Author: Marketscale/Friday, September 23, 2016/Categories: IPP News
We have all noticed the considerable decrease in gasoline prices over the last few years. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the national average price of gasoline has fallen from $3.65 per gallon in 2012 to $2.45 in 2015. Drivers have certainly appreciated paying less at the pump, but for those in tune with the workings of the oil and gas industry, the change in commodity price has brought about a drastic change in the business. The upstream exploration business has seen a precipitous drop in activity resulting in extensive business cutbacks and layoffs, while the downstream refining and petrochemical plant are looking strong with increased margins. One such example of the petrochemical boom is the recent move by LyondellBasell to construct a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plant on the site of its manufacturing facility in La Porte, Texas.
HDPE is all around us. From bottle caps to fuel tanks to tables and chairs, HDPE is very much a part of our everyday lives. What makes this material so special? Its properties of a high strength to weight ratio and resistance to many solvents along with its affordability make it a viable material candidate for numerous products. It’s used in more than just consumer products as well. Piping systems, telecommunication ductwork, and artificial lumber are just a few examples of its industrial uses.
Since its invention in 1953 by Karl Ziegler and Erhard Holzkamp, the process of making HDPE has improved drastically and techniques to produce this material more efficiently and with enhanced material properties are still being developed. The general process first starts with the isolation of ethylene gas. Ethylene can be produced by cracking larger hydrocarbon chains with extreme heat and rapidly cooling. An iterative process of compression and distillation is used to separate the ethylene from the other hydrocarbons. Ethylene is then converted to HDPE via heat, pressure, and the presence of catalysts. LyondellBasell will incorporate its proprietary Hyperzone PE technology into the HDPE manufacturing process. According to LyondellBasell, “the Hyperzone PE technology is a cascade gas phase process based on LyondellBasell’s unique Multizone circulating reactor technology” and is advertised to provide “improved stress crack resistance and enhanced balance between stiffness and impact strength.”
The construction of a HDPE plant is no small undertaking. LyondellBasell will start work on the plant in early 2017 with plans to be up and running in 2019. The plant is expected to produce 1.1 billion pounds of HDPE per year and create up to 1,000 construction jobs as well 75 permanent positions once in operations.
In a sector where commodity prices are constantly in flux, it is exciting to see the petrochemical industry continue to grow and innovate. LyondellBasell’s sizeable investment in the construction of an HDPE plant at its 540-acre complex along the Houston Ship Channel and the incorporation of its first commercial use of the Hyperzone PE technology is one of the latest demonstrations of this.
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