With Europe now one of the most expensive places in the world to make chemicals, energy-intensive companies like INEOS need to think creatively if they are to stay in business. At the French site in Lavéra, changes are afoot.
Marseille is the oldest – and second largest – city in France. It enjoys miles of sandy beaches and is peppered with picturesque buildings.
As such, you wouldn’t expect it to have anything in common with a neighbouring crude oil refinery, which produces thousands of tons of gasoline, jet fuel, diesel, and heating oil every day. But it does.
For INEOS’ Lavéra petrochemicals site and Petroineos’ crude oil refinery – just 30 miles west of Marseille – use as much energy as the city itself.
And therein lies the problem.
“We have got to continually maximise our energy efficiency,” said Jean-Noël Large, who now has the job of improving the energy efficiency of the 81-year-old refinery. “It is one of INEOS’ top priorities, and not just in France. The high cost of energy is a problem for the whole of Europe. Our energy costs are now incredibly high compared to America and Asia. Compared to other similar-sized petrochemical companies and refineries on other continents, we are currently in a difficult position, and people on site generally understand the situation well.”
In his role, Jean-Noël works closely with on-site technicians, manufacturing, process and maintenance engineers across the site, experts from INEOS Technologies and also external partners.
“The INEOS Technologies modelling team has the ability to carry out simulations to explore ways to improve the efficiency of the site,” he said.
The 650-hectare Lavéra site as a whole is one of the biggest petrochemical sites in Europe. It was owned by BP when Jean-Noël joined the company in 1989. INEOS acquired it when it bought BP’s Innovene business for $9 billion nine years ago, in December 2005.
“When BP owned the site, the cost of energy in Europe was competitive,” he said. “But the price of energy in Europe has continued to rise whilst the shale gas boom has dramatically reduced the price of energy for our competitors in the US, creating a huge difference between these markets. Energy is now a top priority for us and it is up there with the reliability of the site.”
Tom Crotty, INEOS Group Director, said spiralling energy costs in Europe meant it now cost INEOS’ Olefins & Polymers business in France twice as much as it did in America to produce a ton of ethylene.
“If we want to be around in years to come to compete then it is incredibly important to cut our energy bills,” said Jean-Noël.
He is currently working on many projects. Smaller ones, including a steam balance tool to analyse steam consumption across the refinery, have already been implemented, others are ongoing – and so far investments and careful monitoring have led to a 20% reduction in the number of steam leaks – and more are in the pipeline.
This year he will also oversee a major change to one of the furnaces in the refinery. The crude oil distillation unit currently runs on a mixture of liquid and gas but, from May, it will run on gas only.
“At the moment the combustion of liquid fuel generates deposits in the furnace that limit its global efficiency,” said Jean-Noël.
By improving the efficiency of the unit, less fuel will be burned, money will be saved and air emissions will be reduced.
Petroineos Manufacturing France is also investing in a €70 million project to two install new state-of-the-art steam boilers by mid-2015. Once in place, they too will improve the efficiency of the refinery, and lead to a further reduction in emissions.
In 2002, 13,000 tons a year of sulphur dioxide were being emitted into the atmosphere from the site. By 2013 INEOS had cut that figure by 70% a year thanks to a series of improvements and investment. “With the changes we are going to make, we will be able to cut further these emissions by more than 90% by 2016,” said Jean-Noël.
He said all the projects would have a huge impact on the efficiency of the refinery and help the site to regain its competitiveness. “We are looking at saving up to €25 million a year,” he said.
Jean-Noël is excited by what lies ahead for Lavéra, and also the difference he can make. “I have been given the freedom to explore any path judged as potentially interesting, that helps our performance and reduces cost to the business,” he said. “My field of investigation covers any unit of the refinery and any source of energy improvement. And hopefully my experience and my knowledge of the site and of the people will help me to implement this action plan.”