The Kemya plant in Jubail

The Kemya plant in Jubail

Sustainability a factor for growth

Sabic is looking at sustainability, greater Saudi industrialisation and investments in US downstream shale gas ventures, it tells Gulf Industry

01 June 2013

Sabic has said it views alternative feedstocks and the use of carbon dioxide and hydrogen among vital factors for achieving growth.

“Alternative feedstocks are particularly important to Sabic in association with specialty chemicals derived from naphtha and other associated heavy feedstocks. We aim to become a global leader in the use of CO2 and hydrogen both of which have important sustainability benefits,” it told Gulf Industry, adding that other avenues of growth include alternative energy, lightweighting functional fluids and key process technologies where excellence is required.

Discussing destinations and investments, Sabic said Asia is its largest market and it remains upbeat about the region’s economic growth in the years ahead. It would, despite its global ambition, always remain committed deeply to its roots in Saudi Arabia. “We will continue in our role of advancing the kingdom’s industrialisation programme and engage in helping Saudi Arabia address its energy dilemma through sustainability initiatives,” the company said. It was responding to a question whether it would consider investing in regions such as Latin America, Africa and Australia.

However it is considering investments in America. “We are examining strategic opportunities to invest in the US as the need to tap shale gas and oil deposits escalate. This trend is of critical importance to us as natural gas from shale deposits is a source of our future feedstock. We are therefore very interested in and watching developments closely in shale even though we do not intend to participate in shale gas extraction/production but only in downstream activities that derive from it,” the company said.

Sabic is working on three key projects with expected completion dates in 2015.  One is a joint venture with the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) for a polycarbonate plant at the Sinopec Sabic Tianjin Petrochemical Company (SSTPC) in Tianjin, China. 

The second is a joint venture with ExxonMobil to construct a world-scale specialty elastomers facility at the Al Jubail Petrochemical Company (Kemya) manufacturing joint venture.  The facility will be integrated with the existing Al Jubail complex. The third is a joint venture that Sabic’s manufacturing affiliate Saudi Kayan Petrochemical Company entered into for establishing the Saudi Butanol Company which will produce butanol.

Sabic launched two new manufacturing affiliates in 2012, one of which is the Saudi Organometallic Chemical Company (SOCC), a 50-50 joint venture between Saudi Specialty Chemicals Company (a Sabic affiliate) and Albermarle Netherlands BV. The other affiliate was the Saudi Japanese Acrylonitrile Company (Shrouq), a joint venture between Sabic (50 per cent), Asahi Kasei Chemicals Corporation (30 per cent) and Mitsubishi Corporation (20 per cent).

In Europe, Sabic has 12 world-class petrochemical production sites – four in the Netherlands, two in Italy, two in the UK, and one each in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Spain. In East Asia, Sabic operates nine manufacturing sites – three in China, and one each in India, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Japan. Of the 18 Sabic technology and innovation facilities located in different parts of the world, five are in East Asia – two in India, and one each in China, Japan and South Korea.

Sabic’s vice chairman and CEO, Mohamed Al Mady, recently said there would be restructuring and some operations would have to close. The company, in replying to a question, would not divulge which operations would be wound up. It also would not say what savings it expected to make with the restructuring.

The company’s research effort has yielded several breakthroughs including a new process to produce linear alpha olefins, called Alpha-Sablin, which is now employed at Sabic’s affiliate, the Jubail United Petrochemical Company (United). Another breakthrough was a new K59 SPVC grade using a novel polymerisation recipe that increased productivity by about 35 per cent. A TiNo (titanium nitrides) catalyst for polypropylene production provides excellent morphology and reliable plant operation.

Sabic’s Noryl GTX resin reduces the weight of automotive components, improving fuel economy, cutting emissions, and delivering a whole new level of design freedom. Its Lexan polycarbonate sheet technology provides products half the weight of standard glass yet 250 times as strong. A new Lexan XHR6000 sheet is utilised in the aircraft industry to produce attractive, lightweight, and compliant interiors. A new acetic acid production process uses ethane oxidation.

Another innovation is a new process using baghouse dust (a by-product of steelmaking) in cement, which has received a US patent. Also discovered was a new CO2 purification process for ethylene glycol by-products, which has resulted in reduced emissions and a new source of material for methanol and urea production.

Also among the innovations were a new grade of polyester to make mineral water bottles, a new way of using ethylene dimerisation to make butene-1 and a low-weight, low-cost front module for the new Smart car, created using Sabic Stamax plastic.

The list includes an improved catalyst for polyethylene production, a  Sabic Oxidation Reactor (SABOXR) for continuous flow of chemical reactions such as oxidation, oxidative dehydrogenation and partial oxidation processes; a new proprietary technology to make expandable polystyrene (EPS) beads for various applications such as food packaging and disposable drinking cups and  a new catalyst for polypropylene production.

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