Tobolsk, Siberia. Dense fog billows over the vast steppes of Western Siberia. Huge amounts of crude oil and natural gas are extracted from the depths of this region. Not far from the Russian city of Tobolsk, a petrochemical company, is taking a major stride into the future by constructing one of Russia’s largest ethylene plants – and Linde is playing a decisive role in the project. Known simply as Tobolsk2, this ambitious project spans an area equivalent to one hundred football pitches.
Mission of extremes
In practice, though, the plant’s size and complexity pose less of a challenge than the local climate and geography. In winter, temperatures here fall as low as minus 40 or even minus 50 degrees Celsius, while icy winds turn work into an extreme endurance test for people on the ground. These conditions also place exceptional demands on equipment and logistics. Frozen solid in winter, the active layer above the permafrost thaws in summer, turning the rock-hard ground into wetlands. Supplying the construction site with materials and resources is thus a major logistical feat, requiring meticulous planning to ensure that key components from around the globe always reach the site on time. The river routes to Tobolsk are the only feasible option for heavy plant components – but even they are only navigable in summer. While the waterways start thawing from the upper reaches in spring, in autumn they freeze from the estuary back towards the headwaters again. So in the worst-case scenario, a delay of just a few days could mean postponing a delivery to the next summer.
Linde is currently participating in one of the world’s largest ethylene plants for a Russian petrochemical group.
Partner for complex plants
When it came to selecting a reliable partner for this project, the management team of the petrochemical company knew from the outset that it needed a partner capable of stepping up to these extreme conditions. Linde made it straight to the company’s shortlist, thanks partly to the wealth of experience that Linde has gained from the successful delivery of around 4,000 plants worldwide. In addition, Linde had already won the company’s trust by constructing a polypropylene plant at Tobolsk. Ultimately, though, the key success factor in securing this follow-up contract was the company’s outstanding engineering know-how and comprehensive engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) experience in realising complex facilities. Time and again, major projects involving billion-euro investments have demonstrated Linde’s ability to exceed customer expectations with execution excellence and exceptional reliability. Pioneering reference projects such as Hammerfest (Norway), Ruwais (Abu Dhabi) and Pearl (Qatar) provide concrete proof of this, weighing in Linde’s favour when it comes to new orders.
In South Korea, columns and pressure vessels are being loaded for the construction of the ethylene plant in Tobolsk, Russia.
Materials on probation
Since 2012, Linde has been working on one of the world’s largest olefin processing plants in Tobolsk, designed to generate high-quality feedstock for polymer production. In total, around 100,000 tonnes of concrete and 60,000 tonnes of steel are going into Tobolsk2’ s construction, as well as almost 5,000 kilometres of cable. Even selecting and combining the materials is a challenge. Every individual plant component must be able to withstand the extreme local temperatures and permit start-up and shut-down at any time, while also contributing to cost efficiency. Linde is channelling the technology know-how that it has gained as one of the world’s leading plant engineers into this project, further cementing the company’s position at the forefront of the market. Work progressed well in 2015, with the project running on schedule. Construction work should be completed in 2020. When it goes on stream, the plant will produce ethylene at a rate of around 1.5 million tonnes per annum (tpa), as well as 500,000 tpa of propylene and 100,000 tpa of butadiene. The scale of Tobolsk2 already makes it a key project for the region as a whole. In the future, it will enable the Russian polymer industry to meet sharply rising demand for feedstock without relying on imports. This will enhance the value chain of the petrochemical company deep into the downstream industry sectors.