(EnergyAsia, January 9 2014, Thursday) — ExxonMobil has officially started up what is claimed to be the world's first plant to convert crude oil directly into petrochemicals, bypassing the intermediary oil products stage, that will enable the Singapore plant to compete against Middle Eastern rivals who have the advantage of cheap feedstock.
The Singapore plant on Jurong Island, which now accounts for about one-quarter of ExxonMobil's global chemical capacity, incorporates more than 40 new proprietary technologies, making it one of the company's most energy efficient and flexible sites.
The US major said the new ethylene steam cracker can process a wide range of feedstock, from light gases to crude oil, to produce an expanded slate of premium and commodity petrochemicals. Existing petrochemical plants do not have this capability and are restricted to using finished refined oil products like naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) as raw materials. Faced with surplus global capacity, the petrochemical industry is in the midst of a shakeout with many unable to compete against the giant plants in the Middle East who have access to cheap supply of feedstock.
ExxonMobil's Singapore complex includes the one million tonne per year (t/y) cracker and plants to produce a total of at least 1.4 million t/y of polymers and elastomers. The cracker, estimated to cost at least US$5 billion, began operating last May after a delay of nearly two years and cost over-runs purportedly to satisfy safety standards and checks during construction.
With the project's start-up, ExxonMobil has pushed its total investment in Singapore past US$10 billion.
Speaking at the plant's opening this week, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government will continue to support the growth of the country's energy and chemicals industry, which accounts for a third of the national manufacturing output.
Rex W. Tillerson, Exxon Mobil Corp chairman and CEO, who was also at the plant's opening, said:
"Global chemical demand will grow at a faster pace than GDP as people seek higher standards of living and purchase more household and packaged goods manufactured with chemical products.
"Two-thirds of that growth in chemical demand will be here in the Asia-Pacific region. ExxonMobil's expanded Singapore chemical plant is uniquely positioned to serve these growth markets, from China to the Indian subcontinent and beyond."
Mr Tillerson said the foundation for the advancements at the Singapore complex were established decades ago and strengthened through the company's relationships with and respect for the people and nation of Singapore.
"Government leaders here wisely pursued a stable policy course that encouraged international investment, teamwork and advanced technologies," he said.
"This latest investment – the single largest manufacturing investment in Singapore's history – is testament to our ability to successfully attract and execute complex mega-projects. The expansion of ExxonMobil's chemical plant will create meaningful and exciting career opportunities for Singaporeans and also enable Singapore to broaden our chemicals industry with higher-value downstream chemical facilities," he said.
Png Cheong Boon, CEO of JTC Corp, the builder and landlord of Jurong Island, said:
"The opening of ExxonMobil's chemical plant is a testimony of the excellent infrastructure on Jurong Island and the strong partnership with ExxonMobil. We remain committed to work with the industry to ensure that Jurong Island remains a key energy and chemical hub in the region."
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