Steel2Chemicals - the reason

Actually, it applies to a whole lot of chains in the world: one person's waste is “another person's food”. That was in fact the basis for the collaboration that led to the Steel2Chemicals project. Under the banner of the Smart Delta Resource program, a consultancy firm went looking for how companies in the area could use each other's 'residual products' as 'raw materials'. What transpired? As many as 180 synergies were found to be possible between twelve large companies in the region. So, potentially, these companies could help each other in many different ways. What one company would cost money to dispose of, the other would pay to use. And as a side benefit: it also saves an enormous amount of energy.

The history

The use of synthesis gas goes back a long way, mostly known as coal gas. This gas was extracted from coal gasification and used for heat and light. The chemical industry also used it as a raw material in the early 20th century, until the industry switched to oil as a cheaper and more flexible alternative. The price of oil fluctuates; in the 1970s, but also around 2012, oil was very expensive. And just as at gas pump gasoline becomes more expensive when oil becomes more expensive, so Dow's raw materials automatically became more expensive as well. And so too the products. To be less dependent on the price fluctuations of oil and in combination with the search for more sustainable solutions, it was decided to look again at (synthesis) gas as a raw material. But this had to be extracted in a different way than from coal gasification.

Synthesis gas

Synthesis gas is an important alternative raw material for Dow's production process. You can make it from coal, but also from natural gas, from biomass and from waste. The first projects to convert synthesis gas into products originated in 2005, 2006 in Dow's laboratory in Terneuzen. These have grown into an entire program that is still running today. All based on synthesis gas, but this gas is hardly made in Europe at the moment. 

Steel2Chemicals as the ultimate synergistic project

For synthesis gas we need carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H). We have hydrogen in Terneuzen itself, but we have no carbon monoxide. However, in the blast furnaces of ArcelorMittal (AM) large quantities of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (CO2) are formed. This goes up in the air as CO2, the CO cannot go up in the air because it is toxic, so it is burned in a power station in Zelzate. That process makes producing steel a big sustainability challenge because of the CO2 emissions. 

Not in the atmosphere, but in a plastic bottle

If Dow can use ArcelorMittal's carbon monoxide in the production of synthesis gas, we kill two birds with one stone. Dow would become less dependent on oil as a raw material and ArcelorMittal would emit less CO2. Long story short: the carbon monoxide that is released in steel production no longer has to go up in the air as CO2 but can be used in the Dow process as a carbon source. The carbon goes from Steel to Chemicals and is stored in materials instead of in the atmosphere. A nice example of industrial symbiosis in the service of the circular economy.

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Listen to the Podcast with Anton van Beek

Listen to the Podcast via the link below, in which Maikel Harte talks to Anton van Beek about the sustainable ambition of Dow Terneuzen.