🏭 September 2022: Round-Up
Good morning. September was pretty heavy on sustainability, so you'll notice that the narrative on sustainability is a bit longer than the others. September was also the first month that the pay-wall was in full-effect, so I've placed a dollar symbol next to each paid edition.
Anyways—here's what we talked about last month:
Sep 7th ($): Electric cracker construction and polycarbonate diol production
Sep 9th: Solvay's cleaner soda ash and importing green ammonia into the EU
Sep 12th ($): Tesla's plans to make lithium hydroxide on the Gulf Coast
Sep 14th: BASF wants to capture maritime CO2 and Encina's pilot plant
Sep 16th ($): Dow's German recycling plans and Mitsui's EO catalyst refresh
Sep 19th: Evonik's new battery recycling process and importing ethane into Mexico
Sep 21st ($): Dow's computer coolant and Gevo's corn-to-jet-fuel
Sep 23rd ($): Cracking ammonia for hydrogen and Repsol's bio-based ETBE
Sep 26th: Making jet fuel with CO2 and H2 and more polypropylene in Indonesia
Sep 28th ($): Ineos' Gulf Coast acetyls site and LanzaTech's CO2-based fragrances
Sep 30th ($): Commercializing lignin separation and bio-based silica for tires
I decided to bucket each story into the same three narratives just like last time, but I noticed a lot more overlap this go-around.
Next time I may try to write something cohesive that goes from scale without sustainability (large impact, negative/neutral) → scale with sustainability (large impact, positive) → specialty with sustainability (small impact, positive) → speciality without sustainability (small impact, negative/neutral).
Or maybe I could plot each story on a 2x2 (x-axis being scale, y-axis being sustainability), and then take a meaningful path through those points?
We saw a few instances of big chemicals getting bigger last month, but most weren't particularly game-changing.
For example: Mistui's EO production in Japan got slightly more efficient, W.R. Grace & Co had their polypropylene process technology selected for a new site in Indonesia, and Braskem's joint venture in Mexico will now be importing basically all of its required ethane.
The only story that would be significant (if it actually happens) would be Ineos deciding to build an acetyls site somewhere on the Gulf Coast, but they are still about a year out from making that call.
What was different about Shell's new EO catalyst that it has 0.8% better selectivity?
Why did we see three new polypropylene plant announcements within a week of each other? Right after we talked about W.R. Grace & Co's deal in Indonesia both LyondellBasell and Lummus Technology signed similar deals in different locations.
How much more expensive is importing ethane via ship than via pipeline for Braskem? I'm not sure if anyone else is running their cracker on 100% imported ethane.
There were a few specialty related topics covered last month.
We talked about Ube Corporation increasing its production of polycarbonate diols which are used to make premium polyurethanes. Dow’s computer coolant is pretty unique as there aren’t many chemical companies making silicon based heat transfer fluids. The story on lignin separations could open the door to a bunch of specialty-case lignin-based chemicals.
Does anyone know whether polycarbonate polyurethanes are widely used to coat the inside of crude oil pipelines? Or is it just a special use case sort of thing?
Dow's coolant is for submerged data centers. Those systems won't be commonplace overnight, but it does seem like the end-state, so I'm sure Dow is interested in this new application.
There was a lot of sustainability-related news last month.
Progress on BASF, SABIC, and Linde's electric cracker and Air Company's CO2-based fuels are both innovative attempts to address very large emission problems, and both are in the very early stages of development. Solvay's plans to reduce the emissions associated with soda ash production is also big, but it's not really clear what they are doing or how impactful it would be.
We saw a few companies chipping away at smaller emission problems too—Repsol is planning to test out bio-based ETBE for gasoline production, and Evonik is going to test out bio-based silica for tires.
Batteries came up a couple of times. Tesla is planning to build a lithium hydroxide production site somewhere along the Gulf Coast and Evonik is developing a battery recycling process that enables the recovery of lithium hydroxide.
Plastic recycling also came up a couple of times. The big one was Dow's decision to build a molecular recycling unit in Germany with Mura Technology. The other one was Encina reporting that they sold aromatics produced by their pilot plant.
Regardless of whether it's the best path forward, electric cracking is really starting to heat up. We went from vague "we're gonna work on electric cracking" statements to "we're actually testing a couple different versions out on-site next year" pretty quickly.
I thought Air Company's announcement on sustainable aviation fuel was interesting. It's hard to know whether their CO2 hydrogenation process will actually work out, but it seems pretty reasonable to me at a high level. It really all just depends on the success of their catalyst and pure CO2 and green H2 availability (since price isn't as critical with the Inflation Reduction Act in place).
Repsol's bio-based ETBE and Evonik's bio-based silica are good examples of stories that seem impactful at a glance but are really pretty negligible in the grand scheme of things. Still cool though.
Lithium hydroxide is going to be a big thing in the US. Livent has been the only company making this stuff domestically for quite some time, but now Albemarle, Tesla, and Piedmont Lithium are all planning to build some capacity. If Tesla's process is superior I'd be interested to see if they build more sites or if they'll license out their process. Chemical companies don't usually have their cashflow and intensely innovative culture, so how Tesla approaches scaling may be different.
Which was the most interesting to you?
Well, now you're up to speed on September! Let me know if you have any questions or would like me to spend more/less time on certain topics.
All views represent those of the author not their employer.