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Aither Chemicals mulls plans for cracker and PE plant in Marcellus Shale region

By: Frank Esposito

April 18, 2013

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.VA. — Aither Chemicals LLC has its eye on building a natural gas-based cracker unit that would make polyethylene and related products at a location in Ohio, Pennsylvania or West Virginia.

Access to newly discovered natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region is a key to the project for South Charleston, W. Va.-based Aither.

"The purpose is to locate a cracker at the source of the raw material," spokesman Jason Keeling said in an April 18 phone interview. "We're still in the process of identifying various partners and looking at potential sites."

In mid-2012, Aither held an "open season" in which potential customers and products for the proposed plant were identified. Global materials maker Bayer MaterialScience LLC worked with Aither on that process, which resulted in PE, ethylene, ethylene oxide, ethylene glycol and acetic acid being identified as the products that would be the focus of Aither's commercial production.

At the time, Aither officials said the firm received positive response from potential purchasers of those products, as well as from technology licensors, engineering procurement and construction companies, potential licensees and companies considering relocation to the Marcellus region.

No timetable for a decision is in place, Keeling said, but the firm previously said plant construction would cost $750 million over a period of two to three years. The plant would generate annual sales of about $450 million, depending on product mix and location.

On the jobs front, the proposed Aither plant would create 200 permanent jobs and 2,000 temporary construction jobs. Indirect job creation from the project could result in as many as 1,400 more permanent jobs, officials said.

Aither's proprietary production process would allow for lower energy inputs and lower carbon dioxide output, as well as lower capital and operating costs and a shorter time to commercial operations, officials said.

Aither was launched in 2010 by the Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC), an R&D firm based in South Charleston. Other investors in the company include INNOVA Commercialization Group, the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust and TechConnect West Virginia.

Aither is one of three firms that have proposed new petrochemical plants in the Marcellus region as a result of the natural gas boom. Shell Chemical has proposed a massive project in Monaca, Pa., near Pittsburgh. Appalachian Resins is planning a smaller-scale PE and ethylene unit at an undisclosed site in West Virginia.