Rumpelstiltskin spun straw into gold. That was a fairy tale.
Centuries ago alchemists believed they could turn lead into gold. That didn’t work.
It’s a different story today. Chemists are turning plastic waste into liquid feedstock. That’s a golden growth opportunity for Shell Norco and the Norco community.
The site was selected as the first Shell global location to use the feedstock derived from the Plastics to Chemicals (PtC) pyrolysis technique. Norco’s OL-5 Olefins chemical unit is processing recovered liquid from plastic waste – otherwise not traditionally recycled – into base chemicals, including ethylene and propylene.
PtC represents the start of a new value-chain for Shell – with Norco positioned as a global leader and operations center for North America. Shell’s ambition is to use one million tons of plastic waste a year in its global chemicals plants by 2025.
“Shell recognizes the needs of our customers and society at large to more effectively manage and re-use plastic waste,” says Norco General Manager Brett Woltjen. “Our Norco team is proud to be leading Shell’s application of this new technology. Enabling a circular loop by recycling plastic waste to chemicals is an important part of solving the global plastic waste challenge.”
“It’s exciting to be a part of an innovative business concept which has a positive impact on the environment, our business and re-energizes our site,” says Norco Process Engineer for Olefins Special Projects Juan Ibieta.
“Today, sixty percent of global plastic waste is not recovered or repossessed,” adds Olefins Production Unit Manager Brad Halphen. “Norco has the opportunity to demonstrate that Shell is serious about the environment with commercial scale PtC technology as a viable business opportunity and value stream. Norco is at the forefront of this emerging opportunity to help shape the industry and capture economic benefits.”
“Norco is uniquely capable of processing large quantities of recovered liquids to become a solid foundation for Shell chemicals future growth,” Halphen continues. “Our olefins unit was selected for the project based on our expertise and experience with processing a wide range of feed stocks.”
More than eight months of intense planning, preparation and testing by Norco employees, Shell’s Chemicals Business and Shell’s Projects and Technology departments led the way for the new process which is currently in the pilot phase. Norco also worked closely to develop a partnership with Nexus Fuels, which supplies the recovered liquids.
“We followed an aggressive timeline to develop, design and implement the facilities needed to steam-crack plastics-derived pyrolysis liquids from Nexus to our OL-5 Unit,” says Process Engineering Manager John Olson.
“Cooperation, communication and the ability to make informed decisions following testing moved the project along,” explains Ibieta. “That’s how we work at Norco and it was a contributing factor to our selection for initiating an important environmentally-beneficial business.”
“Production is beginning on a small scale with continuing monitoring,” he adds. “So far we have imported a tanker truck load of the liquid feedstock to inject into our furnaces for steam cracking. It’s important to make sure that the unit can support the feed in a clean and reliable process.”
As the project expands, the new feedstock will bring additional requirements for infrastructure and processing upstream of Norco steam cracking facilities,” Olson says. “In terms of margin, we are looking at a value chain which will include waste collectors, technology companies, chemical manufacturers, and consumer product companies.”
According to the PtC team, Norco has the potential to become a leading center for recycling and processing plastics derived from chemical feedstocks for Shell Chemicals in North America. The business is expected to create new purpose and growth for the Norco site as it plays a significant role in helping to address the issues of plastic waste and plastic recovery.