Last year, BASF, Sabic and Linde announced that they had signed an agreement that would see the three companies collaborate on the development and demonstration of solutions for electrically heated steam cracker furnaces.
Today, just over a year later, the companies kicked off construction of what will be the world’s first demonstration plant for large-scale electrically heated steam cracker furnaces, marking a critical milestone in the ambition to decarbonise the steam cracking process.
“Our vision is to transform our business and to help address urgent global challenges through efficient carbon management. This project holds huge potential for all of the petrochemical industry around the world in our drive for low carbon emitting processes,” declared Yousef Al-Benyan, Vice-Chairman and CEO of Sabic.
Steam cracking is a specific cracking process used to convert hydrocarbons such as naphtha, liquified petroleum gasses and natural gas condensates into olefins. The process is a highly energy-intensive one that typically occurs in furnaces at temperatures of about 850 degrees Celsius.
By using electricity from renewable sources instead of natural gas, the new technology has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions of one of the most energy-intensive production processes in the chemical industry by at least 90% compared to technologies commonly used today.
BASF and Sabic are both investing in the project, which has also been granted €14.8 million by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action under its “Decarbonisation in Industry” funding programme. That programme provides support to energy-intensive industries in Germany in their efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. The funding is ‘a testament to the support of our approach also by policymakers’ said Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF.
The demonstration plant, which will be fully integrated into one of the existing steam crackers at BASF’s Verbund site in Ludwigshafen, Germany, will test two different heating concepts - direct and indirect heating - in parallel, processing around 4 tons of hydrocarbon per hour and consuming 6 megawatts of renewable energy. Direct heating applies an electric current directly to the process tubes inside the reactor; indirect heating uses radiative heat of heating elements placed around the tubes. It will be operated by BASF.
Linde is the engineering, procurement and construction partner for the project and will, in the future, commercialise the developed technologies.
“This project demonstrates how global companies can successfully collaborate by combining their expertise in technology development, engineering, procurement and construction execution and operation,” said Jürgen Nowicki, Executive Vice President Linde plc and CEO of Linde Engineering.
The start-up of the demonstration plant is targeted for 2023.