Total partners to build steam cracker in $1.7B project

The new cracker will be built alongside Total’s Port Arthur refinery.

Total announced Monday, March 27, that the company is entering into a partnership with Borealis and Nova to form a joint venture with the aim of building an ethane steam cracker at the Port Arthur facility and a new Borstar polyethylene unit in Bayport.

“A ‘cracker’ is industry lingo for a petrochemical plant that takes oil and natural gas and breaks them into smaller molecules that form the building blocks of many products people use every day,” said Melyssa Rodgers, communications advisor at Total Petrochemicals and Refining USA. “It is called an ‘ethane cracker’ because 100 percent of the feedstock is ethane, which provides a high yield of ethylene.”

Ethane crackers complete a series of processes to convert ethane into ethylene and other compounds used in making plastic, Rodgers said. Ethane is heated to 1,560 F (850°C), which begins numerous chemical reactions. This process is followed by immediate cooling to stop these reactions. Then by compressing and distilling the mixture, ethylene is isolated and can be used by chemical manufacturers in the production of plastics and other everyday products.

“The main use of ethylene is in the production of polyethylene, which is the world’s most widely used plastic,” she said. “It is also highly used to produce ethylene oxide, a key raw material in the production of surfactants and detergents among other applications.”

As far as the joint venture goes, Total is expected to hold a 50 percent interest, the company announced.

More precisely, the joint venture will include:

• building a new 1 Mt/y ethane steam cracker in Port Arthur

• Total’s existing polyethylene 400 kt/y plant in Bayport

• building a new 625 kt/y Borstar polyethylene plant on the Bayport site.

 The joint venture is expected to be established in late 2017, according to the Total release, and the final investment decision on the Borstar polyethylene plant will be taken simultaneously.

The $1.7 billion new cracker is scheduled to start up in 2020 and will create around 1,500 jobs during peak engineering and construction activity, Total says. The engineering, procurement and construction contract (EPC) of the ethane steam cracker has been awarded by Total to CB&I.

The new cracker will be built alongside Total’s Port Arthur refinery and Total/BASF existing steam cracker, which represents a $1.5 billion investment by BASF Corporation and Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA Inc.

“By leveraging synergies with its existing world-class integrated platform in Texas, Total optimized capital expenditure and will deliver one of the most competitive cracker projects in the U.S.,” the release states.