Linde Sustainable Olefin Technologies

Introducing the carbon management toolbox for petrochemical plants.

Linde Sustainable Olefin Technologies Zero Emissions
Carbon clock is ticking

The carbon clock is ticking – and we are rapidly running out of time. Over 1300 tons of the harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) are emitted into the earth’s atmosphere every second. How much time does the world actually have to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as recommended by experts and outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement? The answer becomes all too clear when you click on the Online Carbon Clock hosted by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change. The bottom line is that global emissions must be reduced – dramatically and as quickly as possible in order to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.

This places the spotlight on carbon-intensive industries. The target of zero emissions can only be achieved with the help of dedicated solutions and concepts for big emitters such as olefin-producing petrochemical plants. Linde has developed a carbon management toolbox specifically for sustainable olefins, charting a clear roadmap to net zero. When they set out to develop this concept, Linde’s engineers quickly realized that a holistic approach spanning the company’s entire technology portfolio and long-term experience across multiple industries and process plants was key to the success of the toolbox.

CO2 Crash Diet for Industry

Linde’s toolbox directly addresses the urgent need for workable industrial CO2 emission reduction solutions that can be rapidly deployed. “The carbon abatement trend is being driven by many aspects including upcoming regulations, investor requirements, corporate policies and socio-political concerns. Economic factors are important considerations of course, but so too is the desire for greater sustainability and innovative solutions to maximize circularity. As an industrial plant engineering and gas processing specialist, we have the technologies to offer a wide portfolio of solutions,” explains Torben Höfel, Linde Product Manager for Sustainable Olefin Technologies. He singles out Europe as one key region of interest. Ambitious targets have been set as part of the EU’s Green Deal, including a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 55 percent compared to the 1990 baseline by 2030.

Sustainable Petrochemical Industry

Gunther Kracker, Director Product Management & Cost Estimation Petrochemical Plants, and his colleague Torben Höfel have an ambitious target in mind: Zero-emission petrochemical plants. The petrochemical industry accounts for approx. 5%1 of global CO2 emissions. After all, an industry known for its massive carbon footprint also has the potential to achieve huge savings in this area. This applies in particular to the steam cracker – a key unit in petrochemical plants and the cornerstone of the global chemicals manufacturing network. Steam crackers require huge amounts of energy to split hydrocarbons into high value chemicals such as olefins and aromatics; in turn converted into plastics and specialty chemicals. This reaction takes place in special furnaces at temperatures of approximately 850 degrees Celsius.


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“The cracking step forms a focal point around which we are arranging our other proprietary technologies and expertise,” according to Kracker. “Linde has a huge amount to offer in this space. We have brought different teams from all around our company together, creating a concept for sustainable olefin production. This concept bundles Linde’s broad portfolio into a single holistic solution. This will allow petrochemical companies to vastly improve the sustainability of their operations.” The result is the carbon management toolbox for sustainable olefins. It provides a “holistic roadmap for designing steam cracker that are ready for net zero CO2 emissions based on a well-developed technology and service toolbox,” illustrates Höfel. “So we combine best-in-class energy efficiency concepts, maximum circularity and the best technology building blocks for the customer’s CO2 reduction targets.”

World’s first demonstration plant

Demo Plant for Electrical Steam Cracker

Electrification of the steam cracker (e-furnace) is just one example of a key innovation on the sustainability pathway. Linde is already working on a demo plant in cooperation with the chemical majors BASF and SABIC. This demo plant is to be integrated into one of the existing steam crackers at the BASF complex in Ludwigshafen, and it will test two different heating concepts. Commissioning is scheduled for 2023 and Linde takes the engineering, procurement and construction steps of this project. “Electrification of the hugely energy-intense steam cracker, making use of renewable energy, is a major milestone where Linde contributes with it's expertise in technology, engineering, procurement and construction execution”, comments Rainer Kemper, Executive Director Conceptual Design Petrochemical Plants, coordinating on Linde side all efforts for development and commercialization of this new technology. Moving forward, Linde will market the technologies developed within the framework of this project.

Work got underway

Work got underway at the BASF complex in Ludwigshafen, Germany, at the start of September 2022. The reason for the huge interest in the project is the prospect of electrical steam crackers using renewable sources of energy instead of fossil fuel. This could massively reduce total CO2 emissions from one of the most energy-intensive production processes in the chemicals industry – by more than 95 percent. “Avoiding these CO2 emissions is a very attractive prospect for petrochemical companies – both from a sustainability and an economic perspective,” maintains Linde expert Kemper.

Roadmap to Zero-Emission Petrochemicals

The electrification of processes using low-carbon energy sources as well as various other CO2 emission reduction methods will play an increasingly important role in chemicals production. “Energy and CO2 emissions are becoming more costly all the time, and the 40 olefin plants currently operated in Europe are expected to come under financial and also general public pressure. And now of course we also have the energy crisis to contend with”, emphasize Höfel and Kracker. A strong business case therefore already exists for many of Linde’s toolbox elements. The two Linde experts are convinced that other markets such as the US, the Middle East and even China will come on board with the same insistence in the foreseeable future. Altogether, there are over 175 large-capacity plants around the world that will require CO2 emission reduction solutions depending on the future development of regional carbon abatement initiatives.

Alongside the e-furnace demo plant, which is designed as proof of concept for renewable energy as the heat source enabling continuous olefin production, other technologies also have a role to play in reducing the carbon emissions from petrochemical plants. As Höfel explains: “We have developed a step-by-step roadmap to achieve the net-zero CO2 emissions target. The first step entails maximizing plant efficiency. After that, we apply advanced and proven technologies to further avoid or reduce carbon emissions.” Linde has time-proven engineering execution competence, coupled with an outstanding technology portfolio, strong research and development capabilities as well as experience across a wide range of industries and process plants, including petrochemical, hydrogen, CO2 processing, air separation and adsorption plants. Now, this broad portfolio and proven expertise are providing an all-important advantage in the move to improve carbon management in petrochemical plants.

“The great advantage of our toolbox is that we have all of these technologies in house,” explains Kracker. “Through Linde Gas, we can even offer our customers a "BOO" service, where we build, own and operate selected technology elements, which can also be implemented gradually.” Linde is the only company in the world capable of building, owning and operating hydrogen and synthesis gas plants featuring proprietary technologies and supporting the hydrogen-based decarbonization route. Furthermore, several decarbonization routes benefit from the excellent technology portfolio Linde offers in the field of air separation as well as CO2 capture and processing, optionally supplied also as BOO.

One Toolbox, Many Tailored Solutions

The carbon management of petrochemical plants bundles Linde’s rich technology portfolio to create a unique all-inclusive package spanning the company’s broad experience across multiple industries and process plants. Technology is one thing and the portfolio is further leveraged by Linde's excellent engineering, procurement and construction competence in greenfield and revamp environments, ensuring flawless and cost efficient implementation at pace and properly controlling any risks. “Our customers benefit from Linde’s synergized competencies and experience,” points out Höfel. Kracker adds: “We are aware that every site, every project and every business plan is unique. That is why it was so important for us to develop a comprehensive toolbox for our petrochemical customers. It enables us to offer them carefully crafted low-emission olefin solutions tailored to individual and widely differing boundary conditions,” explains Kracker. The concept therefore enables the electrification of plant components while also providing the option of producing and supplying blue or green hydrogen. And there are many other possibilities. Reaching even further, concepts to maximize circularity play a key role. “Petrochemical companies around the world are, for example, examining ways to recycle plastic waste,” says Höfel. “Even methane, which is a by-product of the steam cracking process, will be utilized as a decarbonized energy carrier in future, where the carbon molecules will be captured or used to produce high-value products. These developments will keep us more than busy moving forward,” confirms the Linde expert.

“This concept for sustainable olefin production will allow petrochemical companies to vastly improve the sustainability of their operations.”

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