Six major petrochemical companies have set up a consortium to jointly investigate how naphtha or gas steam crackers could be operated using renewable electricity instead of fossil fuels.
Chaired by the Netherlands-based Brightlands Chemelot Campus, the Cracker of the Future consortium includes BASF S.E., Borealis A.G., BP P.L.C., LyondellBasell Industries N.V., Sabic and Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA, Inc. The group aims to produce base chemicals while significantly reducing carbon emissions.
In an Aug. 26 statement, the consortium identified steam crackers as "the principal opportunity" for reducing the industry's greenhouse gas emissions, adding that one option under consideration is to electrically heat the cracking furnaces, instead of using fossil fuels.
Steam crackers produce base chemicals, including ethylene, propylene, butadiene and BTX, which are mainly transformed into plastics and rubbers.
"The key challenges in developing electricity-based cracker technology are ensuring that the chosen emissions reduction solution is technologically and economically feasible compared to the current process; that it fits into a future low-carbon value chain; and that it can be implemented in time to meet policy targets," the consortium statement read.
Once the challenges are met, the statement added, developing and implementing electricity-based cracker technology will help the sector maintain sustainable operations while reducing the carbon footprint of its products.
The consortium partners also have agreed to invest in research and development and knowledge-sharing as they assess the possibility of transitioning their base chemical production to renewable electricity.
The companies already have begun exploring and screening technical options for the cracker of the future.