31. Should INEOS not produce more bio-based plastics?
The introduction of bio-based raw materials for the production of plastics is a very promising evolution. Although it is not yet possible to make all plastics from bio-based raw materials, we are fully committed to increasing the amount of bio-based raw materials we use, especially in Belgium:
- Biovyn, production of PVC from biomass: at our INOVYN site in Jemeppe, we have made it possible to produce PVC with ethylene produced from a biomass that does not compete with food production. In this way, there is a reduction of CO2 emissions of more than 90 percent compared to production from fossil raw materials. This supply chain has been fully certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), an independent third party.
- Bio-attribution of renewable raw materials: ‘bio-attribution’ expresses the extent to which fossil raw materials have been replaced by renewable or bio-based raw materials. Ineos O&P North Lillo offers a range of Bio-Attributed Olefins and Polyolefins, based on renewable bio-based raw materials that do not compete with food production. Their supply chain is fully certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB), an independent third party.
30. Are there no alternative raw materials for the shale gas from the United States that Project ONE will use?
The ethane that Project ONE will convert into ethylene is a by-product of shale gas extraction in the United States. The ethane is extracted from the natural gas which is used for heating in the United States, among other things.
Thanks to this ethane, and to state-of-the-art production techniques, Project ONE’s CO2 emissions will be less than half those of comparable installations (these run mainly on oil (naphtha) or coal). This will allow us to meet the growing demand for ethylene and propylene worldwide, with much lower emissions than if we were dependent on oil.
In that context, reference is also sometimes made to methane emissions from shale gas extraction. However, shale gas also scores better than naphtha in this respect. New research shows that there is a 0.27 percent loss of methane during the extraction of gas and oil in the North Sea, while this is between 0.06 percent and 0.04 percent for American producers of shale gas, such as EQT, Antero and Range Resources.
In addition, the supply of ethane from conventional natural gas extraction in the North Sea is depleting. Ethane as a by-product of shale gas extraction is available and can be valorized by the chemical industry as a raw material for ethylene production. Previously, it was often flared off (burned at source) because it had no commercial use and because of its high calorific properties, it had to be isolated from the methane gas massively used for heating in the USA. Naphtha (crude oil) is an alternative to ethane. A comparison of ethylene production ‘from well to fence’ based on naphtha versus ethane shows that the latter has a footprint that is substantially lower than that of naphtha.
Today, there is no fully-fledged biological alternative to ethane. At least 2.5 million tons of ethanol is needed to produce one and a half million tons of ethylene. By way of comparison: sugar beets produce 5000 liters of ethanol per hectare or 3.95 metric tons of ethanol/hectare. In other words, 633 000 ha of sugar beet are needed to feed an ethane cracker to produce one and a half million ethylene. According to Statbel data, the Flemish Region had 622 000 ha of agricultural land at its disposal in 2019. This integral area would not be sufficient on its own and would mean that this land could not be used for food production.
In time, for example, propane from biodiesel could become an alternative to propylene production. Project ONE could use this as feedstock. But in order to provide Project ONE with sufficient biopropane, for example, you would have to plant at least 7,500 km2 of land, that is more than half of Flanders, with rapeseed. Given the unavailability of such quantities, biodiesel is currently not a robust alternative.
29. Is there a demand for the products of Project ONE?
The market forecasts an average annual growth in demand for ethylene of 4% over the next five years. According to IHS Market forecasts, ethylene will be imported into Europe for the next 5 years.
Even in the International Energy Agency (IEA) sustainable scenario, the demand for basic chemicals such as ethylene and propylene will increase by about 40 percent between 2017 and 2050. This is under the influence of a rising world population, rising prosperity and social evolutions (e.g. less demand for disposable plastics such as plastic bags, more demand for electric car components).
This sustainable scenario, with fewer emissions and more recycling, reduces the demand for new basic chemicals by 7 percent compared to the baseline scenario. Considerable efforts in recycling are therefore useful, but not sufficient to meet market demand. The production of new ethylene and propylene, as Project ONE will do, provides an answer to society’s need for these basic building blocks.
 The Clean Tech Scenario (CTS) by 2050 includes a 45% reduction in direct CO2 emissions from chemistry despite a 40% increase in demand for basic chemicals. It also includes a (nearly) tripling of the global average collection rate of plastic waste.
28. Shouldn’t we focus more on recycling instead of producing new plastics?
INEOS is strongly committed to reduce plastic waste. It is not the plastics themselves that are the problem, but the fact that they are thrown away in to the environment, sent to landfill, or incinerated. According to INEOS’ vision, we have to handle plastics with care, precisely because they are such valuable materials. That’s why INEOS invests heavily to support the recycling of plastics. In this way, all polymers produced by us (such as polyethylene and polypropylene produced on the basis of Project ONE-output) can be fully recycled.
INEOS is investing to support different forms of recycling. We develop products that lend themselves to mechanical recycling so that recycled material can also be used for high-quality applications, and we incorporate recycled plastics in to our products. We invest in the development of our processes to use bio-based raw materials or waste plastics as raw materials for new plastics. Advanced recycling (also called chemical recycling) is a developing technology. As we commercialize this technology, we will be able to produce more plastic from recycled products, creating a market for waste plastic.
All of this fits in with our commitment of the INEOS Pledge to transform plastics into a valuable material. In doing so, we want to integrate 325,000 tons of recycled products back into production processes by 2024, make 100 percent of our plastics recyclable, and offer a plastic mix with up to half recycled plate. This in cooperation with the brands that market these plastics.
Here are some concrete examples:
– Upgrading plastics for successful combination with recycled material Each time a polymer (such as polyethylene and polypropylene) is mechanically recycled, the quality of the material decreases. This is why these recyclates are usually used in low performance and rather inexpensive end applications such as flower pots and garbage bags. The goal of INEOS is to increase the value of recycled polymers so that they are equivalent to ‘virgin’ plastics. In our research centre in Neder-Over-Heembeek we have succeeded in making products that meet the demanding performance characteristics required by our customers, whilst containing more than 50% of recycled plastic. These products are now fully commercialised under our Recyl-IN brand name.
– Advanced (chemical) recycling of polyethylene and polypropylene. Instead of making plastics based on naphtha (from crude oil), INEOS has started a partnership with the recycling company Plastic Energy to break down used polyethylene and polypropylene to their base molecules so that they can be reused as a new feedstock. After first successful tests in 2020, INEOS and Plastic Energy are now developing a project to build a new installation that can carry out this process on a large scale.
– Depolymerization of styrene. INEOS Styrolution has already made a breakthrough for chemical recycling by depolymerizing polystyrene waste: laboratory scale production of new polystyrene based on recycled styrene monomers. For example, old yoghurt jars can be reused half in new products. This happens at the site of Styrolution in Antwerp, the largest polystyrene installation in Europe. Soon a partnership will be entered into with waste processing company INDAVER whereby polystyrene waste will be recycled into pure styrene monomers. Already in 2022, a demo plant will be operational that will be able to recycle 15,000 tons. This project fits in Styrolution’s efforts to make plastic products based on waste or renewable raw materials.
27. Does Project ONE’s output go mainly to disposable products?
Project ONE produces ethylene, a gaseous substance that is an essential building block of chemistry. On the basis of these substances, further down the production chain, products will be made that are inextricably linked to our contemporary life. Just think about it:
- Personal care products such as contact lenses, eyewear, toothbrushes, and cosmetics.
- Electronics such as mobile phones, computers, and coffee machines.
- Essential utilities and applications for our homes such as pipes for transporting drinking water or gas, window frames and doors.
- Healthcare applications such as mouth masks, face shields, syringes, medications and blood/plasma bags.
- Things we use in our leisure time, such as sports equipment and clothing, outdoor furniture, and a TV.
- Products that contribute to a sustainable society such as insulation materials, lightweight parts for cars, solar panels, lubricants for wind turbines, and wind turbine blades.
Most of the INEOS Group’s production is for such applications in construction, automotive, household appliances and the like. About one quarter of the final products go in to packaging for the food industry.
Packaging is sometimes vilified, but it is important to improve the safety and shelf life of food products. For example, the packaging of a cucumber improves its shelf life by about 11 days. Because there is less food waste, the packaging saves 5 times as much CO2 as was needed to produce it. Alternatives to plastic packaging, such as paper, glass and aluminum, use more resources such as energy and water, and may also require the use of plastics to deliver the required performance. This can result in higher CO2 emissions (see TED-talk by UGent professor Kim Ragaert).
15. Will shale gas come to Antwerp?
No. Ethane – one of the raw materials for Project ONE – is a by-product of natural gas, which we import to Antwerp by ship. These ships are also powered by ethane gas and not by heavy fuel oil. Using gas as a fuel eliminates sulfur emissions and reduces CO2 emissions compared to conventional fuels.
Is shale gas sustainable?
Shale gas does draw criticism. Still, shale gas is a natural gas that heats homes and other buildings, primarily in the United States. Before it can be used to provide heat, the ethane must be removed. This ethane (which would otherwise be burned on-site in the atmosphere) is an important raw material for Project ONE.
INEOS purchases this by-product only from recognized and reputed players, who ensure that the gas is extracted under the most stringent conditions.
An independent study compared the emissions from an ethane installation, such as in Project ONE, to an installation that uses crude oil (a so-called naphtha installation). The study, which ranged from the source to the processing, storage, transport and production, showed that Project ONE’s ethane plant emits less than half of the CO2 for the same production.
14. What exactly will Project ONE do? Which raw material?
Project ONE will convert ethane to ethylene. Ethylene is one of chemistry’s main building blocks from which many products are constructed that are essential in everyday life: building materials, medical applications, clothing, windmill components, light packaging materials, lightweight parts for cars, and many more.