Technological watch

Shell Polymers sees new beginning

Shell Polymers wants to be the new kid on the block when it begins polyethylene resin production in the Pittsburgh area.

"We see ourselves as a startup inside a larger company," Emma Lewis, global chemical strategy general manager, said Oct. 22 during Global Plastics Summit 2020.

Although Shell's parent company Shell Chemical has been around for many years — and previously had its own plastics unit — Lewis said that Shell Polymers "is thinking like disruptor companies like Amazon and Uber."

"We want to provide unrivaled customer experience and challenge the status quo," she added. "We can take an incubator approach and embrace a learner's mindset to help our customers thrive."

Shell began construction of a petrochemicals complex in Monaca, Pa., in late 2017. The 386-acre project will be the first U.S. petrochemicals unit built outside of the Gulf Coast in several decades. Production is expected to begin in the early 2020s.

The complex will use ethane from shale gas produced in the Marcellus and Utica basins to make around 3.5 billion pounds of PE per year on three production lines. Most of the resin made in Monaca is expected to be sold to customers in North America.

Construction on the plant was slowed earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic but now has resumed. Lewis said 6,700 workers are now on site and that the complex is "in the later stages" of construction.

"I'm so proud of the work our team has done to keep going and of our role in the local community," she added.

Shell officials have said that the plant is located near 70 percent of North American PE demand. Lewis added that the firm has installed truck silos and can rapidly load and deploy resin to customers, offering same-day delivery to keep customers' plants running.

"We'll have real-time rail and transit timing, so customers will know where the product is at all times and so that we can make real-time adjustments," she said.

The site also will have an 85,000-square-foot customer innovation center with film extrusion and molding equipment. The plant will have artificial intelligence and sensors to track the performance of critical equipment.

Being close to customers also will allow Shell to reduce emissions through shorter transit and delivery times, Lewis said. Proximity also helps customers who have low inventory levels and just-in-time manufacturing, she added.

Sustainability also is important to Shell's strategy. Lewis said the firm wants to be net zero on greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner. The most direct route to achieve that is through energy efficiency of its plants. The Monaca site has "a highly efficient design" that includes a 250 megawatt cogeneration unit, she added.

Shell also is looking at alternate feedstocks such as biomass and plastic waste that Lewis said "are driving the circular economy of plastics." The firm has a goal using 1 million pounds of plastic waste as a feedstock by 2025.

The Global Plastics Summit 2020 is an online event hosted by IHS Markit and the Plastics Industry Association.

Publication date: 22/10/2020

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Last update: 2022-01-31