Dow and Shell are teaming up to collaborate on low-carbon technology for a sustainable future, the companies have announced.
The two have entered into a joint development agreement to accelerate technology to electrify ethylene steam crackers.
Using electricity instead of fossil fuel combustion to heat their cracker furnaces, could yield a very significant reduction in carbon emissions from base chemicals production.
Steam crackers are currently the chemical industry’s largest source of CO2, annually producing an estimated 300 million tonnes of CO2 emissions. Yet steam cracking of hydrocarbons, for example, naphtha or other petrochemical feedstocks, remains a key process to produce light olefins such as ethylene, propylene, butadienes, benzene, toluene and xylenes. These are the building blocks used to manufacture plastics, rubber and other polymers and chemicals.
As the energy grid becomes increasingly renewables led, using renewable electricity to heat steam cracker furnaces could become one of the routes to decarbonize the chemicals industry.
The challenge is to develop a technologically and economically viable solution compared to the existing process.
The collaboration between the two companies is already underway. Innovation project teams, in Amsterdam and Terneuzen, the Netherlands and Texas, USA, are focused on designing and scaling ‘e-cracker’ technologies – first at laboratory and pilot scale, after which commercial crackers will follow.
“Continuously improving the sustainability of our operations is an inherent part of how we operate at Dow,” said Keith Cleason, Vice President Dow Olefins, Aromatics and Alternatives business.
“This new work with Dow has the potential to contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions from the manufacture of chemicals and to Shell’s ambition of becoming a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050 or sooner,” added Thomas Casparie, Executive Vice President of Shell’s global chemicals business.
The two companies are by no means the first to explore the potential of electrical cracking technology. In 2019, six petrochemical companies in Flanders, North Rhine-Westphalia and the Netherlands came together in the Cracker of the Future consortium, with the aim of jointly investigating how naphtha or gas steam crackers could be operated using renewable electricity instead of fossil fuels.
The companies - BASF, Borealis, BP, LyondellBasell, SABIC and Total - have agreed to invest in R&D and knowledge sharing and are currently exploring and screening technical options. If a potential technical solution is identified, the parties will determine whether to pursue joint development project(s), including R&D activities that could include a demonstrator for proof of concept in the case of base chemicals.