Linde, BASF and SABIC launch world’s first large-scale electric steam cracker

A trio of industry-leading companies have launched the world’s first plant for large-scale electrically heated steam cracking furnaces.

The announcement comes three years after Linde, BASF and SABIC signed a joint agreement to develop and demonstrate solutions for electrically heated steam cracking furnaces.

Located at BASF’s Verbund site in Ludwigshafen, Germany, the plant aims to show that continuous olefin production is possible using electricity as a heat source.

Steam crackers are essential for making basic chemicals, needing a large amount of energy to convert hydrocarbons into olefins and aromatics at around 850C, typically fuelled by conventional means.

The partners’ new technology, powered by renewable electricity, could slash carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from one of the most energy-intensive chemical production processes by at least 90% compared to current methods.

According to data3, the greenhouse gas emissions from the global chemical and petrochemical industry account for 5.8% of total emissions, particularly 3.6% from energy use and 2.2% from industrial processes.

©BASF. From left: Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Vorstandsvorsitzender der BASF SE; Abdulrahman Al-Fageeh, CEO von SABIC; Jürgen Nowicki, CEO von Linde Engineering und Dr. Stephan Kothrade, Mitglied des Vorstands und Chief Technology Officer (CTO) der BASF SE

“With the development of electrically operated steam cracking furnaces, we are getting our hands on a key technology that will help to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the chemical industry,” said Dr. Martin Brudermuller, Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE.

“The demonstration plant here in Ludwigshafen will provide us with valuable experience on the final step towards the industrial application of this technology.”

Capable of fully integrating with existing steam crackers, the demo plant produces olefins like ethylene and propylene from hydrocarbon feedstock.

As part of the data gathering process, two furnaces will test direct and indirect heating concepts using around four tonnes of feedstock per hour, powered by six megawatts of renewable energy.

According to Abdulrahman Al-Fageeh, CEO of SABIC, the e-furnace’s technology holds huge potential for the sustainability of the global petrochemical industry.

“It can demonstrate the role that renewable electricity can play in higher efficiency and low-emission chemical processing,” he said.

This aligns with the trio’s common goal to demonstrate the possibility of electrifying the petrochemical industry and operating a steam cracker with renewable electricity.

“This outstanding joint project is a significant proof of how together we can develop ground-breaking technologies that will advance us on the journey towards Net Zero CO2 emissions and climate-neutral industry,” said Jurgen Nowicki, CEO of Linde Engineering.

The project was granted €14.8m ($15.8m) by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action under its ‘Decarbonisation in Industry’ funding programme.

Once fully developed, the technologies involved will be commercialised by Linde under the new trademark STARBRIDGE.

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