A major project to upgrade SABIC’s Olefins 6 plant at Wilton, near Redcar, is up and running, following the largest single investment in the Teesside chemical industry for a generation.
After several years of uncertainty, the multi-million pound project has safeguarded thousands of local jobs and secured the chemical company’s future on Teesside.
The 37-year-old plant – commonly known as the Cracker – has undergone complex modifications to allow it to process ethane gas imported from the USA as an alternative, competitive raw material to liquid feedstocks.
The plant will also continue to process propane, butane, naphtha and condensates as feedstocks, making it the most feed flexible cracker in Europe.
The Cracker is fed raw material gases and liquids and ‘cracks’ apart their components at temperatures of around 1,000 degrees Centigrade before cooling them to below -180C to produce ethylene, propylene and butadiene.
These are the building blocks that allow the chemical and plastics industries to create a wide range of everyday items, from food packaging to car interiors, detergents and shampoo.
The ambitious project, which took two years to complete, involved more than 800 extra contractors working across SABIC’s Wilton and North Tees sites to strict health and safety guidelines, whilst working on a ‘live’ site.
Along with the conversion of the Cracker and its 17 furnaces, the project also involved the building of an extensive ethane terminal at SABIC’s North Tees site, including the construction of Europe’s largest cryogenic ethane tank.
A pipeline was installed to carry the ethane from the new North Tees storage tank through a series of pipe trenches under the River Tees to connect to the Cracker complex at Wilton.
Two ships have been commissioned, designed and built to transport the ethane from the US to Teesside, while the automation platform and software was upgraded to ensure the operation worked seamlessly from the control rooms.
The upgrade secures a sustainable, competitive Teesside future for SABIC, one of the world’s leading petrochemicals firms.
SABIC’s Teesside site director John Bruijnooge said: “This is fantastic news. The completion of the Teesside Gas Cracking Project is hugely significant on a number of fronts.
“On a local basis, it would be difficult to over-emphasise its importance because, quite simply, it is a lifeline for Teesside. It means SABIC is here for another generation.
“These are not easy times for our industry but it is a statement of SABIC’s commitment to Teesside, the UK and Europe. We’re here to stay.”
Along with around 1,000 staff and contractors employed on its Teesside sites, thousands more local jobs within the wider supply chain are reliant on SABIC, bringing some £400 million into the local economy through payroll, utilities, goods and services.
Mr Bruijnooge added:
“The upgrade will enable us to achieve a much improved performance, giving us a far stronger, more competitive position in the global market.
“Of course, our first aim is to become more profitable, but what is also crucial – and this will become even more important in the years ahead – is that it’s what I would call a defensive investment.
“We have to arm ourselves against an expected high volume import of ethylene derivatives from the United States that the industry knows is coming.
“We will be now be better equipped to defend ourselves against those imports compared to other European crackers whose feedstocks are solely based on naphtha.”
Named Company of the Year 2016 by the Chemical Industries Association in 2016 and Manufacturer of the Year 2017 at the NEPIC Annual Industry Awards, SABIC suffered no lost time injuries during the project’s two-year construction during which it achieved its best safety performance in the 10 years since first investing on Teesside.
SABIC received further recognition from external awarding bodies for its dedication to continuous improvement during 2016 including CIA Process Safety Leadership Award, Cogent Gold Standard, Top Employer of the Year, NEPIC Apprentice of the Year and Better Health at Work Award.
John Bruijnooge concluded:
“SABIC continues to invest in both plants and its people to ensure future decades of our operation are safe, reliable and innovating. SABIC continues to demonstrate its commitment to Teesside and the UK whilst working closely with our stakeholders and the community that we serve.”