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OMEGA delivers for ethylene glycol makers

The new Shell OMEGA mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) production process offers a number of significant benefits in the conversion of ethylene to MEG. The technology will be used by Shell at the new Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex in Singapore and is also being licensed to other chemicals producers.

OMEGA technology results in by far the lowest consumption of ethylene per tonne of MEG.

On 21 May 2008, well ahead of schedule, successful start up was completed in Daesan, Korea at the first commercial plant to use the OMEGA technology, a technology licensed by Shell Global Solutions International BV.

The owner and operator of the plant is Korea’s Lotte Petrochemicals Company. Lotte was attracted by the benefits of OMEGA and had confidence in the new technology. The company also had good prior experience with three plants using Shell’s conventional ethylene oxide/MEG technology.

Another plant owned by PetroRabigh - a Saudi Aramco-Sumitomo Chemical joint venture located in Saudi Arabia - is expected to start up in early 2009. Production will begin at Shell’s own OMEGA-based 750,000 tonnes per annum facility at the Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex in Singapore in 2009/10. When complete it will be the world’s largest OMEGA plant.

MEG is a vital ingredient for polyester fibres and film, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins and engine coolants – all of which are seeing burgeoning demand. Together, Shell chemicals companies comprise one of the leading global MEG producers and many plants around the world utilise Shell’s conventional EO/MEG MASTER process technology.

OMEGA is based on the successful integration and development of Shell’s EO process with Mitsubishi’s catalytic stand-alone MEG process. Whereas MASTER technology uses an EO catalyst to react ethylene with oxygen to produce EO and a thermal process in which EO then reacts with water to form glycols, OMEGA is an entirely catalytic process.

Jan Keijsper working on OMEGA pilot plant machinery

Key to OMEGA’s breakthrough is the combination of two complementary and highly selective processes - and making it work at world-scale capacity. The technology had to be redesigned, closely integrated, scaled-up and optimised. This results in by far the lowest consumption of ethylene per tonne of MEG achieved so far in the industry. Capital costs for a new OMEGA plant are also likely to be about 10% less than one employing Shell’s MASTER process technology, with the same MEG capacity.

Additional benefits include lower water and steam consumption at equal EO reaction selectivity and lower waste-water production. A further advantage of OMEGA is that by-product yields of heavier glycols are negligible, which is why OMEGA stands for ‘Only MEG Advantage’.

Shell Global Solutions’ EO/MEG design group leader Arthur Rots (pictured), who led the Lotte start up team, admits to being pleased by the success of the Lotte project. “To get a plant up and running in 29 months from kick-off is very fast, even by Korean standards. We were surprised by the purity and the yield of MEG, which was better than we expected. OMEGA technology has lived up to its promise and met all design guarantees.”

While enjoying the success of OMEGA, Shell Global Solutions is not standing still. An OMEGA pilot plant commissioned at the Shell Technology Research Centre in Amsterdam in 2006 plays a key role in the improvement and further development of the process.

“Our aim is to make sure we are still number one in EO/MEG technology in ten years time,” says Jan Keijsper, Global Solutions regional manager for EO/MEG technology. “We have many ideas to make the process even more competitive, and the pilot plant is a vehicle for further process improvement and will help in providing technical support to OMEGA licensees.”

This feature was added to the Innovations section in October 2008.