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🏭 A little LyondellBasell history

(3 min) LyondellBasell is taking the lead in depolymerization, but why?

Good morning. A couple of weeks ago I asked the Discord whether anyone would be interested in watching an upcoming LyondellBasell investor presentation together. Unfortunately life got away from me, and I completely forgot that the presentation happened earlier this week. (Side note: it was great to see that 17 people were interested, and I will keep my eyes peeled for opportunities in the future.)

Anyways, to the unfamiliar, the investor presentation in question here was about LyondellBasell’s “MoReTec” polyolefin depolymerization technology. As far as I know, they are they only big petrochemical company out there developing novel catalysts for dealing with plastic waste.

Why are they the only ones? Corporate history matters a bit here, so today I’m going to walk you through the lite version.

The LyondellBasell we know today is roughly the same company that was formed by the merger of Lyondell Chemical and Basell Polyolefins in 2007. But prior to that merger the companies had very different origins.

On the Lyondell side, it started with the formation of the Texas Butadiene and Chemical Corporation in 1953 on land in Channelview, Texas—land that was previously the Lyondell Recreation Club (a country club named by a WWI veteran who had met his wife, Della, while he was deployed in Lyon, France). That butadiene plant was expanded, and it was eventually sold to Sinclair Petrochemicals.

They get the award for best gas station brand ever. Also, LyondellBasell still has one of these dinosaurs at its plant in Channelview.

Things get a little messy after that. Sinclair sold the plant to Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO), then Lyondell spun out of ARCO in 1989, formed a joint venture (JV) with the olefin part of Millenium Chemicals and Occidental Petroleum’s businesses in the early 90s, and then turned around and acquired ARCO in 1998. Lyondell then bought Millenium and Occidental out of the JV in the early 00s.

The other half of the equation, Basell, entered the scene when it acquired Lyondell in 2007. The merged company went bankrupt a couple of years later, but has done well ever since (the stock is up 324% since it was relisted post-bankruptcy).

Believe it or not, Basell, whose name is a merger of BASF and Shell, has an even more complex corporate history (it can trace its roots to BASF, Shell, Hercules, Himont, Hoechst, ICI, Montecatini, and Montedison). For the sake of brevity, the key thing to know about the Basell side is that it came with an excellent polyolefin process licensing and catalyst business, courtesy of Ziegler and Natta. I’m pretty sure that something like 30% of all of the world’s polypropylene is made with a LyondellBasell license, but I can’t find that stat anywhere (it may be a nugget I am recalling from my two internships with them).

All of this is just to say that despite what seems like a weird aggregated origin, LyondellBasell actually has a very strong R&D team, and arguably one of the most extensive licensing businesses out there. In short: I think they are well positioned to develop a novel catalyst for polyolefins depolymerization, and they are well positioned to roll it out across the globe.

So that’s why I take their “MoReTec” announcements pretty seriously relative to every other depolymerization announcement that I see (there are a lot).

What do you think?

(As always, comments are encouraged!)

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