BRITAIN is not the only place to benefit. Belgium is also celebrating after Antwerp was chosen for the largest investment ever made by INEOS.
Frank Beckx, managing director of essenscia Flanders, said the decision to build a new cracker and a world-scale PDH plant was of great strategic importance to the Port of Antwerp.
“It is undoubtedly the most important economic news in a long time,” he said. “Not since the 1990s has such an installation been built in western Europe.”
INEOS’ €3 billion investment will help to reverse years of decline in the European chemicals industry.
“We hope this kickstarts investment and renewal in the European petrochemical market, which has been stagnant for more than a generation,” said John McNally, CEO of INEOS Project One- the INEOS organisation created to realise the project.
It is hoped that other European chemical companies will follow suit, replacing old, outdated technology with energy-efficient systems with low emissions. “This has been happening in America since the shale gas revolution,” said John. “We desperately need to see it happen in Europe.”
First, though, INEOS said the EU needed to scrap its ‘foolish’ green taxes which had driven investment out of Europe and into America, China and the Middle East.
“The USA is in the middle of a $200 billion spending spree on 333 new chemical plants,” Chairman Jim Ratcliffe wrote in an open letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
“The USA doesn’t have green taxes but it does insist on the very highest environmental standards before it issues permits for new builds.”
He said Europe already had the world’s most expensive energy and labour laws that were uninviting for employers.
“It is no longer competitive,” he said. “And going it alone with green taxes prevents renewal as it frightens away investment. It also pushes manufacturing to other parts of the world that care less for the environment.”
INEOS’ decision to invest in Europe goes against the grain but it makes financial sense.
For the new cracker and PDH plant in Antwerp will be converting huge quantities of shale gas – shipped by INEOS from the US - into two million tonnes a year of propylene and ethylene for its own businesses in Europe.
Up to 3,000 people are expected to help build the new plants. Once fully operational in about 2024, about 400 people will be employed to run them.
Hans Casier, CEO of INEOS Phenol, said it was rather fitting that INEOS has chosen to build the first gas cracker in Europe for 20 years at The Port of Antwerp.
“This is actually the cradle of INEOS,” he said. “It is where it all started in 1998.”
Bart De Wever, mayor of the City of Antwerp, said he felt humbled by INEOS’ decision.
“These are the moments you live and work for,” he said. “This is an investment for an entire generation.”
He said it also demonstrated that, even in times of Brexit uncertainty, investors still believed in economic growth, internationalisation and sustainable technology.
John McNally said 100 new engineers would be needed to run the plants, and people – both young graduates and experienced engineers and technicians – were already queuing up.
“We have had a massive amount of interest,” he said. “For every opening we have, we must have 20 or more applicants. It’s an exciting time.”