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National oil companies plunge deeper into chemicals

Big investments are planned in Abu Dhabi, Qatar, and Algeria to diversify away from oil and gas

by Alexander H. Tullo
May 21, 2018 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 96, Issue 21


A photo of Sultan Al Jaber.
Credit: ADNOC
Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber

In an effort to diversify their economies, national oil companies from the Middle East and North Africa are investing in chemicals, where they see attractive growth and sustainable prospects. Abu Dhabi National Oil Co. (ADNOC) plans to invest $45 billion, with partners, in its refining and petrochemical complex in Ruwais, United Arab Emirates. Qatar Petroleum and Algeria’s Sonatrach are also spearheading multi-billion-dollar investments.

The plans come on the heels of an initiative announced last month by Saudi Aramco to spend $60 billion on petrochemical and refining projects in the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and India.

ADNOC says it wants to make Ruwais “the world’s largest and most advanced integrated refining and petrochemical complex.” It will add a refinery to the site, increasing capacity more than 65% up to 1.5 million barrels per day, by 2025.

In chemicals, the company plans a mixed-feed ethylene cracker that will triple the site’s petrochemical output to 14.4 million metric tons by 2025. The cracker is an amplification of plans ADNOC and European polyolefins maker Borealis unveiled last year to up capacity in Ruwais to 11.4 million metric tons by 2023.

ADNOC is also establishing two industrial parks on nearly 10 km2 of land meant to attract makers of specialty chemicals and other products to Ruwais. ADNOC has already signed on the Spanish firm Cepsa to build a plant for the surfactant raw material linear alkylbenzene.

“We are extending an invitation to both existing and new partners to join with us in building a world-leading refining and petrochemicals complex and manufacturing ecosystem here in Ruwais,” says Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the United Arab Emirates’ minister of state and the CEO of ADNOC.

Qatar Petroleum says it is inviting a group of “international companies” with experience in petrochemicals to participate in a 1.6 million-metric-ton-per-year ethylene cracker that will be fed with locally produced ethane. Chevron Phillips and Total already have petrochemical joint ventures in Qatar. Shell and ExxonMobil have considered building crackers there but have not done so.

In Algeria, meanwhile, Total and Sonatrach are planning a $1.4 billion propane dehydrogenation and polypropylene plant with 550,000 metric tons of annual output. A decade ago, the two firms planned a cracker project that didn’t materialize.


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