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BASF, SABIC, and Linde inaugurate world’s first large-scale electrically heated steam cracking furnace

BASF, SABIC, and Linde have inaugurated the world’s first demonstration plant for large-scale electrically heated steam cracking furnaces. Following three years of development, engineering, and construction work, the regular operation of the demonstration plant is now ready to start at BASF’s Verbund site in Ludwigshafen, Germany.

In March 2021, the three companies signed a joint agreement to develop and demonstrate solutions for electrically heated steam cracking furnaces. (Earlier post.)

Steam crackers play a central role in the production of basic chemicals and require a significant amount of energy to break down hydrocarbons into olefins and aromatics. Typically, the reaction is conducted in furnaces at temperatures of about 850 degrees Celsius.

Up to now, these temperatures have been reached by using conventional fuels. The demonstration plant aims to show that continuous olefin production is possible using electricity as a heat source. By using electricity from renewable sources, the new technology has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions of one of the most energy-intensive production processes in the chemical industry by at least 90% compared to technologies commonly used today.

The demonstration plant, which produces olefins, such as ethylene, propylene, and possibly also higher olefins from saturated hydrocarbon feedstock, is fully integrated into the existing steam crackers in Ludwigshafen. The upcoming operation serves the goal of gathering data and experiences about material behavior and processes under commercial operating conditions for the final development of this innovative technology to industrial market maturity. In two separate demonstration furnaces, two different heating concepts will be tested.

In one furnace, direct heating applies an electric current directly to the cracking coils; in the second furnace, indirect heating uses radiative heat of heating elements placed around the coils. The two electrically heated furnaces together process around 4 tons of hydrocarbon feedstock per hour and consume 6 megawatts of renewable energy.

To support the development of the novel furnace technology, the project was granted €14.8 million by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action under its “Decarbonization in Industry” funding program. The program is supporting energy-intensive industries in Germany in their efforts to achieve carbon neutrality.

Based on the combined knowledge and intellectual property of the three parties collaborating to develop the new technologies, the demonstration unit in Ludwigshafen will be operated by BASF. Linde was responsible for the engineering, procurement, and construction of the plant. Linde will in the future commercialize the developed technologies under the new trademark STARBRIDGE, enabling the petrochemical industry to decarbonize by replacing conventional fired technologies.


Roger Brown

I am always happy to see progress in replacing replacing fossil fuel fired furnaces with electric furnaces. However, we also need biomass based olefins ( and aromatics ( in order to make this process truly carbon free. I am doubtful whether we can afford to wait until the direct production costs of zero carbon technology is comparable to fossil fuel based processes. We need a method of taxing the destructive externalities of continued fossil fuel use.


destructive externalities



The figures we are given for competitiveness of renewables vs fossil fuels are highly suspect.

A few days ago I highlighted a ludicrous comparison made regarding the cost of upgrading the German natural gas grid to hydrogen, which costs more, but that was due to loading on the amortisation cost of the existing NG network on to the upgraded grid, without counting that if they did not, the money would be a total write off!

I think that the same kind of process in reverse is often being applied to costings for renewables, where they are charged for the write off costs of what would become stranded fossil fuel assets, inadvisedly made.

Of course the write off cost is something very important for the company, and must be shown.

In no way though does charging any investment made, and continuing to be made, in fossil fuels to replacement renewables fairly compare the underlying prices.

Aside from the desperate fight by utilities to prevent the build of interconnections for, for instance, Mid-West wind, here is a real howler:

' The study, which was published recently in Environmental Science & Technology, shows that, when calculations are made, the entire wind farm area is usually considered as land given over to wind development. However, the wind power infrastructure (such as the turbines and roads) typically only uses 5 percent of the entire farmland—the rest is often used for other purposes, such as agriculture.

The research also shows that if wind turbines are sited in areas with existing roads and infrastructure, such as on agricultural land, they can be approximately seven times more efficient in terms of energy produced per square meter of land directly impacted by the infrastructure, than projects that are developed from scratch.'

So assessing suitability for wind has historically been made in the US on the basis of a 'mere' 20 fold overstatement of the land required?

One is forced to the conclusion that those involved are either stupid, or manipulating the figures by any ruse that comes to hand to fight wind and keep on burning fossil fuels.

Any figures we have to hand, even those which have made it into the most respected and authoritative studies, are deeply, deeply suspect.


Two other considerations arise in the issue of fairly accounting for sunk costs in fossil fuels where renewables are cheaper:

At the company level, although sunk costs in fossil fuels are important and write off costs can be a huge burden, no such problems should exist for a new entry in the field under capitalism, where it simply represents a competitive advantage.

The issue is that we do not in fact live in a capitalist system, but in an oligarchy of the very rich, using bought politicians and legislation to retain the value of their asocial investments and prevent fair valuation.

See the 'property crash' of 2008, which did not happen as trillions were spent to 'save the system' aka prevent losses on their wholly unproductive highly leveraged speculations in property.

I think every attempt is being made to similarly 'save the fossil fuel industry'.

At the country level, it is of course a real cost to write off those assets, but such losses should be offset against the massive losses from climate change in not moving fast.

Dumb investments at the society level in fossil fuels have real costs, is the ultimately unavoidable reality.

All sorts of grifting is taking place so that those responsible can shift the losses.

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