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Petrochemical industries in Saudi Arabia and Canada booming

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Rapid Saudi expansion

The rapid expansion of refining capacity in Saudi Arabia is having a knock on effect on the country’s petrochemicals sector. Large scale projects currently underway in the country will push the kingdom’s overall petrochemical production capacity to 100 million tpy by 2015, according to estimates.

Refineries such as the Petromin/Petrola project at Rabigh aim to sustain the growth in production of various petrochemical products in Saudi Arabia, creating a wider range of business opportunities for international suppliers and technology vendors in the petrochemical industry.

The moves also serve to diversify the country’s exports, which have previously been criticised as being too heavily reliant upon crude oil.

The oilsands effect

In Canada, meanwhile, the growing flood of shale gas across North America and the potential to collect large amounts of off gases (the byproducts of oilsands upgrading) could boost the country’s petrochemical industry over the next few years by providing new feedstock for existing plants, as well as fuelling plans for new ones.

The region most likely to be affected is Alberta, due to its vast oilsands reserves. Here, a provincial scheme has been set up that aims to improve ethane supply, targeting off gases as a new petrochemical feedstock. The Incremental Ethane Extraction Program (IEEP) provides a royalty credit to off gas producers for five years to help them build the needed infrastructure.

Williams Energy is currently the only player in this field in Alberta. It has an off gas splitting facility near Suncor, which removes the high value pentanes, butanes, propanes and olefins such as ethylene, propylene and butylene. The company has also upgraded its Redwater facility to allow it to produce a higher quality product from the 14 000 bpd plant.

As well as being economically beneficial, the methods adopted by Williams would cut carbon dioxide emissions from the three Albera oilsands upgraders that use the coking technique (which releases off gases) by 1 million tpy.

The company has estimated that the off gases produced by the upgraders could provide up to 160 000 bpd of feedstocks for petrochemical production. The off gases can also be utilised in the production of propylene, a material that is scarce and largely imported into North America.

Alberta’s petrochemical industry is the largest in Canada with annual shipments of CAN$ 9.2 billion and exports of more than CAN$ 5.4 billion in 2009.

Qatar project collapses

However, all is not well elsewhere in the petrochemical industry. South Korea's Honam Petrochemical will not go ahead with a proposed US$ 2.6 billion petrochemical complex in Qatar with state run Qatar Petroleum. No reasons have been stated, although construction, which was due to start in 2011, had been delayed due to funding troubles stemming from the global financial crisis.

The proposed US$ 2.6 billion complex in Mesaieed, was expected to produce ethylene, propylene and benzene, to be consumed in downstream units including plants with a capacity of 700 000 tpy of polypropylene, 600 000 tpy of styrene monomer and 220 000 tpy of polystyrene.

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