January 2022


Executive Viewpoint: Decarbonizing ethylene production

Hydrocarbon Processing (HP) sat down with Stan Knez (SK), Chief Technology Officer, Technip Energies, to get his insights on decarbonization, digital and process technologies and sustainability within the processing industries.

Knez, S., Technip Energies

Hydrocarbon Processing (HP) sat down with Stan Knez (SK), Chief Technology Officer, Technip Energies, to get his insights on decarbonization, digital and process technologies and sustainability within the processing industries.

HP: At present, what are some of the main topics your clients are focused on?

SK: We see a concerted focus on energy transition. Companies are looking to implement their sustainability strategies and ESG mandates, as well as anticipating how to meet current and future low carbon requirements. Today customers are asking us, “What are the pathways to low and zero carbon?” Of course, the main themes are CO2 reduction and the use of recycled feedstocks.

HP: In terms of decarbonizing ethylene production, where is that current technology?

SK: First, we want to reiterate that energy efficiency remains the starting point of energy reduction and decarbonization, so there are still ways for us to improve energy efficiency and hence lower emissions. Recently, we designed a low-carbon furnace that can mitigate up to 30% of CO2 emissions.

We have also developed an ethylene decarbonization roadmap, which outlines the pathways that will allow the ethylene industry to move to net-zero. Key facets of that roadmap include:

  • The use of hydrogen as a fuel
  • CO2 capture
  • Emissions reduction (e.g., low-carbon furnace)
  • Electrification.

The main issues with these solutions are the economics and having a route to store or use the CO2.

HP: Regarding carbon capture, there has been a significant uptick in news about CO2 capture over the past year. In your opinion, is CO2 capture available today?

SK: The technology to capture CO2 from post-combustion streams is available today. Of course, we have been capturing CO2 from process streams for a long time across many industries, but post-combustion streams are the ones that are, of course, very important to decarbonize many industries, so that technology has been proven at industrial scale, mainly in the power sector.

Technip Energies can offer carbon capture technology to be applied to new and existing crackers. I would say the challenge is to continue to innovate and improve on the capex (capital expenditures) and opex (operating expenditures).

The other thing we must think about regarding carbon capture applications is what to do with the CO2 once it is captured.

HP: Regarding the ethylene decarbonization roadmap, two of the specific items you mentioned were electrification and hydrogen. What role do you see electrification playing in the future of ethylene production?

SK: It has a significant role to play. However, the extent to which it will be utilized to reduce, for example, ethylene plant CO2 emissions depends very much on the continued reduction of the carbon footprint associated with electricity generation. The cost and availability of large quantities of low-carbon electricity from renewable sources is needed. Then, we must develop new technologies—such as electrically heated furnaces—that can then deploy this electrification in chemical plants.

In an ethylene plant, the steam cracking furnace utilizes hydrocarbon fuel to provide the endothermic heat required for the cracking reaction. We have designed a proprietary furnace that can electrify the cracking operation. This approach avoids CO2 emissions from the cracking furnaces. In addition, we can take advantage of low-carbon electricity using electric motor drives instead of steam turbine drives on the main compressors.

HP: Where do you see hydrogen playing a role in ethylene production?

SK: Hydrogen has significant potential for energy generation on a global basis, as hydrogen burns without generating CO2. We are looking at displacing fresh hydrocarbon fuels with hydrogen. For example, at our Rotterdam test facility, we successfully demonstrated 100% hydrogen firing, with minimized NOx (nitric oxide). This opens the opportunity to move to commercial application in an ethylene cracker.

HP: What are some future technologies that you see being developed to decarbonize the hydrocarbon processing industries?

SK: The industry is developing many alternative technologies for the decarbonization of the ethylene process. These are principally focused on reducing CO2 emissions from the furnaces, which is the main source of carbon emissions in a steam cracker. For example, in addition to the electric furnace, we are also developing—in partnership with Siemens Energy—turbomachinery that cracks feed using shockwave technology. Innovation will drive new technologies and new approaches to lower carbon emissions.

We are also looking at another pathway that involves reacting captured CO2 from plants with hydrogen to produce green hydrogen to make Hummingbird® ethanol. We then could utilize our Hummingbird® ethanol-to-ethylene technology to produce green ethylene.

HP: In the next 20 yr–30 yr, will steam cracking play a role in ethylene manufacturing?

SK: 2050 sounds like a long way away, but it is only 30 yr, so we have a lot to do to get where we need to go. The vast majority of the world’s olefins today are manufactured by the steam cracking process and there really are no current low-carbon commercialized alternatives at a similar scale that could replace steam cracking.

At Technip Energies, we see the main challenge to the industry to be the production of olefins by steam cracking but with much lower CO2 emissions. When we look at 2050, we expect that ethylene production will be significantly decarbonized, and circularity will play an integral role in the process.

HP: Can you provide your thoughts on the circular economy?

SK: Yes, circularity is on the minds of many in the industry. It is a strategic intent for the ethylene industry. We have been busy developing solutions that can address our clients’ needs to, for example, introduce a level of circularity into their crackers. We can provide a complete pyrolysis and purification solution that will allow recycled plastic waste to be fed to the cracker, replacing the fresh hydrocarbon feed.

From the cracker side, we have been studying the effect of recycled feed as it is being introduced to the cracker in terms of performance and reliability. That is a very important question that our ethylene clients are asking us. We are also studying the potential of feeding biomass to the cracking furnace. We see many different approaches that could become technical and economic avenues to support the decarbonization of the industry.

Want more?

You can listen to the full discussion with Stan Knez on decarbonizing the ethylene industry by listening to “Decarbonizing ethylene production and the HPI’s energy transition” on The Main Column podcast page on HydrocarbonProcessing.com. HP

The Author

Related Articles

From the Archive



{{ error }}
{{ comment.comment.Name }} • {{ comment.timeAgo }}
{{ comment.comment.Text }}