EUR 4 billion investment in Europe’s most sustainable ethane cracker enters construction phase and creates 450 jobs
On 15 December, a symbolic sheet pile went into the ground in the port of Antwerp for Project One, INEOS’ innovative ethane cracker. This took place in the presence of Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, port alderman Annick De Ridder and chairman of Port of Antwerp Bruges, Erica Caluwaerts, elderman of Work, Economy and Innovation, Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO of Port of Antwerp Bruges, as well as Hans Casier and Yves Verschueren, chairman and managing director of essenscia, sector federation of chemistry and life sciences, respectively. John McNally, CEO of INEOS Project ONE was also present.
Project One represents the largest investment in European chemistry in the past 25 years. Over the next few years, construction of the plant, which will take four years, will employ hundreds of people, up to more than 3,000 at a time at peak. The cracker, which will be the most sustainable of its kind, will be commissioned in 2026.
With Project ONE, INEOS is strengthening its position in the port of Antwerp and the Belgian chemical sector with a high-tech and sustainable steam cracker that converts ethane into ethylene. Ethylene is one of the most widely used basic chemicals in the world. Its uses include medical applications, lightweight car and wind turbine components, durable water and gas pipes, packaging to preserve food longer, smartphones, textiles with technical properties…
John McNally, CEO Project ONE:
“Fierce discussions on a new industrial policy are currently raging in Europe. INEOS is leading by example here by investing around €4 billion in the heart of the European economy to produce one of the most widely used chemical building blocks with the best available technology. We are taking up the gauntlet today to ensure the future of Europe’s basic industry by innovating and not giving away the leading position of the Antwerp chemical cluster to other regions.”
Hans Casier, Chairman essenscia and CEO INEOS Phenol and Nitriles:
“Of course the chemical industry has to become more sustainable and we are doing that. Without chemistry, the transformation to sustainability is not going to succeed. It is basic chemistry that makes the production of solar panels possible. It is chemistry that makes materials lighter, it is this sector that brings a circular economy within reach with industrial-scale recycling processes. With Project One, INEOS will make a major contribution to this by producing ethylene with the lowest carbon footprint in Europe.”
Jan Jambon, Minister-President of Flanders:
“The investment realised by INEOS with Project ONE in the port of Antwerp is a boost for Flanders. Especially at a time when heavy industry is struggling in Europe. I am particularly delighted that the company has chosen Flanders to build the cracker with the lowest carbon footprint in Europe. A paragon of green transition and proof that entrepreneurship and sustainability increasingly go hand in hand. I am also pleased that Flanders is helping to support the financing of Project ONE with the Gigarant guarantee.”
Bart De Wever, mayor of Antwerp:
“I am extremely pleased that INEOS is building Europe’s greenest steam cracker in Antwerp. Project ONE shows that economic growth can go hand in hand with environmental and energy efficiency gains. These strengthen our European industry and keep it competitive. Our city, Flanders and Europe will therefore benefit from this investment. It will make our port more resilient and sustainable. Antwerp has the largest maritime-industrial complex in the world. That is something to be proud of. I would like to thank INEOS for helping to ensure our economic future. ”
Annick De Ridder, Chairwoman of the Port of Antwerp Bruges:
“The very first activities of INEOS were started here in the Port of Antwerp. We not only share a rich history, but are also building an economically strong and sustainable future together. Project ONE is the largest investment in European chemistry in more than 20 years, good for hundreds of direct jobs. People from Antwerp and Flanders cannot be proud enough of that! Project ONE once again underlines the strength of our port as the economic engine of Flanders.”
Site work in full swing
Following the granting of the environmental permit in June, INEOS started preparatory works at the project site in the port area on the right bank this summer.
The Antwerp temporary partnership Mourik-Aertssen has been working there since the beginning of August. Aertssen Infra is taking care of the earthworks, drainage and placing the sheet piling, while Mourik is focusing on the water treatment and concrete works. For both parties it is their largest construction site ever.
Ronny Bertels, general manager and director at Mourik: “This is a very special project for both Aertssen Infra and ourselves, and immediately the largest industrial project we have ever realised, involving all the disciplines at our disposal. On this site, the law of large numbers comes into play: we are talking about 4 km of sheet piling, 26 km of drainage, 260 pumps, 300,000 tonnes of earthmoving, a water treatment plant that can handle 75 m³ per hour. That is unprecedented.”
4 km of sheet piling: installed with care
The sheet piling installed during the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone is one of many.
A total of 4 km of sheet piling will be pushed 8 metres deep into the clay layer along the site boundary, in a way that barely generates any noise.
Gert Mennes, Business Unit Manager Aertssen Infra Domestic : “Sheet piles are often ‘hammered’ into the ground, which causes a lot of noise and vibrations. INEOS opted for an alternative method where the steel sheets are ‘pushed’ in, avoiding noise pollution. The sheet piling is needed to isolate the groundwater from the surrounding industrial sites. Compare it to a giant bathtub. Within that bathtub, we can very purposefully lower the water level on our own site locally to allow construction activities to continue smoothly, without affecting groundwater levels on neighbouring sites.”
The realisation of Project ONE is a remarkable feat. In terms of size, the site equals 128 football fields. Construction will require 4 Eiffel Towers of steel, 2,000 km of piping and around 8 million working hours. Apart from the actual ethane cracker, a facility covering an area of 75,000 m², there will also be an administrative campus with offices, company restaurant and fitness room, bicycle storage, … as well as the central control room, various workshops and warehouses, … Not to be forgotten are the storage tanks and utilities, where the large ethane tank will characterise the image of the site.
After several years of engineering studies and project preparation, preparatory works for construction have started since this summer. The next phase will start early next year, when the construction pits will be dug, after which the foundation piles for the cracker can be inserted.
The project team at INEOS itself consists of about 200 people, while at the site itself, some 60 people are already working. That will be around 3,000 around the peak of the works.
Project ONE in brief
- State-of-art plant to produce ethylene, one of the most widely used basic chemicals in the world
- Lowest carbon footprint of all European crackers , less than half the amount of the 10% best performers
- Investment of around €4 billion in port of Antwerp
- 3000 workers on site at the peak of construction. 450 new jobs (300 payroll, 150 permanent contractors) and thousands of indirect jobs
- Construction plant duration 4 years – start-up expected in 2026
- Exceptional Investment of the Year Award (Flanders Investment & Trade, 2020)
Project One: a gamechanger
In 2018, INEOS formulated the ambition to build a new high-tech and sustainable ethane cracker in Antwerp, where the chemical company has its roots. Such a cracker converts ethane into ethylene, one of the most widely used basic chemicals in the world. You can find this building block in numerous applications for everyday use: lightweight parts of cars and wind turbines, building materials such as water and gas pipes, sewers, wires, cables and insulation. It is also used in medical applications, textiles, computer and smartphone casings, household appliances, packaging to preserve food longer and cosmetics.
It has been as much as 25 years since a new steam cracker has been built in Europe. However, elsewhere in the world, notably in the United States, China and Saudi Arabia, there has been heavy investment in these plants in recent years.
Getting rid of the status quo
By building ‘from scratch’ with the best techniques available today, INEOS can produce significantly more sustainably. Traditionally, crackers run mainly on naphtha, one of the products from a petroleum refinery. However, the conversion of ethane to ethylene can be done more efficiently: far fewer by-products are created compared to naphtha and significantly less feedstock is needed for a similar production of ethylene. Simply put, from each molecule of ethane, a molecule of ethylene (C2H4) and a molecule of hydrogen gas (H2) are created. An additional advantage is that the hydrogen released in larger quantities than in naphtha cracking can act as a fuel. This is also what Ineos has chosen to do.
Thanks to the highly integrated systems in the design, the coolness of the raw materials and heat from the crackers are also optimally used to save energy. Moreover, all externally procured energy is contractually sourced from renewable offshore wind energy. All this makes Project ONE a highly energy-efficient plant, a competitive advantage today and in the future.
John McNally, CEO Project ONE:
“By reusing the hydrogen from the cracking process, we can immediately fill sixty per cent of our heat consumption. Because we have consistently chosen today’s best available technologies, the cracker will soon emit less than half the amount of CO2 as the ten per cent cleanest competing plants in Europe. That makes Project ONE the cleanest plant of its kind. “
In pole position for transition to net zero
The road to a climate-neutral future proceeds in stages. Project ONE is already making a fundamental difference by making maximum use of the very best of what today’s technology offers. Buyers of Project ONE’s ethylene could save 2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions every year as they will no longer rely on ethylene from more polluting plants.
But the ambition extends further. The flexible design of the plants allows Project ONE to continue to gradually reduce the cracker’s carbon emissions to net zero. INEOS estimates that this should be possible within 10 years of plant start-up. E.g. it is technologically possible to fully fuel Project ONE’s crackers and steam boilers with hydrogen. A prerequisite is the availability of sufficient low-carbon hydrogen and existing infrastructure for its purchase. In addition, Project ONE’s design also provides space for a carbon capture plant, so this option could also be exploited once it is technically and commercially feasible. A third track consists in a partial conversion to electrified furnaces combined with increased off-take of low-carbon hydrogen.