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Honeywell to supply isobutylene technology in China

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DES PLAINES, Ill.—Honeywell's UOP L.L.C. business will supply its technology to produce ingredients for fuels and synthetic rubber in China.

China's Panjin Heyun New Material Co. will use Honeywell's UOP C4 Oleflex process to produce isobutylene, a key ingredient for fuels and synthetic rubber. This is the company's third C4 Oleflex license in China this year.

China is the largest user of rubber, the company said. According to a 2012 Research and Markets report, China accounts for 33 percent of the world's rubber consumption.

"There's been a great deal of activity in China," said Mike Cleveland, business director for petrochemicals and detergents at UOP.

"There is a tremendous growth going on within the C3 stream, the propylene side. It's been primarily the entrepreneurs in China who have been building these units."

UOP's C3 Oleflex technology converts propane to propylene. Cleveland said that demand is spilling over into the C4 market, which is UOP's isobutylene technology. Like the C3, the C4 Oleflex technology converts isobutene into isobutylene using catalytic dehydrogen-ation.

The catalyst system is based on a noble metal, which Cleveland said is non-toxic and fully recoverable. There is no waste at the end of the process to recover the platinum from the catalyst. The platinum gets recovered and reused on another catalyst.

Since 2011, UOP has announced 11 C3 Oleflex units in China, Abu Dhabi and North America in addition to China's first combined C3/C4 Oleflex unit, which the company said is expected to start up in 2014.

The driver for both the C3 and C4 units Cleveland attributes to the emergence of entrepreneurs who want to take advantage of the market conditions in China.

"They have the demand," Cleveland said. "Where the U.S. or the Middle East has the feed, China has the channel to market on the customer side. They're looking to produce MTBE to sell for gasoline and take advantage of the low-cost methanol that exists in China."

A typical design project takes about a third of the year to complete, he said.

UOP also provides catalysts, absorbents and equipment that are used to make the technology work. The company then sends a team of engineers in to get the plant running.

Panjin Heyun is building a new facility for the technology. Cleveland said the cost of its Oleflex units range from $300 million up to $1 billion.

"We give them a design with a rough cost and they get a detailed contractor to come in and tell them what the cost is," Cleveland said. "I can say within the existing numbers the return on investment is well into the double digits."

Cleveland said Panjin Heyun is targeting 2014 for a startup, which is an aggressive goal. Typically it takes 26 months from the day the contract is signed until the unit is started up, though Cleveland said things work much faster in China.