styrene plastics in Russia was 29,990 tonnes versus 41,780 tonnes a year earlier, down by 28% year on year. Russia's overall estimated consumption decreased in the first five months of 2020 by 10% year on year to 186,670 tonnes.

Huntsman expands distribution partnership with Azelis in the Americas

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Huntsman’s Advanced Materials business is proud to announce the expansion of our Pan-American business relationship with our preferred distribution partner, Azelis Americas CASE, LLC in the US and Azelis Canada, Inc. in Canada, said the company.

With this agreement, Azelis will lead the distribution arm of the Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants & Elastomers (CASE) business for Advanced Materials, both in the United States and Canada. This differentiated customer offer includes all of Huntsman’s legacy CASE business and CVC Thermoset Specialties product lines acquired in April of 2020.

“Huntsman and Azelis have enjoyed a successful business relationship for almost 40 years. One of their primary strengths is a commitment to unparalleled customer service throughout the sales process,” said Peter Huntsman Jr., Commercial Director, Americas for Huntsman’s Advanced Materials business. “This expanded agreement strengthens our reach to our target markets in the United States and Canada, and we believe that Azelis will continue to establish Huntsman as the leading provider of material solutions that creates mutual value for our customers and our stakeholders."

Azelis is a leading distributor of specialty chemicals and food ingredients present in over 50 countries across the globe, with approximately 2,200 employees. Their knowledgeable teams of industry, market and technical experts are each dedicated to a specific market within Life Sciences and Industrial Chemicals. They offer a lateral value chain of complementary products to about 40,000 customers, creating a turnover of USD2.37 billion (2019). In the United States they operate under several renowned co-brands that cater to the various markets in the region.

Huntsman expects to complete formal agreements with Azelis in the coming weeks. Azelis will be fully prepared to service their expanded territory by October 1, 2020.

As MRC reported previously, in April 2020, to further aid in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, LyondellBasell (LBI) donated a key ingredient to Huntsman Corporation to produce hand sanitizer for US first responders.

We remind that, in January 2020, Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited (IVL), a global chemical producer, completed its acquisition of Huntsman’s world-class integrated oxides and derivative businesses, including a large flagship site on the US Gulf Coast (USGC) at Port Neches, as well as Chocolate Bayou and Dayton in Texas, Ankleshwar in India, and Botany in Australia, as per IVL's press release.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, Russia's estimated PE consumption totalled 721,290 tonnes in the first four month of 2020, up by 4% year on year. Low density polyethylene (LDPE) and linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) shipments grew partially because of the increased capacity utilisation at ZapSibNeftekhim. At the same time, PP shipments to the Russian market totalled 347,440 tonnes in January-April 2020 (calculated by the formula production minus export plus import). Supply exclusively of PP random copolymer increased.


Sinopec SABIC Tianjin resumes production at its cracker in China

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Sinopec SABIC Tianjin Petrochemical Co. (SSTPC), a 50-50 joint venture of Sinopec and SABIC,has brought on-stream its naphtha cracker following a turnaround, as per Apic-online.

A Polymerupdate source in China informed that, the company resumed operations at the cracker July 12, 2020. The cracker was shut for maintenance on May 9, 2020.

Located at Tianjin, China, the cracker has an ethylene production capacity of 1 million mt/year and propylene capacity of 540,000 mt/year.

As MRC informed earlier, in October 2019, SSTPC began construction on an ethylene expansion project in Tianjin Province, China. The project will boost the company's ethylene capacity to 1.3-million t/y from 1-million t/y currently. Cost and a schedule for the project were not given.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports. At the same time, PP imports into Russia rose in the first six months of 2020 by 21% year on year to 105,300 tonnes. Propylene homopolymer (homopolymer PP) accounted for the main increase in imports.

China Petrochemical Corporation (Sinopec Group) is a super-large petroleum and petrochemical enterprise group established in July 1998 on the basis of the former China Petrochemical Corporation. Sinopec Group"s key business activities include the exploration and production of oil and natural gas, petrochemicals and other chemical products, oil refining.

Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (Sabic) ranks among the world"s top petrochemical companies. The company is among the world"s market leaders in the production of polyethylene, polypropylene and other advanced thermoplastics, glycols, methanol and fertilizers.

Texas braces for heavy rains, gales this weekend due to USGC storm activity

MOSCOW (MRC) -- As Texas prepares for heavy rains and possible gale force winds this weekend brought on by Tropical Depression 8 currently in the central Gulf of Mexico, the US Coast Guard has begun to restrict port activities, reported S&P Global.

The National Hurricane Center on June 23 issued a tropical storm watch from Port Mansfield, Texas, just above the Mexico border, to High Island, just north of Galveston, but noted that tropical storm warnings could be issued later today as the storm progresses westward towards land.

The NHC said that slow strengthening of the depression is expected and has the possibility to become a tropical storm to be named Hanna - in the next 12 to 24 hours.

"On the forecast track, the center of the depression is expected to move across the northwestern Gulf of Mexico today and Friday and make landfall along the Texas coast on Saturday," according to the NHC advisory 3, the latest issued on June 23.

As a precautionary measure, the US Coast Guard has issued Port Condition Whisky for the ports of Corpus Christi, as well as for the Houston-Galveston and the Freeport region. The ports remain open to both commercial and recreational activity but are on alert that gale force winds up to 39 mph are predicted to arrive in 72 hours.

The NHC said the storm is expected to bring between 3 and 5 inches of rain, with some portions of Texas and Louisiana receiving as much as 8 inches, which could result in flash flooding in some regions.

Flooding is expected to be the main concern of Tropical Depression 8, which could impact some refineries in Texas, home to about 30% of total US refining capacity, and refiners are keeping an eye on the storm.

Refiners like Phillips 66, which has Texas coastal refineries, are keeping a close eye on the weather.

"Phillips 66 closely monitors tropical storms, hurricanes and other weather events that could threaten our operations," a company spokesperson said July 23.

Tropical Storm Gonzalo is expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico early Monday, the NHC said, but impacts on the Windward Islands in the eastern Caribbean are expected on Saturday.

Hurricane watches could be expanded across all the Windward Islands but there is "significant uncertainty" in how strong Gonzalo will be when it moves across the islands and into the US Gulf of Mexico.

Gonzalo appears to have lost strength and is unlikely to make it into US Gulf Coast oil producing regions or near enough to the coast to impact US refineries.

"Looking at its current path of the storm, it does not look to be hitting major refineries," said Lennie Rodriguez, analyst with S&P Global Analytics, adding that impact on Venezuelan refining operations would be "minimal" because most Venezuelan refining capacity is offline.

As MRC informed earlier, US-based Phillips 66 remains open to developing another ethane cracker for its Chevron Phillips Chemical (CP Chem) joint venture, the refiner's CEO said in March 2018.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports. At the same time, PP imports into Russia rose in the first six months of 2020 by 21% year on year to 105,300 tonnes. Propylene homopolymer (homopolymer PP) accounted for the main increase in imports.

Dow restarts Texas, Argentina plants shut due to pandemic

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Dow Chemical restarted three polyethylene (PE) plants it shut in April on improving demand after widespread economic shocks in April and May, reported S&P Global with reference to a company spokeswoman's confirmation July 23.

"Based on current demand, the polyethylene production units have restarted," spokeswoman Ashley Mendoza said in an email.

The company confirmed in late April it had shut PE units in Freeport and Seadrift, Texas, and another in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, as well as two elastomers units in Plaquemine, Louisiana, in response to lower demand amid the global spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The shutdowns represented about 10% of the company's global capacity for packaging and specialty plastics.

The elastomers units, which produce more durable materials for which demand remains sluggish, have yet to restart.

"Dow continues to monitor the demand in automotive and other durable sectors and as conditions improve in those markets, is bringing those units online where needed," Mendoza said.

Dow CEO Jim Fitterling said during the company's second-quarter 2020 earnings call on July 23 that the unit shutdowns, as well as reduced operating rates across systems, sought to keep inventories in check when pandemic fallout siphoned demand.

He said Dow expects to see a gradual improvement in sectors that use durable plastics such as the automotive, construction and electronics segments as well as continued consumer-driven demand for non-durable items like food packaging, health and hygiene uses.

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports.

The Dow Chemical Company is an American multinational chemical corporation headquartered in Midland, Michigan, United States. Dow is a large producer of plastics, including polystyrene (PS), polyurethane, polyethylene, polypropylene, and synthetic rubber.