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Petrochemical giants form consortium ‘Cracker of the Future’ and sign Agreement

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Research into electrical cracking

Six petrochemical giants in the trilateral regions of Flanders, North Rhine-Westphalia and the Netherlands - the so called ARRRA region - are jointly going to investigate how naphtha or gas steam crackers can be operated using renewable electricity instead of fossil fuels, with the aim of producing Base Chemicals with a significant reduction of CO2 emissions. BASF, Borealis, BP, LyondellBasell, SABIC and TOTAL, the so-called Cracker of the Future Consortium, reveal herewith their willingness to invest in research and knowledge sharing to build a common assessment of its potential.

The chemical industry, essentially founded on Base Chemicals (ethylene, propylene, butadiene and BTX produced in steam crackers) that are mostly transformed into plastics, has impacted positively our comfort, safety, health and more sustainable way of living thanks to their features like lightweight, easy transformable while offering the required mechanical strength and durability. Introducing plastics in vehicles has contributed to safety and comfort but above all to fuel economy thanks to weight reduction while the use of plastics minimizes spoiling of food, protects many goods during transport and safeguards consumers from many perils (weather, poisoning, electricity and other hazards etc.) on top of optimized housing insulation. Such tangible products will ever be needed and even more in emerging renewable energy related technologies where polymers are crucial for instance in wind mills, solar panels and batteries. The chemical industry has been at the dawn of these innovations but moreover will continue to embrace and deliver solutions for a more sustainable future as it has the ability to develop the necessary innovative technology.

Steam crackers account for an important share of the overall chemical industry’s greenhouse gas emissions. One of the options that might presumably contribute mostly to greenhouse gas emissions reduction of the current crackers is to use electrical heating rather than direct firing of fossil fuels in the crackers' furnaces, hence reducing the associated CO2 production.

Provided this electricity was produced from renewable sources, the crackers' emissions would be significantly reduced. The key challenges for developing generic, electricity-based cracker technology are to ensure that it will be techno-economically feasible compared to the current way of working, that it fits into a future low-carbon value chain, and that it will be implemented on time to meet the policy targets. When these challenges are met, developing and implementing generic, electricity-based cracker technology will help the sector preserving sustainable operation while reducing the carbon footprint of its derivatives.

For this purpose an Agreement is signed between the parties and an Explorative Project has started to screen the technical options. In case technical potential can be identified, the parties will elect on further Joint development project(s), including R&D activities aiming ultimately to demonstration activities in real cracker furnaces.

Trilateral Strategy

The collaboration is a direct result of the Trilateral Strategy drawn up by the North Rhine-Westphalian, Flemish and Dutch governments of Economic Affairs and the trade branches VCI, Essenscia and VNCI, to boost the sustainability of the chemical sector. At the end of 2017, this Trilateral Strategy to “become the world ́s engine for the transition towards a sustainable and competitive chemical industry cluster”, was offered to the European Commission ( Three tables have been set up to elaborate the strategy: Energy, Infrastructure and Innovation.  

The trilateral Innovation Table has three major key success factors: technical innovations to enable the energy- and feedstock transition, digital transformation to enhance competitiveness, and framework conditions to enhance innovation by cross border cooperation.

Chemical Cluster

The choice for the trilateral region of the Netherlands, North Rhine-Westphalia and Flanders, as a European starting point is obvious; the largest chemical cluster in the world is located here with an annual turnover of 180 billion euros and 350.000 jobs.

The six signatories of the Cracker of the Future Consortium, chaired by the Brightlands Chemelot Campus, aim to create innovative value propositions in developing sustainable technologies together in line with the Competition Law.

‘This is a unique collaboration", says Bert Kip, chair of the Trilateral Innovation Table and CEO at Brightlands Chemelot Campus, "It demonstrates the commitment of our industry to search collectively for technological solutions to minimise greenhouse gas emissions from our operations. We are proud to have made this first move together and look forward to the successes that lie ahead”.