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Shell companies first entered the chemicals industry in 1929, via a partnership in the Netherlands called NV Mekog, which manufactured ammonia from coke-oven gas.
Meanwhile, in the United States, the Shell Chemical Company (founded 1929) began the world's first production of ammonia from natural gas in California in 1931. It also started production of chemical solvents from refinery gases in California during the early 1930s while in 1942 it pioneered the production of butadiene, a key raw material for synthetic rubbers.
In 1941, production of Teepol liquid detergent began at Stanlow in the UK, the first manufacture of a petroleum-based organic chemical in Europe.
In the decades that have followed, Shell chemicals companies have played a major part in the growth of the petrochemicals sector and developed some of its key manufacturing processes. In the table below are some of the highlights of that history of innovation.
|1931||Secondary butyl alcohol (SBA) solvent from butene-butane|
|1933||Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) solvent by dehydrogenation of SBA over copper/zinc|
|1935||Isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and acetone from propylene-propane|
|1937||Epichlorohydrin (ECH) for conversion to glycerine|
|1941||Butadiene from di-Cl-butane (key development in growth of synthetic rubber industry)|
|1942||Cumene by benzene alkylation (differs somewhat from current process)|
|1942||Teepol* detergents from branched olefins|
|1947||Ethanol by catalytic hydration of ethylene (process still in operation in Saudi Arabia)|
|1947||Purified ECH for resins manufacture|
|1948||Glycerine from C3 feedstocks|
|1958||Firrst ethylene oxide/ethylene glycols (EO/EG) plant licensed|
|1960||Polyisoprene rubber by use of lithium catalyst (led to later development of block-copolymers of isoprene or butadiene with styrene: SBS and SIS thermoplastic elastomers)|
|1961||Versatic acids (Koch reaction)|
|1964||Cardura (ECH + Versatic acid)|
|1965||Styrene-butadiene-styrene (SBS) thermoplastic rubber|
|1966||VeoVa (Vinyl Esters Of Versatic Acids) with zinc catalyst|
|1970||Shell HydroFormylation (SHF) process by Co/phosphine for production of alcohols from olefins|
|1970||Direct route to methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) solvent from IPA/acetone|
|1972||Hydrogenated thermoplastic rubbers|
|1976||Shell Higher Olefins Process (SHOP) for production of alpha and internal olefins from ethylene|
|1978||Styrene Monomer/Propylene Oxide (SM/PO) process (subsequently improved with increases in both SM and PO yields)|
|1980||Isoprene extraction by sulpholane from C5 fraction|
|1980||Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) process (implementation of a process developed in the 1960s for potential use in isobutylene manufacture)|
|1987||Liquid Propylene Process (LIPP) and Shell High Activity Catalyst (SHAC) system. The LIPP-SHAC process is now a Basell technology.|
|1988||Speciality di-olefins from butadiene (closed down)|
|1990||MIBK by condensation of acetone|
|1993||Isomerisation of xylene to para-xylene using Pt/mordenite catalyst|
|1996||CORTERRA TM fibres from PTT (polytrimethylene terephthalate) Polymer|
|1999||1,3-propanediol plant opened at Geismar (feedstock for CORTERRA Polymers)|
|2002||Shell acquires Mitsubishi Chemical Company catalytic ethylene glycol process|
|2003||Shell integrates Mitsubishi glycol reaction with Shell EO process to create the OMEGA process|
|2008||First Shell OMEGA plant started up at Lotte Daesan plant in South Korea|
|2010||Completion of the Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex in Singapore, Shell's largest, fully integrated hub to-date. The OMEGA technology is used in the mono-ethylene glycol plant.
|2014||Shell first to offer a globally available portfolio of natural gas-based fluids and solvents for the chemical industry, manufactured at the world’s largest GTL plant, Pearl GTL in Qatar.|
In addition, Shell researchers have achieved major improvements in the ethylene oxide (EO) process over the past 50 years, by making a process switch from air to oxygen and by continuous catalyst improvements.