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07-18-2017

“On-Purpose” Propylene Production Technologies to Gain Traction

A class of propylene production technologies designed to produce more “on-purpose” propylene has emerged as the market cornerstone and global price setter for the propylene market, according to new research from IHS Markit, a global provider of critical information, analytics and solutions.

Steam crackers and oil refineries, once the traditional sources of propylene as a derivative or co-product of crude oil processing, no longer yield the supply of propylene the market requires due to a shift in feedstocks from naphtha (derived from crude oil) to ethane (derived from natural gas), primarily in North America. To meet the forecasted increasing market demand for propylene, chemical producers have turned to chemical engineers and chemists to develop -- and relatively recently -- commercialize, so-called “on-purpose” propylene production technologies (technologies designed to produce propylene as the sole product versus propylene as an alternative or co-product).

The North American shift to ethane-based crackers, which produce very low yields of propylene, will continue to accelerate the shortfall in propylene volumes derived as a co-product from traditional sources for the next five years at least. According to the IHS Markit forecast, the need for on-purpose propylene production will continue to escalate. While the IHS Markit propylene process report acknowledges that ethane feedstocks are providing significant cost advantages for producers with U.S. plants, the cost advantages are not without trade-offs for the petrochemical and polymers industries as a whole. For example, the ability to maintain an adequate supply of propylene has been one of those tradeoffs.

According to Don Bari, vice president of IHS Markit, the research sought to examine the strengths and benefits of the six on-purpose propylene production technologies currently gaining traction in the commercial marketplace from a technical and regional economic perspective. The six principal propylene on-purpose technologies assessed by the IHS Markit report include propane dehydrogenation (PDH); coal-to-olefins/coal-to-propylene (CTO/CTP); methanol-to-olefins/methanol-to-propylene (MTO/MTP); gas-to-olefins (GTO); metathesis; and high-severity fluidized catalytic cracking (HS-FCC). Each of these processes uses a different feedstock and has advantages and challenges that differentiate them.

PDH units dominate the global market with about 40 % of the global on-purpose propylene capacity today, and stakeholders for those facilities expect they will remain competitive due to attractive propane feedstock cost and abundant supply in/from the U.S. According to IHS Markit, PDH is still a relatively young technology and has been plagued with operations stability issues, due to the complexity of the reactor-control systems. Moreover, new licensors are continuing to introduce “improved” PDH processes.

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