Just a year ago, Dow Benelux announced that it had drawn a roadmap to reduce current CO2 emissions from its Terneuzen, the Netherlands, operations by more than 40 percent by 2030 on its path to achieve net CO2 neutrality by 2050. The company recently organised a press tour of the site during which information and insights were provided into the progress made on this carbon reduction flagship project.
Dow’s Terneuzen site is the second largest production location in the world. In fact, Dow, said Kepa Diaz di Mendibil, EMEAI Operations Vice President, is the third largest chemical company in the world, behind BASF and Sinopec.
“The Terneuzen site has 4m tonnes of emissions per year. Reducing this number is the most complex project ever implemented at the site,” he said. “These emissions are generated mainly by the three steam crackers at the site, and from our own power plant. The roadmap to CO2 neutrality is therefore structured into Generations 1, 2 and 3.”
According to the roadmap, the Terneuzen site will reduce some 1.4m tonnes of carbon emissions in Generation 1 - equivalent to the annual emissions of more than 300,000 cars.
The key will be to use clean hydrogen to fire the crackers instead of gas.
An ethylene cracker, said Kepa Diaz di Mendibil, is fed with naphtha, propane, butane or LPG, to produce produce ethylene, propylene, some benzene, some aromatics.
“But, in the cracking process, off-gas is generated as a by-product. In the traditional design of a cracker, this off-gas has energy content; it is therefore recycled and is used in the furnaces and the boilers to create the steam needed for the cracking process. That process occurs at temperatures of 800-1000 degrees C and yields ethylene, propylene, benzene, butadiene – and again, off-gas, which, when you fire it, generates CO2.”
The idea is therefore to remove the CO2 from the off-gas, which leaves behind clean hydrogen that can be fired in the boilers and furnaces without generating CO2. This obviously requires the development of technology and the modification of the furnaces and boilers. This is currently ongoing, both at Terneuzen and – in parallel - at the Dow site in Fort Saskatchewan: at both sites, the company is investing in autothermal reforming technology to convert the off-gas from the cracker into clean, circular hydrogen for fuel in the process, replacing the natural gas or other fossil fuels currently used.
The CO2 from the ATR will be captured and stored until alternative technologies are developed, and Dow will also look for ways to enable usage of the CO2 in its processes rather than storing it. As senior process automation specialist Kees Biesheuvel pointed out in his presentation: “We want to sell carbon as part of our building blocks for customers, so we want to turn it into product, eventually.”
He noted that while many of the NGOs with whom Dow is in discussion are not in favour of cabon capture and storage, they are also realistic.
“They know that we cannot go forward without CCS for the time being, but we have told them that while our plans temporarily utilise CCS, our interest is not to put carbon under the ground.”
The plans will require the construction of a clean hydrogen plant as well as additional investments in site infrastructure for CO2 liquefaction, air separation, hydrogen distribution and CO2 transport. The hydrogen plant is expected to start up in 2026. The project will create green jobs. Building the new hydrogen plant and the associated infrastructure is expected to create 3,500 to 4,000 engineering and construction jobs over a period of 3 years and 400 to 500 permanent jobs at Dow, in the region and across associated service providers.