Ascend plans $1.2-billion PDH plant at Chocolate Bayou

23:15 PM | March 4, 2013 | —Francinia Protti-Alvarez and Clay Boswell

Ascend Performance Materials (Houston) is proceeding with plans to build a $1.2-billion propane dehydrogenation (PDH) facility at its Chocolate Bayou complex at Alvin, TX. The PDH unit will use propane to produce polymer-grade and chemical-grade propylene, Ascend says.

Construction of the PDH plant, which will support Ascend’s integrated nylon operations, is scheduled to begin in January 2014. Start-up will commence in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to a permit filed by Ascend with US EPA earlier this month. The plant will be built on land owned by Ascend at its Chocolate Bayou complex. The permit filing did not state the planned capacity of the proposed plant.

“This project builds on [Ascend’s] existing strength [and] position in the chemicals and nylon businesses,” says Tim Strehl, Ascend president. Ascend, the former nylon operations of Solutia, was acquired by private equity firm SK Capital (New York) from Solutia in June 2009.

Ascend’s plans bring the number of PDH projects underway in the United States to at least six. Dow Chemical announced plans to build 2 PDH units: a 750,000-m.t./year unit that will start up in 2015 and another unit that may start up in 2018. Enterprise is planning a 750,000-m.t./year unit PDH unit on the Texas Gulf Coast that will start up in 2015, and the company says it is considering a second. Formosa Plastics has announced a 600,000-m.t./year PDH unit, scheduled to start up in 2016, as part of a $1.7-billion project set in Point Comfort, TX. Williams plans to install a roughly 500,000 m.t./year PDH unit in Alberta, Canada. These facilities will join Petrologistics’ 1.45-billion lb/year—or 660,000 m.t./year—PDH unit, which started up in late 2010.

The flood of PDH capacity is a direct consequence of North America’s new shale advantage. With cracker feedslates shifting away from naphtha toward lighter shale-based feedstocks, propylene supply has tightened. Refineries will not be making up the difference by increasing their own propylene output, leaving on-purpose production technologies such as PDH to fill the gap.

North American demand for polymer- and chemical-grade propylene totaled 13.3 million m.t. in 2012, according to IHS Chemical, which projects average annual growth of 1.5%/year through 2017 and 2.9% during the 5 subsequent years, spurred by new PDH capacity.