Editor’s Comment: Crude-oil-to-chemicals projects

Crude-oil-to-chemicals projects will redefine the business dynamics of the Middle East downstream industry in the near future.

Martin Menachery, editor of Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.
Martin Menachery, editor of Refining & Petrochemicals Middle East.

In several regions, recently, the demand for chemicals is increasing at a much higher rate than the demand for transportation fuels. State-of-the-art complex refineries can be configured, as a result of the progress in catalytic technology, to make chemical feedstocks instead of fuels directly from crude oil. In the global petrochemical industry, development and application of disruptive technologies have been going on seriously in recent past.

For example, in January 2018, Saudi Aramco has signed a three-party joint development agreement (JDA) with CB&I and Chevron Lummus Global (CLG) to scale up and commercialise Aramco’s thermal-crude-to-chemicals (TC2C) technology, which has been pioneered at Aramco’s R&D centre over the past few years in order to enable higher chemical yield than previously achievable. By deploying a proprietary direct conversion process, this technology bypasses the conventional refining steps.

According to the JDA, CLG’s hydroprocessing technologies and CB&I’s ethylene cracker technology will be combined with Aramco’s TC2C technology. This is an innovative integration of advanced technologies for the direct production of high-value petrochemicals directly from crude oil. The combined technology will convert 70% to 80% of crude intake into chemicals.

In November 2017, Aramco and SABIC have signed an MoU to develop a $20bn crude-oil-to-chemicals (COTC) facility to process 400,000bpd of crude oil, which will produce 9mtpa of chemicals and base oils, and 200,000bpd of diesel.

at the same time, private Chinese chemical producers, including Hengli and Rong Sheng, are back-integrating their chemical plants with refineries by building COTC facilities, which could yield up to two to three times more chemicals than a traditional integrated facility, whilst processing heavy crudes.

The objective of the COTC projects is to increase products derived from a barrel of oil from the conventional 15%-25% range to 40%-80% range of chemicals and non-fuel products. It is interesting to note here that all COTC projects announced are expected to produce a minimum of 40% of chemicals per barrel of oil. Definitely, these COTC projects will redefine the business dynamics of the downstream industry in the near future.

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