The “Cracker of the Future” consortium has announced two new members, Spain’s Repsol and Italian chemical firm Versalis (Eni), thus accelerating the development of a game changing technology for the electrification of the steam cracking process. This enables a revolutionary decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.
Together with founding members1 Borealis (member of the OMV Group), BP, and TotalEnergies SE, the consortium covers ~1/3 of the European Union’s steam cracking capacity2 with units in Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.
There is a wide variety of possible electricity-based heating technologies, each offering its advantages, opportunities, disadvantages, and risks. The consortium has assessed many electricity-based heating technologies. It has selected a few for deeper dives to evaluate their development status and discuss potential cooperation with technology and equipment providers.
It adds that it is currently evaluating different technology opportunities and will soon announce options.
In the scenario aimed at, and with public innovation support, a demonstration can be undertaken in 2023, and commercial availability could be delivered as early as 2026. The availability of sufficient affordable renewable electricity (and infrastructure) is key for commercial deployment.
Steam crackers convert naphtha or natural gas liquids into basic building blocks (including ethylene, propylene, and aromatics), the start of many chemical value chains. However, the conversion requires a significant amount of energy and is conducted in furnaces at about 850 degrees Celsius, typically achieved by the combustion of fossil fuels. The building blocks are converted into a large variety of chemical products, delivering the functionality for our way of life ranging for instance from medical applications, to packaging to protect food, and polymers in wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and light-weighting of cars.
Electric cracking is a giant leap towards a climate-neutral Europe since European crackers are currently annually emitting ~30 Mton of CO2 (~20-25% of the European Chemical Industries’ overall greenhouse gas emissions3). The majority of these emissions originate from the crackers’ furnaces. In combination with other electrification measures, electric cracking with renewable energy can eliminate the cracker’s greenhouse gas emissions to a large extent.
Currently, European crackers predominantly operate on fossil-naphtha feedstock with some light feedstock such as LPG and ethane originating from refining of oil and from natural gas liquids. Electric crackers will also be able to convert bio naphtha and pyrolysis oil from waste plastics (chemical recycling) and thus enable key process routes for the circular economy.
Meeting Europe’s Green Deal and becoming climate-neutral and circular requires enormous and disruptive changes. Developing electric cracking is one of the key changes. More than ever, a public-private partnership will be essential to achieve the objectives.
Brightlands Chemelot Campus will continue to coordinate the consortiumand the olefin producing companies mentioned above deliver resources and their expertise in the consortium. Brightlands Chemelot Campus provides process and content-support.
1 Note that BASF, Sabic and LyondellBasell have chosen not to continue their participation in the consortium for strategic business reasons (see also Petrochemical companies form Cracker of the Future Consortium and sign R&D agreement | Brightlands).
2 Own assessment based on https://www.petrochemistry.eu/about-petrochemistry/petrochemicals-facts-and-figures/cracker-capacity/ including OMV cracker capacities.
3 Based on scope 1, including non-CO2 greenhouse gases.