Ineos, Europe’s largest petrochemical firm, with annual sales of about $60 billion, has chosen Antwerp, Belgium, as the location for a 3 billion euro ($3.4 billion) ethylene cracker and propane dehydrogenation complex.
The project will be the biggest investment in Europe’s chemical sector—and the region’s first cracker—in more than 20 years and a “game changer” for the Belgian economy, the company claims. Ineos previously disclosed that the facilities will start up by summer 2022.
Ineos expects the project will have a knock-on effect well beyond its own business. “We believe this investment will reverse years of decline in the European chemicals sector,” CEO Jim Ratcliffe says.
It is a bullish claim, but one echoed by Patrick Kirby, principal olefins analyst at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. “These investments are not only transformational for Ineos, but highly significant for European petrochemicals as a whole,” he says.
The cracker will likely have a capacity of 1 million to 1.25 million metric tons (t) per year of ethylene; the propane dehydrogenation unit will be able to make 750,000 t of propylene, Kirby estimates. Ineos previously said it will use ethane imported from the US as feedstock for the cracker.
The project makes sense for Ineos, Kirby says, because the firm is a net consumer of ethylene in Europe. It now produces close to 3 million t annually but still needs to purchase about 1 million t—more than any other company in Europe—to feed its petrochemical businesses, Kirby says.
One of the benefits of choosing Antwerp, Ineos says, is that it already operates several facilities there making downstream polymers. The firm has six sites near Antwerp and a further three across Belgium. It employs 2,500 across the country.
Ineos says it looked at several alternative locations and scenarios, including expanding existing crackers in Scotland and Norway.