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Jan Keijsper working on OMEGA pilot plant machinery

The OMEGA pilot plant, which is in operation at the Amsterdam Research Laboratory in The Netherlands

The MEG plant utilises Shell’s proprietary OMEGA process. In October 2008 this process won the Sellafield Ltd Award for Engineering Excellence at the IChemE (Institution of Chemicals Engineers) Innovation and Excellence Awards. In December 2008, OMEGA was a finalist in the engineering project of the year category at the Platts Energy Awards and in 2009, was a finalist for commercial technology of the year in the same competition.

The OMEGA process for ethylene oxide/MEG conversion is Shell’s newest technology and combines a CRI high selectivity catalyst for the conversion of ethylene to ethylene oxide (EO) with a catalytic process to convert EO to ethylene glycol.

In the conventional ethylene oxide/glycol process, ethylene reacts with pure oxygen at the ‘front end’ to produce ethylene oxide, producing CO2 as a by-product. There is some distillation to clean off the EO and then it moves to the ‘back end’ glycol section. A lot of water is used to react EO not only into MEG but also into by-products like diethylene glycol (DEG) and triethylene glycol (TEG).

The new OMEGA process in the ‘back end’ glycol section uses a circulating stream of CO2 to convert EO into ethylene carbonate, which is then reacted with water to produce MEG with almost no by-products.

The key to OMEGA's breakthrough lies in its combination of two complementary and highly selective processes which result in by far the lowest consumption of ethylene per tonne of MEG achieved so far in the industry. Other advantages include lower energy and water consumption, thus resulting in lower waste water production.

MEG and Shell

Shell companies have a long history in the manufacture of MEG with strengths in process technology, proprietary catalyst technologies, and manufacturing and marketing. Shell’s EO catalysts are sold to third parties and have a global market share of about 55%, while its EO/EG technology is licensed.