2020 has been an active year for Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (Sabic), as the materials firm reacts to the COVID-19 pandemic while advancing in sustainability.
Polycarbonate and other materials made by Sabic are being used in face shields and other health care applications, Americas Vice President Greg Adams said in a Sept. 21 interview with Plastics News.
"We're seeing a lot of demand from medical and from the computer industry, as well as from companies that have moved their office staff to working from home," he added. "In the last year, COVID-19 has made us all think about how we design interior spaces and how we use products like sheet for dividers."
Sabic, based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with U.S. headquarters in Houston, has donated $1.5 million to pandemic-related relief efforts. During the pandemic, Sabic also has seen growth in packaging and electronics, Adams said. Automotive demand has been down, but Adams said that market "is on its way back."
"Several years ago, we started to look into ways of attaining sustainability targets," Atieh Abu Raqabah, global R&D general manager, said Sept. 21. "We started to think of how make value from plastic waste."
Sabic has designed a demonstration unit to turn mixed plastics into monomers through pyrolysis. That product can be fed back into chemical crackers and used again in production, Abu Raqabah said.
The demonstration unit will be able to process 110 million pounds of material per year. It will open in Europe at a date yet to be determined.
Sabic's pandemic and sustainability efforts are playing out amid a recent ownership change. In early 2019, state-owned energy firm Saudi Aramco paid almost $70 billion to acquire a 70 percent stake in Sabic from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia, another state-owned entity.
The ownership change is a downstream investment for Saudi Aramco, one of the world's largest oil firms. Also in 2019, Aramco bought a 20 percent stake in Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. for $15 billion. In 2019, Aramco's Motiva Enterprises unit bought a unit in Port Arthur, Texas, making plastics feedstocks ethylene, propylene and cyclohexane.
In the last few years, Sabic also has moved its regional headquarters and many jobs from Pittsfield, Mass.—where Sabic acquisition GE Plastics had operated for many years—to Houston. Many jobs were moved from Sabic operations in North Carolina to Houston as well. As a result, Sabic's work force in Houston has grown in recent years from 100 to its current total of 400-500.
The petrochemicals plant that Sabic is building in Corpus Christi, Texas, through its Gulf Coast Growth Ventures joint venture with ExxonMobil Chemical Co. is on pace to start production in early 2022, Adams said. That complex will include a major steam cracker, as well as two polyethylene resin units and production of PET feedstock monoethylene glycol.