Excellence in Ethylene optimisation

Paul Boughton

Process manufacturers must implement best practices to truly optimise their engineering, manufacturing and supply chain operations. By John Hague.

Achieving excellence in the ethylene industry is an important strategic goal for many Middle East companies. As global production intensifies, moving further downstream towards heavier feedstocks and higher value products means the need to be faster to market. So, during this particularly strong period of global demand, how can Middle East petrochemicals companies continue to capitalise on the need for downstream derivatives and optimise production?

Process manufacturers must implement best practices to truly optimise their engineering, manufacturing and supply chain operations. Integrated advanced technology plays a vital strategic role in Middle East owner-operator plans to maximise operational performance and improve profitability. Breakthrough innovations in process optimisation software allow new and occasional users to become proficient faster, from design through production, bringing the power of optimisation to more people in engineering, operations, planning, scheduling and across the entire enterprise.

Outpacing the opponents

The Middle East accounts for about 20% of world ethylene production. No longer reliant upon traditional oil & gas exploration, major Middle East operators are building more sustainable and profitable businesses by continuing to be one of the largest providers and exporters of global ethylene as market demand grows for primary derivatives, including polyethylene and ethylene glycol. 

With the natural advantage of cheap feedstock, petrochemical producers are able to maximise their margins by expanding their operations and portfolios in the downstream sector. According to Business Monitor International (BMI), half of all the new ethylene projects being developed globally are located in the Persian Gulf and through 2017 the Middle East could add almost 6 million tons per year of ethylene capacity.

Ethylene is one of the crucial building blocks of the petrochemical industry. The increasing requirement for packaging, piping, plastic coatings, paints and similar goods mean that low cost production for polyethylene is in high demand. The Saudi petrochemical industry, for example, has witnessed significant growth. The Kingdom’s ethylene capacity expanded at a CAGR of 11.5% over 2005 - 2010. The country’s share of the global ethylene market increased from 6.3% in 2007 to 9.4% in 2009 and it now accounts for more than 50% of the Middle East’s total ethylene capacity. 

With the need to improve infrastructure as compared to the US and its boom in shale gas, the Middle East is reliant on cutting-edge technology and expertise to keep pace with market competition. What distinguishes cracking operations in the Middle East from other regions, however, is the capacity of ethane cracking over other feedstocks. The cost of gas is relatively low, whereas ethylene prices are high. As there are major ethylene cracker building projects in the region, the chemical industry is experiencing excellent potential returns on investment.

Excellence in design through production

Ethylene plants are highly complex, large-scale operations that can process a wide variety of feedstock (e.g. ethane, propane, LPG, naphthas, to distillates and gas oils). Expanding capacity of higher value added products means that cracker capacity will need to move from lighter feedstock (ethane) to heavier feedstock (naphtha).

To gain an edge in ethylene production, the ability to control and manage a project from design through all of its phases to production execution is critical. Middle East companies are embracing advanced technology to maximise production, reduce costs and energy consumption, whilst establishing facilities that yield high-value petrochemical derivatives that deliver less volatile margins. State-of-the-art process optimisation software include steady-state and dynamic models to guide operating decisions, performance and equipment analysis; offline and real-time plant optimisation and the improvement of linear programming (LP) planning models for better feedstock selection. The real-time visibility provided by leading planning and scheduling tools helps olefins producers to buy, manage and process feedstocks in the most profitable manner, providing a solid competitive advantage. 

Many Middle East companies have adopted AspenTech’s process optimisation software to addresses oil, gas, chemicals, petrochemicals and engineering & construction (E&C) challenges to design and operate safe plants, whilst ensuring project costs are accurate from concept to construction – all under tight deadlines. The ability to simultaneously model, analyse and design results quickly with sophisticated visualisation tools and identify optimum designs early in the project lifecycle results in design efficiency and overall profitability. Having the right information at the right time and in the right format also helps to dramatically improve production and enables key stakeholders across the enterprise to make better informed decisions. Greater mobility through cross-platform HTML5 enables process industry professionals to work with aspenONE software through web-enabled devices. This means users can now harness the powerful optimisation software through corporate network connections via tablets, laptops or desktop computers, delivering large amounts of contextualised plant data on a variety of devices making data analysis faster and easier anytime, anywhere.

Engineering is an integrated lifecycle process from conceptual design through plant start-up and operations support, enabling users to model, build and operate safer, more efficient and competitive process plants. Cutting-edge engineering software from AspenTech helps the user to visualise energy saving potentials and suggest design improvements. Activated Dynamics Analysis, for example, in Aspen HYSYS software automates dynamic modelling with a single button click to speed up model setup and enable more process engineers to perform compressor operability screening. Expanded pressure safety valve design and rating in Aspen Plus and Aspen HYSYS enables fire analysis scenario calculations - accounting for latent heat and temperature change and rupture disk sizing. All functionality improves chemical and energy operators’ compliance with API 520 and 521. The detailed unit rate estimating in Aspen Capital Cost Estimator (ACCE) extends the software’s scope further into the detailed estimating phase of a project, enabling easy adjustment of labour and material unit rates as well as materials of construction. The result is expected to enable organisations to achieve up to ±10% accuracy or better, reducing project risk and improving decision making around the use of capital.

Leading planning and scheduling solutions enable olefins producers to also select optimal feedstock based on operational conditions and demands, thereby extracting maximum value from the available options.

Companies deploying aspenONE Planning & Scheduling for Olefins are able to generate bottom-line benefits ranging from US$6 – $13MM per year with payback in months instead of years. By running the right feedstock, operating with best practices and increasing throughput through improved asset utilisation, companies gain the competitive advantage to sustain significant economic value.

Advanced Process Control (APC) technologies enable companies to improve product quality, reduce energy and raw material usage, grow overall operational efficiency, and increase throughput while maintaining safe and reliable operation. Besides these typical benefits, companies are finding the increased agility provided by APC can also help them adjust to changing economic conditions. AspenTech’s APC solution enables companies to make the whole plant more energy efficient by ensuring that operators have enhanced control over the operation. 

Excellence in revenue returns

Olefins producers must bring products to market quickly to remain competitive. Advanced software is successfully used in Olefins plants across the Middle East and has significantly improved product quality, plant efficiency and resulted in swift payback in short time scales. Design and operational information is now available anytime, anywhere and accessible to key decision-makers for greater collaborative, accurate and efficient engineering. Planners and schedulers can use the latest tools to select the optimal slate and blend of feedstocks that will enable them to maximise output while maintaining product quality to meet demand. 

By establishing an integrated olefins optimisation process and utilising best in class process optimisation software, Middle East petrochemicals companies can maximise profitability from the plant, furthering operational excellence from design through production.

John Hague, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Middle East and North Africa, AspenTech.