Saudi Arabia - Chemical majors BASF, Sabic and Linde have started construction of the world’s first demonstration plant for large-scale electrically heated steam cracker furnaces that cut emissions drastically.

By using electricity from renewable sources instead of natural gas, the new technology has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions of one of the most energy-intensive production processes in the chemical industry by 90% compared to technologies commonly used today.

The demonstration plant will be fully integrated into one of the existing steam crackers at BASF’s Verbund site in Ludwigshafen, Germany. It will test two different heating concepts, processing around 4 tonnes of hydrocarbon per hour and consuming 6 megawatts of renewable electricity/power. The start-up of the demonstration plant is targeted for 2023.

New technology

With the new technology BASF, Sabic and Linde aim to develop full-scale commercial production plants that can achieve significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, compared with today’s technology.

The investment costs for the pilot will be borne by BASF and Sabic and the demonstration plant will be operated by BASF. Linde is the engineering, procurement and construction partner for the project and in the future will commercialise the developed technologies.

The project has been granted €14.8 million ($14.63 million) by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action under its “Decarbonisation in Industry” funding programme, to help address challenges due to current framework conditions and energy costs.

Steam cracker electrification

“BASF has the entrepreneurial drive to achieve the energy transition, and electrification of the steam cracker is very significant for us,” said Dr Martin Brudermüller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE. “We are therefore pleased that BASF has been granted project funding by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, which shows us that our approach is also supported by policymakers.”

Yousef Al-Benyan, Vice-Chairman and CEO of Sabic said: “Our vision is to transform our business and to help address urgent global challenges through efficient carbon management. 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 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.”

Profits of collaboration

“This project demonstrates how global companies can successfully collaborate by combining their expertise in technology development, EPC execution and operation. The timely delivery of the demonstration plant will be a fundamental milestone on the path to making sustainable solutions available to the petrochemical industry. We are proud to be part of this breakthrough project,” said Jürgen Nowicki, Executive Vice President Linde plc and CEO of Linde.

The demonstration plant aims to show continuous olefin production using electricity as a heat source. The plant is designed such that two heating concepts can be tested in parallel: Direct heating applies an electric current directly to the process tubes inside the reactor; indirect heating uses radiative heat of heating elements placed around the tubes. Testing these two concepts will make it possible to react flexibly to different customer and site requirements.

Steam crackers play a central role in the production of basic chemicals and require a significant amount of energy to break down hydrocarbons into olefins and aromatics. Typically, the reaction is conducted in furnaces at temperatures of about 850 degrees Celsius. Today these temperatures are reached by burning fossil fuels. The project aims to reduce the CO2 emissions by powering the process with electricity.

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