Shell and Dow have started up an experimental unit to heat ethylene steam cracker furnaces electrically at the Energy Transition Campus Amsterdam, The Netherlands. This represents a key milestone in the companies’ joint technology program to electrify steam cracking furnaces, bringing the companies one step closer to decarbonizing one of the most carbon-intensive aspects of petrochemical manufacturing.
Steam crackers involve cracking hydrocarbon feedstocks in the presence of steam and at temperatures of between 800° and 870°C to produce the important building blocks ethylene, propylene, butadiene, aromatics and acetylene. Today’s steam crackers rely on fossil fuel combustion to heat their furnaces, making them CO2-intensive.
Side view of the experimental unit
Over the next year, the experimental unit will be used to test a theoretical electrification model developed for retrofitting today’s gas-fired steam cracker furnaces. Data generated by the unit will be used to validate the model and allow the electrification program to advance to the next phase; the design and construction of a multi-megawatt pilot plant, with potential start-up in 2025, subject to investment support.
Using renewable electricity to heat steam cracker furnaces could become one of the routes to decarbonize the chemicals industry. E-cracking furnaces operated using renewable electricity have the potential to reduce 90% of the scope 1 emissions at economically competitive costs with conventional crackers.
Last year, the program was awarded €3.5 million (US$4.2 million) in funding from the Dutch Government and incorporated The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) and the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT). The multi-company collaboration brings technical expertise and a common commitment to a low carbon-future. Furthermore, the collaboration aims to support emission reductions required to meet Shell and Dow’s targets to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.