🏭 Acid for your skin
Electric cracking at LyondellBasell’s site, Chemours’ glycolic acid divestment, and roller blade wheels.
Good morning. The monthly round-up will go out on Wednesday this week—reply to this email if there are any topics you'd be especially interested in revisiting! Or feel free to leave a comment below.
From the condenser:
· Electric cracking at LyondellBasell’s site
· Chemours’ glycolic acid divestment
· POTD: roller blade wheels
The newest electric cracking team
Petrochemical companies, LyondellBasell and Chevron Phillips Chemical (CP Chem), signed an agreement with process technology company, Technip Energies, to build an electric steam cracker demonstration unit at LyondellBasell’s site in Channelview, Texas.
Setting the scene:
Steam crackers break down relatively stable hydrocarbons (like naphtha or ethane) into reactive components (ethylene, propylene, etc.) that are later combined to make most of the world's chemicals and materials. Unfortunately this very-valuable operation is also a very-energy-intensive one, and right now we provide that energy via heat, and we make that heat by combusting hydrocarbons like natural gas (which produces a lot of CO2).
Okay, so what’s the deal here?
Instead of generating heat by combusting hydrocarbons, Technip’s process will generate heat via electricity, perhaps by some resistive heating element similar to the one you’d find in your oven. What that looks like in practice remains a mystery, as is pretty much everything else about this agreement: we don’t know when a joint development agreement will be signed, when a final investment decision will be made, or anything about how this will be implemented.
Prior to Technip Energies, LyondellBasell, and CP Chem’s entry, there were just two other "teams" working on this: it was BASF, SABIC, and Linde versus Dow and Shell. Fundamentally, the issues these companies face will be the same across the board—for starters, resistive heaters apparently struggle to exceed the 500°C threshold, and supplying that much renewable electricity is easier said than done.
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There’s no shortage of recruiting firms out there, but very few exclusively serve the chemical processing industry—Sun Recruiting is one of the few. Over the last decade, 20 of their clients have relied on them to fill 5 or more of their open positions. And if you’re a chemical engineer looking for a role, they can help too.
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Give them a call at (630) 474-9643, email Adam Krueger, or visit their website to see current openings.
Chemours divested its glycolic acid business
US-based chemical company, Chemours, agreed to sell its glycolic acid business to private equity firm, Iron Path Capital, for $137 million.
A little background:
Depending on who you ask, Chemours (the DuPont spin-off) is either most well known for making titanium dioxide, or for making a wide variety of fluorine-based chemicals and materials (think Teflon, Nafion, Freon, etc.) But those aren’t the only non-mass-integrated businesses Chemours operates—the company is also a leading producer of glycolic acid.
What’s up with glycolic acid?
We usually make glycolic acid by reacting formaldehyde (from methanol, which is from syngas, which is usually made from natural gas) with syngas. That’s what it seems like Chemours does in West Virginia, but alternatives do exist: Chemours also has a patent that describes the combination of formaldehyde with hydrogen cyanide, and they did used to make a lot of hydrogen cyanide.
While glycolic acid has industrial applications, like in the leather industry, the majority of its recent and expected future growth might lie in personal care applications, where “alpha hydroxy acids” have become all the rage (perhaps most notably in skin care as an exfoliant). Perhaps that’s what made the business attractive to Iron Path Capital (hint: the leather industry isn’t exactly booming).
Some more headlines
Neste is selling Rio Tinto renewable diesel for its Borax mining site
Indorama Ventures and Carbios "reaffirmed" their plans to build a PET biorecycling plant
The EIA published a report on China's LNG consumption
ExxonMobil signed a carbon capture agreement with Nucor Corporation
LyondellBasell delayed the closure of its Houston oil refinery to 2025
Product of The Day
Today, we're breaking down roller blade wheels.
The next time you find yourself in a pair of roller blades, try to remember that you're rolling on a polyurethane elastomer. All polyurethanes are the result of reacting an isocyante (like TDI or MDI) with a polyol, but the industry's preferred polyols are polyether polyols such as PTMEG and PPG. If you want more background on polyurethanes check out the last time it was the MOTD.
Video: Are you still a student? Give Shawn Esquivel's video on the most important skills to learn a watch.
Book: You need to understand the forces behind the oil industry to understand the chemical industry. Daniel Yergin's The New Map does a great job breaking it down.*
Article: Oleochemicals are making a comeback because of the sustainability push. Give this a read if you want some context.