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World's First Large-scale Electrically Heated Steam Cracker Starts Up

BASF, SABIC, and Linde have inaugurated the world’s first demonstration plant for large-scale electrically heated steam cracking furnaces. Following three years of development, engineering, and construction work, the regular operation of the demonstration plant is now ready to start at BASF’s Verbund site in Ludwigshafen, Germany. In March 2021 the three companies signed a joint agreement to develop and demonstrate solutions for electrically heated steam cracking furnaces.

Steam crackers play a central role in the production of basic chemicals and require a significant amount of energy to break down hydrocarbons into olefins and aromatics. Typically, the reaction is conducted in furnaces at temperatures of about 850 degrees Celsius. Up to now, these temperatures have been reached by using conventional fuels. The demonstration plant aims to show that continuous olefin production is possible using electricity as a heat source. By using electricity from renewable sources, the new technology has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions of one of the most energy-intensive production processes in the chemical industry by at least 90% compared to technologies commonly used today.

The demonstration plant, which produces olefins, such as ethylene, propylene, and possibly also higher olefins from saturated hydrocarbon feedstock, is fully integrated into the existing steam crackers in Ludwigshafen. The upcoming operation serves the goal of gathering data and experiences about material behavior and processes under commercial operating conditions for the final development of this innovative technology to industrial market maturity. In two separate demonstration furnaces, two different heating concepts will be tested. While in one furnace, direct heating applies an electric current directly to the cracking coils, in the second furnace, indirect heating uses radiative heat of heating elements placed around the coils. The two electrically heated furnaces together process around 4 tons of hydrocarbon feedstock per hour and consume 6 megawatts of renewable energy.

Image courtesy of SABIC

Lummus, Braskem in Joint Electric Furnace Study

In a separate development, Lummus Technology and Braskem will undertake joint studies related to the industrial demonstration of Lummus’ SRT-e electric cracking heater to decarbonize one of Braskem’s sites in Brazil.'The selection of Lummus’ SRT-e electric cracking heater as a means to decarbonize Braskem’ ethylene plants are founded on a shared commitment to develop and implement profitable sustainable technologies and solutions,” said Jose de Barros, Vice President and Managing Director of Ethylene, Lummus Technology. “We look forward to demonstrating our breakthrough electrification technology that drastically reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

The SRT-e electric cracking heater leverages Lummus’ proven Short Residence Time (SRT®) technology modified to operate using electricity and incorporates a modular unit-cell design that can be replicated for plants to accommodate any commercial capacity. The technology uses all commercially demonstrated components, plus an optimum heat flux profile leading to a longer radiant coil life and longer run length. In addition, decoking can be carried out on a unit-cell basis so maintaining a spare heater is not required.

This initiative is part of Braskem's ambitions to combat climate change, which includes reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by 2030 and attaining carbon neutrality by 2050.


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