EPCA 2014: Versalis confirms conversion of Dunkirk cracker to consume US ethane

10:38 AM | October 6, 2014 | Ian Young in Vienna

Versalis (Milan) has confirmed plans to enhance the feedstock flexibility of the company's Dunkirk, France, steam cracker to enable the plant to consume low-cost ethane imported from the United States. Versalis CEO Daniele Ferrari, during a presentation today to the 48th European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) annual meeting, taking place in Vienna, said that the Dunkirk cracker would be able to consume ethane for up to 50% of its ethylene output by 2016. The cracker's ethylene capacity will remain unchanged, 500,000 m.t./year, and the project requires an investment of €100–150 million ($126–189 million), Ferrari says. Versalis's Dunkirk cracker currently consumes naphtha.

Engineering work has started at Versalis's Dunkirk site to build an ethane tank to receive and store imported feedstock, and the project will be completed by the end of 2015, Ferrari tells CW. "It will be ready by the time the ethane is available from the United States," Ferrari says. Meanwhile, Versalis negotiating the chartering of vessels that will transport ethane from the United States to Dunkirk, another source at Versalis told CW on the sidelines of the EPCA meeting.

Cracking ethane at Dunkirk and reducing the plant's naphtha consumption mean that the cracker's output of crude C4s will drop. Versalis, for this reason, has decided not to go ahead with plans to build a butadiene plant at Dunkirk, the source tells CW. Versalis announced plans earlier to build a 100,000-m.t./year butadiene plant at Dunkirk for start-up in late 2016.

Versalis announced in 2013 that it was considering plans to import ethane from the United States to consume at its Brindisi, Italy; and Dunkirk crackers as part of a broader company transformation program that is also reducing Versalis's exposure to basic petrochemicals. Versalis is evaluating its C4 supply-demand balances in the Mediterranean region before deciding whether to convert the Brindisi cracker to consume US ethane, the source says. The Brindisi cracker currently receives feedstock from a refinery at Taranto, Italy, operated by Versalis's parent ENI (Rome). Versalis currently has two butadiene plants. They are at Ravenna, Italy; and Brindisi.

Versalis joins a growing list of petrochemical companies that are converting coastal crackers in Europe to consume ethane imported from the United States. Borealis, Ineos, and Sabic have each announced plans to ship US ethane to European crackers. Total is considering similar plans, sources say.

Versalis confirmed recently that it would not restart its Porto Marghera, Italy, cracker, which was taken off-line during an ongoing project to convert the Porto Marghera site into a green chemistry platform making biobased products. The platform is being developed in collaboration with Elevance Renewable Science and will be based on metathesis technology, Ferrari says. Matrìca, a 50-50 joint venture between Versalis and Novamont, started up 70,000 m.t./year of biobased products capacity at Versalis's Porto Torres, Italy, site in June following a €200-million investment. Versalis earlier closed a cracker at Porto Torres. The Porto Marghera and Porto Torres projects also form part of Versalis's transformation program.