Since Ineos Group already supports some of its existing European ethylene capacity with US-sourced ethane, is its proposed Project ONE ethane cracker plant in Antwerp, Belgium, a risky venture in an already well-supplied market? This is according to a briefing note by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA). If approved, the project would appear to be at odds with the European Union’s aggressive long-term goals to decrease fossil fuels in plastics production and to curb single-use plastics, says the US-based institute that examines issues related to energy markets, trends and policies.
IEEFA’s briefing note questions the viability of the project, and whether the Ineos Project ONE plant is needed. The briefing note identified a series of weak financial conditions facing the project. The project faces weak profit margins, decreased demand from increased recycling and a strengthening of existing plants as companies invest in upgrades.
“There is a very high likelihood that domestic demand will weaken in Europe as we enter a post-pandemic market,” said Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA’s director of financial analysis and the briefing note’s lead author. “Before the pandemic, producers faced a future of low margins and low capacity, and these trends are likely to re-emerge after it. The global plastics economy will return to a state of oversupply, and that is counterproductive for a new facility like Project ONE.”
Project ONE would curtail CO2 emissions by using wind as an electricity source. The production process would use blue and green hydrogen to further reduce emissions. Planning documents also identify an “open access” carbon capture and sequestration project as a future resource.
“The project assumes the continued availability of inexpensive fracked ethane from the United States,” said Sanzillo.
From a policy perspective, IEEFA’s briefing note suggests that measures enacted by the EU to curb plastics use—especially single-use plastics—and to promote recycling undermine the need for the facility.
“The EU has passed policies to aggressively decrease the use of plastic goods,” said Suzanne Mattei, an IEEFA energy policy analyst and co-author of the briefing note. “The measures are structured to lower demand over time, and they strike at the very heart of products that are not designed for re-use or cost-effective recycling.”
The cumulative impact of low GDP growth, strong competition from oversupplied international markets, weak European margins, increased recycling and implementation of circular economy mandates leaves more questions than answers to justify the need for Project ONE.