The greenest cracker in Europe and possibly the world
INEOS plans to build the greenest cracker in Europe, and possibly even the world. It is known as Project ONE and is the largest investment in the European chemical sector for a generation. CEO John McNally said the final bill was likely to be about $4 billion.
The new ethane cracker will not only be built using the very best of today’s technology and have the lowest carbon footprint in Europe, but it will also force others to replace their ageing European assets or shut them down.
“We are hoping it will help revitalize the whole of the European chemical industry,” said Jason Meers, CFO INEOS Project ONE.
In the past, INEOS has grown through acquiring the unloved assets of other companies.
“This is a new chapter for INEOS, because it is the first time we have built a bespoke asset to our demand and needs,” said John.
Construction has already begun in the Port of Antwerp with INEOS hoping the plant will start operating at the end of 2026.
The importance of this investment is not lost on INEOS’ youngest employees.
Robin Stichelbaut, 25, is part of Project ONE’s procurement team – and joined INEOS about two years ago.
“After I finished studying, I was determined to find a job where I could make a difference in the chemical industry,” he said. “INEOS is the one company that offered me the chance to do that.”
He described Project ONE as a game changer for the chemical industry.
“I have been given a unique opportunity to be involved in a project that will help the chemical industry in my home town Antwerp to become sustainable and eventually move towards climate neutrality by investing in the most innovative techniques,” he said.
Dries De Keyser, 23, is one of five Belgian process operators currently being trained in Köln, Germany, to become experts in the cracking process.
“The fact that I will be able to make an impact and influence the entire chemical industry in Europe is a huge opportunity,” he said.
The plant will be built using the very best of today’s technology – with one eye on the future.
“It is being designed in such a way that we can integrate other technologies as soon as they become available,” said John.
That will include capturing and storing CO2 and using 100% hydrogen as a fuel.
Last year INEOS Olefins Belgium became the first industrial company to sign an agreement with Fluxys to take part in a feasibility study for the development of an ‘open access’ hydrogen network in the Port of Antwerp.
Project ONE could become one of Fluxys’ largest customers.
“From day one we will be able to meet 60% of the heat demand with the high volumes of hydrogen from our cracking process,” said Ralf Gesthuisen, Technology Manager.
“If we gain access to more low-carbon hydrogen in the future, we can increase this to 100% and bring the emissions of Project ONE to net zero.”
Fluxys’ business director, Raphaël De Winter, said the Belgian-based company was committed to developing a ‘well-functioning’ market for hydrogen quickly.
“It is going to require an open access grid to which everyone can connect on an equal footing so that supply and demand can find each other smoothly,” she said.
“The interest shown by INEOS Olefins Belgium is an important step in the development of the infrastructure needed by industry.”
INEOS’ decision to build a new cracker in Europe was hailed as ground-breaking when founder Sir Jim Ratcliffe announced the news at a press conference in 2019.
For decades no one has invested such a significant amount in the European chemical industry, opting for the US, China and other parts of Asia instead.
It is hoped Project ONE will help to reverse that trend and the decline.
The ethane cracker, much of which will be designed, built and transported by ship to the site in separate parts, will convert the odourless and colourless ethane gas into ethylene – one of the most widely used chemicals in the world and essential for a wide range of products, including clothing and medicines.
“Ethylene touches every part of our life,” said John. “The products that we use day-to-day in our house, like the insulation in our walls to the tap water that comes through pipes made from polyethylene.”
During its construction, about 3,000 will be working for INEOS. Once operational, it will employ 450 full-time staff.
The plant will emit less than half of the CO2 emissions of the cleanest crackers in Europe.
“Project ONE is unique,” said Michel Machielsen, Cracker Operations Representative – Project ONE. “Many of these projects are being built on another continent but INEOS wants to achieve this in Europe, which means that the project must meet much stricter requirements.”
He added: “It is a bold move but completely in line with what we want in terms of sustainability and climate goals.”
Joy Donne, CEO Flanders Investment & Trade, described Project ONE as an exceptional project, which had won the 2020 Exceptional Investment of the Year Trophy. “It is a trend-setter,” he said.