Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC has achieved what officials are calling an "engineering milestone" at its petrochemicals site under construction in the Pittsburgh area.
In an Oct. 10 news release, officials said the firm successfully installed a quench tower at the site. Installation of the tower began Oct. 7. Water circulating through the 285-foot-high tower will cool cracked gas, condense heavy hydrocarbons and remove coke and tar particles.
Officials added that the tower is energy-efficient because it transfers heat absorbed by the circulating water for use in other parts of the plant. The tower weighs more than 4 million pounds and spent nearly three and a half weeks being towed up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
After arriving in Pennsylvania, it was unloaded onto a dock and transported down a newly-created road — both specially-designed to handle the tower. It's the largest piece of equipment so far installed at the site since construction launched in November.
Since then, Shell also has built two of three planned reactors for the site's polyethylene resin units and has laid about 15 miles of underground pipe for the cooling, firewater and drainage systems.
"Eleven months into main construction, I'm delighted with the progress we're making in Pennsylvania," Graham van't Hoff, Shell global chemicals executive vice president, said in the release.
The petrochemicals complex will use ethane from shale gas produced in the Marcellus and Utica basins to make around 3.5 billion pounds of PE resin per year. The complex will include four processing units, an ethane cracker and three PE units. Two of those PE units will make high density PE, with the third making linear low density PE.
The project will be the first U.S. petrochemicals project built outside of the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana in several decades. Production is expected to begin in the early 2020s.
Officials added that the project is bringing economic growth and jobs to the region. The site currently employs 3,000 construction workers. That number is expected to increase to 6,000 by the end of 2019 through its construction phase.
Shell expects around 600 onsite jobs when the complex is completed. In addition to the reactors, facilities being built at the site include a 900-foot cooling tower, rail and truck loading facilities; a water treatment plant; an office building and a lab. Construction crews moved 7.2 million cubic yards of dirt to get the 386-acre site ready for physical construction.
Shell Chemical, a unit of global energy firm Royal Dutch Shell, launched its Shell Polymers brand in May. In an interview with Plastics News that same month at NPE2018, business integration lead Michael Marr said that Shell was "looking to develop customer needs and relationships."
"What we like about the project is its closeness to both feedstock supply and the customer base," he added. The location "will give us a competitive advantage vs. competitors." Officials previously said that 70 percent of North American PE resin buyers and makers of end use products are within a 700-mile radius of the Pittsburgh site.
Resin made at the Pittsburgh-area location mostly will be sold into the domestic market, Marr said. Although many other petrochemical firms are adding PE capacity in North America — mostly on the Gulf Coast — for the same reasons that Shell is, he added that "buyers always like to have new options."
Shell also operates three major petrochemical facilities in the U.S. at Deer Park, Texas; and Norco and Geismar in Louisiana; The firm exited the commodity plastics market more than a decade ago.
Shell Chemical is based in The Hague, the Netherlands, with U.S. headquarters in Houston.