Shell Polymers' massive plastics and petrochemical facility near Pittsburgh is nearing completion.
"We're approximately 95 percent complete in terms of our above-ground construction," a company spokesman said in a recent email to Plastics News. "Right now, we believe we will be an operating asset this year."
The plant in Monaca, Pa., will have more than 3 billion pounds of annual polyethylene production capacity. Shell began construction at the 386-acre site in late 2017, but work had been delayed because of conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shell had completed placement of all the site's large vertical structures before the pandemic hit in early 2020.
"At this stage, we're connecting the various pieces of kit together via hundreds of miles of pipe and building out the electrical scope across a 386-acre manufacturing core," the spokesman said.
The site's construction team has handed several buildings — including a control center, administration building, central maintenance, fire and medical, and carpentry shop — over to Shell. Company personnel now are on-site working in those buildings.
At the height of construction, Shell had more than 8,500 workers at the site. With much of the work done, 4,000 workers remain there. Once complete, there will be approximately 600 permanent on-site workers and numerous local contractors employed.
Shell chose the location because of its access to the Marcellus and Utica shale-based natural gas deposits. Natural gas can be converted into ethane and then into ethylene and PE resin. The site will be the first U.S. PE plant built outside of the Gulf Coast in at least 40 years. Most of the resin made in Monaca is expected to be sold to customers in North America.
In late 2021, Shell commissioned the site's raw water treatment plant and safely brought on permanent supply lines of nitrogen and natural gas. The firm also started up the site's 250-megawatt natural gas and steam co-generation facility.
The site has exported power to a wholesale electricity grid operated by regional supplier PJM from each of the co-gen plant's three units. The co-gen plant is expected to provide all electricity needs for the facility and also to export approximately one-third of its power, or approximately 80 megawatts, to the grid on a typical operational day.
That exported power will be available for residential, commercial or industrial customers who purchase electricity through retail suppliers. The site is expected to export enough electricity to support approximately 52,000 homes in the region.
Prior to startup, Shell will test the flare system after ethane is on-site. The spokesman said a flare is an important environmental control and safety device, used in refineries and petrochemical processing plants. Flares "are utilized as a safe way to burn hydrocarbon gases, as [an] alternative to releasing the gases directly into the atmosphere," he added. "This protects our community and employees from exposure to flammable gases."
The Monaca site will house two labs — a quality assurance lab and an applications lab — where Shell will work directly with customers to develop new products. The complex also has an 85,000-square-foot customer innovation center with film extrusion and molding equipment.
The company said that the plant will have a major economic impact on the surrounding region, citing a recent report from Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh that determined 33,550 jobs were created during construction, adding $1.5 billion in income to workers and delivering a total value of $1.8 billion to the region.
During operations, according to the report, the 600 jobs on-site will help leverage 11,000 jobs in Pennsylvania. The 40-year wage impact from direct, indirect and induced jobs will be $22.4 billion and total value will be $81.7 billion, the report said.
Shell officials have said that the plant is located near 70 percent of North American PE demand. High and linear low density PE resins made at the site will be targeted at numerous injection molding, blow molding and extrusion markets, including packaging, industrial, agriculture and health care.
At Monaca, Shell has installed truck silos and can rapidly load and deploy resin to customers, offering same-day delivery. Officials previously said that the site will have real-time rail and transit timing, so customers will know where shipments are at all times and plant staff can make real-time adjustments.
Being close to customers also will allow Shell to reduce emissions through shorter transit and delivery times, they said, adding that proximity also helps customers who have low inventory levels and just-in-time manufacturing.
In North America, Shell will work with resin distributors Bamberger Polymers Corp., Genesis Polymers and Shaw Polymers LLC to market PE made at the site.
Shell Chemical and Shell Polymers are units of global energy firm Royal Dutch Shell. The business is based in The Hague, Netherlands, with U.S. headquarters in Houston.