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Chemical plants expand in Baytown to meet growing plastics demand

December 15, 2021

Petrochemical giants are expanding their Baytown plants and production capacity to meet rising demand for plastics.

Chevron Phillips Chemical on Wednesday became the latest to expand its footprint, announcing plans to build a propylene unit at its Baytown plant. The Woodlands-based company on Wednesday said it made a final decision to invest in a new C3 splitter unit at its Cedar Bayou facility in Baytown that is expected to produce 1 billion pounds of propylene annually.

The C3 splitter will convert a refinery-grade mixture of propylene and propane into a high-purity propylene, which is a key ingredient for many household and industrial products such as plastic packaging and automotive parts. The new unit is expected to start construction in January and be completed in 2023. The project is expected to support more than 350 construction jobs.

“With global propylene demand on the rise, this project reinforces Chevron Phillips Chemical’s commitment to expand to meet our customers’ needs and remain a leading propylene supplier,” said Justine Smith, Chevron Phillips’ senior vice president of petrochemicals.

Companies are investing in expansion projects to meet growing demand for petrochemicals that are used in a variety of household and industrial products, from plastics to shampoos. Demand for plastics, in particular, is expected to increase to more than 350 million metric tons by 2050, up from 200 million metric tons today, according to Wood Mackenzie, an energy research firm.

Exxon Mobil last month began its previously announced expansion of its petrochemical complex in Baytown.

The $2 billion expansion will increase Exxon’s production of linear alpha olefins by 350,000 tons a year and its polymers production by 400,000 metric tons a year. Olefins and polymers are used in plastics, detergents and adhesives. The expansion is expected to be completed by 2023.

The petrochemical industry, however, faces mounting concerns about greenhouse gas emissions and plastics pollution, particularly from single-use products such as plastic packaging and drinking straws that litter landfills and oceans.

“Plastic has been a complete game changer over the past 50 years. It has become a vital part of everyday life,” said Andrew Brown, Wood Mackenzie’s head of polymer demand. “However, the balance has shifted too far toward low-cost, disposable plastics, which cause environmental damage at every stage in their life cycle, and it needs more than a nip-and-tuck approach to address this.”

Exxon in October said it plans to build its first, large-scale plastic waste recycling facility in Baytown that is expected to start operating by the end of 2022.

The recycling plant, which will be one of the largest in North America, will have the capacity to recycle 30,000 metric tons of plastic waste each year, turning it back into the chemical raw materials that can be used again to make plastic and other products.

Exxon is planning to expand its plastic recycling capacity globally to around 500,000 metric tons over the next five years, and is assessing sites in the Netherlands, the U.S. Gulf Coast, Canada and Singapore.

Cyclyx International, a New Hampshire-based plastic feedstock management company, on Wednesday said it plans to build the nation’s first large-scale plant to recycle plastics that currently cannot be recycled. The facility, which will be located near Exxon’s recycling plant in Baytown, will process more than 60,000 metric tons of waste plastic. It is expected to open by the end of 2022.

“The development of these customized plastics recovery facilities is critical in meeting the growing needs of advanced recyclers,” said Joe Vaillancourt, CEO of Cyclyx, “and is a big step forward toward our mission of helping increase the plastic recycling rate from 10 percent to 90 percent.”

By Paul Takahashi, Houston Chronicle