1. Petrochemical industry: from oil to oil-and-gas

    23 September, 2014

    A roundtable discussion centered on the problems of the gas chemical industry has been held in Russia. The topics of discussion were the “shale revolution in the US”, the opportunities for developing new projects in Russia, feedstock transportation problems, project funding issues and scientific developments in the field.

    Rafinat Yarullin, General Director of Tatneftekhiminvest-holding, has pointed out in his speech the willingness on part of gas-producing companies to develop gas-processing projects: “We used to have a perennial shortage of gas supply. It was always a huge task to have one’s plant supplied with gas, but nowadays it’s a no-problem thing. Gazprom’s chief managers all speak in the same breath: let’s develop our industry, take our gas, use our gas. People have started to talk about natural gas as car fuel, about its pollution-free nature. Both buses and private vehicles may use it, with reduced engine emissions: the reduction is from 3 to 4 times compared with the gasoline and diesel fuels”.

    The roundtable participants were united in their opinion that this change of attitude towards processing has several causes, one of them being the “shale revolution” which has occurred in the US and which has brought to the fore the possibility of gas exports from the US.

    Salambek Hajiev, Director of the A.V.Topchiev Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis, RAS (TIPS RAS), has said that there emerged the possibility of using natural gas in large-scale chemical production: “The first invention was the already mentioned here Fischer–Tropsch process, which allowed people to produce ethylene and propylene from methane through a chain of reactions. The advent of this new reaction forced a change in thinking and there are already 6 plants built to produce olefins from synthesis gas. From methanol or dimethyl ether [too]. Five have been built in China, one in Iran, one in Nigeria, and one in Trinidad and Tobago”. The roundtable participants have devoted special attention to the discussion of Qatar’s experience of building a record-capacity motor oils plant.

    The meeting was also devoted to the discussion of scientific research efforts called to move the gas chemical industry ahead. Salambek Hajiev has told that the Petrochemical Synthesis Institute already has pilot facilities for the production of syngas, dimethyl ether and ethylene-propylene [rubber]. Moreover, the Institute has already produced basic engineering designs of the process under a contract with Sibur.

    RAS academician Ilya Moiseev has told of the development of a new technology: “In Volgograd, preparations are underway for the adoption of a new method to produce ethylene – a method unlike any other currently used technique. I’m talking of the oxidative dimerization of methane, a very hard task. We’ve met this challenge, and faced some amazing surprises in the process. It turned out that silicon dioxide has several modifications, and the most advantageous modification was chosen; the material was covered with a catalyst able to interact with this [modification of] silicon dioxide – that was a task that captured the hearts and minds of researchers at two institutes, the Gubkin (Gubkin Russian State University) and Kurnakov Institute of General and Inorganic Chemistry. The catalyst is a new creation. It has already been put into what I would call a half-industrial-scale production in St. Petersburg. The next step was to formalize these achievements from the engineering standpoint, and we went to the Petrochemical Synthesis Institute, and there the first engineering designs were drawn up. There followed an assessment of our results at Kaustik, and the company told us that in case this technology is introduced, vinyl chloride production costs would drop by 20% to 40% – that’s a hefty margin. Vinyl chloride is used to produce polyvinyl chloride (PVC), of which window frames are made. Meaning, it’s a widely used product. Today we face yet another hurdle, requiring money to build a pilot facility at Kaustik. That’s 100 million rubles. Should the company be helped, a new technology will come on stream, a true gas-chemistry process. A technology ahead of its time, a disruptive technology which could be marketed, say, in China or in the US. The facility will have a capacity of some 20-25 cubic meters of methane per hour.

    Yuri Treger, General Director of R&D and Engineering Centre (RDEC) LLC Syntez, talked about the issues of organizing the transportation of feedstock to potential processors.

    Other important problems highlighted by the participants were the issues of providing governmental stimuli to the development of gas chemical industry in Russia and of finding investment sources for future projects.

    Read our full-length report on the event in the latest issue of The Chemical Journal.

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