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Our Innovations

Chemicals innovation at DPC plant

A new process for the manufacture of diphenyl carbonate has the potential to create a more sustainable route to polycarbonates.

Shell Chemicals has long been a leading player in the manufacture and sale of bulk petrochemicals to large industrial customers. Our rich technical heritage, together with market-leading proprietary technologies and powerful catalysts, underpin our strong product portfolio and world-class manufacturing plants.

  • Innovation is at the heart of everything we do. We continually seek to improve our manufacturing processes, maximise yields, minimise energy use and reduce waste. 

  • We create innovative products and technical solutions that meet customers’ needs and position us as an attractive partner for growth.

  • We also invest to develop next-generation technologies that could use new sources of feedstocks, at a lower cost and with reduced environmental impact.

  • But we recognise that innovation goes beyond traditional product and process development. We also look at how we can innovate in the way we do business: in our service offerings to customers, partnerships with suppliers, routes-to-market, or supply chain and operations.
Men checking storage tanks

The conditions under which styrene is kept have to be carefully controlled.

As a chemicals supplier, we are committed to acting responsibly in all that we do. We are also working to integrate the principles of sustainable development into our business activities. Here are a few examples:

  • In Italy, regulations strictly limit the volume of ethylene oxide (EO) that can be stored on a customer’s premises. This means that even scheduled deliveries could be turned away if product is already stored on the site. Rather than compromise on product stewardship by parking an EO road tanker on the side of the road, Shell worked with its transport provider and a local customer to build a new Transit Safety Port (TSP) for storing EO. The TSP provides a safe and secure stopping-off point for the hazardous EO product until it can complete its final journey to customers.

  • Styrene is a highly reactive material making it both versatile for use in the chemicals industry and dangerous when it comes to storing and handling. Shell decided to investigate the storage of styrene further and found that  if sufficient attention is not paid to the equipment and methods used to store or monitor the product, situations can arise where product quality degenerates or, in worst cases, may pose a serious safety concern. Shell’s findings were shared with customers and co-producers through the Styrene Producers Association (SPA), a sector group of Cefic, the European chemical industry body. As a result, Shell’s input has been incorporated into the latest official guidelines promoted by SPA, which are now generally accepted as a global standard for styrene.

  • Chemical tanker truck rollovers are a fortunately rare but potentially serious safety risk, both in terms of loss of product containment and personal injury. Shell Chemicals teams in Europe have been engaging with contractor hauliers and drivers to raise awareness of the risk and consequences of rollovers. To help further reduce the risk, the Shell early Rollover Warning Device (RWD) was developed in collaboration with Bertocco, an automotive components manufacturer, and Studio Merli, an engineering company. The RWD consists of a sensor that is attached to a road tanker trailer and a receiving unit that can be fitted to the dashboard of the truck cab. The system can be fitted to road tankers of any type, shape, configuration or age.
Manufacturing IPA-based products at Vi-Jon's facility

Manufacturing IPA-based products at Vi-Jon's facility.

Partnerships are an essential part of the way we do business, enabling us to accelerate our growth, operate in new markets and deliver essential services. Here are a few examples of the creative ways in which Shell Chemicals approaches these different partnerships.

  • Stringent supply chain quality and security measures that comply with United States Pharmacopeia (USP) standards have helped expand Shell’s capability to provide USP grade isopropyl alcohol (IPA) to pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors in the USA. Demand for USP grade IPA has increased significantly due to growth in the high volume personal care and skin hygiene markets. Formulators of products in these sectors use IPA because they say it provides important disinfecting properties. Under USP we are responsible for the documentation and delivery of quality assurance, not just during manufacturing but throughout the supply chain, right up until we physically hand product over to the customer. This capability has led to strong relationships with key IPA users including Vi-Jon, one of the oldest and largest producers of consumer health and beauty care products. Shell has developed a tailor-made supply chain to meet its growing needs.

  • Shell product stewards, industrial hygienists and even legal experts played a key role in cross-industry bodies created to ensure the successful registration of products under the European Union’s REACH chemicals regulation. Registrations are a significant milestone in the implementation of REACH as they involve the preparation and submission of comprehensive safety dossiers for each chemical substance and its end-uses. Shell has been instrumental in shaping the infrastructure and mechanisms that allowed producers to work together through product consortia, and find common agreement on the preparation and content of safety dossiers. Product consortia also drew on Shell’s expert resources to support the development of exposure scenarios and handling guidelines for the safety dossiers. For example, Shell’s input led to the development of the first generic exposure scenario for the chemical solvent MEK (methyl ethyl ketone), which acted as a pathfinder for other products.

  • Unseasonably hot conditions in Europe in the summer of 2010 posed exceptional operational challenges for deliveries of styrene monomer (SM) from the Shell plant in the Netherlands to a customer site in Italy. As the early summer warmed up rapidly, the temperature of the SM being prepared for despatch was also rising. With a long multi-modal delivery journey involved and sustained high daytime temperatures, there was real potential for compromised product quality and elevated safety risks. Through collaboration with Shell’s transport provider, a temporary cooling arrangement was put in place that ensured the product arrived in good, safe condition. A simple but effective ‘chilling’ treatment was devised by utilising the web of pipes that wrap around the tank containers. These pipes are typically used to raise product temperature and so decrease viscosity but in this case, instead of steam, chilled water was pumped through the pipes. 
Attaching chilled water hoses to a bulk container

Chilled water was pumped through the pipes surrounding the tank.

To compete in today’s competitive chemicals markets, Shell chemicals companies have to find smart solutions to making, marketing and delivering their products.

  • Shell Fenella ALF is a modified ‘short cut’ of a de-aromatised hydrocarbon solvent (HCS) that has been upgraded to meet the specific needs of the aluminium industry. Being short cut means it has a narrow distillation range and technical performance qualities that make it suitable for use in aggressive metal rolling processes. It is used as a base oil for lubricants, or rolling oils, employed in the production of rolled aluminium products, from sheets for printing plates and car parts to paper-thin foil for food packaging. Sprayed between the roller and sheet through high pressure jets, the rolling oil acts as a coolant, lubricant and transport medium, helping to ensure reliable production and a perfect surface finish. Since the trialling and adoption of the product by a customer in Germany, business has also been secured with other aluminium customers in Belgium and Poland, as well as with export customers in Thailand, Indonesia, South Africa and the Czech Republic.

  • Shell technologists have developed a processing solution for low density polyurethane foam producers that addresses important production issues. While cheaper to make, low density foams are harder to process as the foam is less stable during production, which can lead to a high rate of waste or sub-standard foam. Many manufacturers have resorted to formulation ‘quick fixes’, by using very high levels of TDI (toluene diisocyanate) in the formulation in order to improve foam stability. This approach has significant drawbacks, however, as it not only increases costs for these ‘foamers’ but also raises safety issues as a result of the increased TDI vapour levels in the production environment. The Propylene Oxide-Derivatives (PO-D) technical services team at Shell’s Bangalore Technology Centre in India looked into alternative approaches. They explored different formulation options, resulting in the development of CARADOL MD250-10, an additive polyol that enhances the polymerisation rate and hence stability during the foaming process.

  • Harnessing the flexibility and capacity of Shell’s alcohols manufacturing capability has been essential in enabling Shell to respond to increasing demand for plant-derived surfactants in certain detergent applications. Shell operates the world’s largest integrated olefins and alcohols facility at Geismar in the US and have the capability to produce both synthetic and oleo alcohol ethoxylates. Having a second source of alcohol feedstock provides additional supply security for customers, and increases the overall amount of alcohol available. Plant modifications and investments carried out at Geismar have doubled oleo alcohol ethoxylate capacity to more than 50 kt per year, while raising overall ethoxylation capacity to almost 400 kt per year. Since the start of 2009, a number of distinct oleo alcohol ethoxylate grades have been marketed by Shell Chemicals under a new NEODOL* LM brand name.
EO catalyst in a dish

S-888 high selectivity EO catalyst

  • Catalysts are crucial to speeding up chemical reactions, improving yields and delivering competitive petrochemical manufacturing. The discovery by Shell technologists of a new high selectivity EO catalyst, S-888, offers the promise of a significant improvement over all existing catalyst/process technology combinations. Catalyst selectivity determines how much EO is produced versus ethylene feedstock consumed. A one percent increase in selectivity for a world scale EO plant can be worth millions of dollars per year in value. An improvement of two or three percent, as the new S-888 high selectivity catalyst can deliver, becomes a major competitive advantage, especially given that significant increases in yield are becoming harder to find. An efficient catalyst also helps to reduce plant CO2 emissions as less of the greenhouse gas is produced as a byproduct.

  • Through development work in the USA and Netherlands, Shell technologists have found a new route to one of the key intermediates needed to make polycarbonate that avoids the use of phosgene – a toxic chemical - and which is also expected to have significant advantages in terms of cost and CO2 footprint. The development of different processes, where phosgene is replaced with diphenyl carbonate (DPC), has been the key to this. However, while these alternative processes eliminate phosgene from the initial polymer synthesis, many producers still rely on the use of phosgene for making the DPC, via reaction with phenol. A new process developed by Shell offers a route to DPC which is phosgene-free, and based on a multi-stage reaction involving carbon dioxide, phenol and either propylene oxide (PO) or ethylene oxide (EO). It produces DPC as well as a glycol co-product.

  • The new Shell OMEGA mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) production process offers a number of significant benefits in the conversion of ethylene to MEG. The technology will be used by Shell at the new Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex in Singapore and is also being licensed to other chemicals producers. MEG is a vital ingredient for polyester fibres and film, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resins and engine coolants – all of which are seeing burgeoning demand. Together, Shell chemicals companies comprise one of the leading global MEG producers and many plants around the world utilise Shell’s conventional EO/MEG MASTER process technology. OMEGA is based on the successful integration and development of Shell’s EO process with Mitsubishi’s catalytic stand-alone MEG process. Whereas MASTER technology uses an EO catalyst to react ethylene with oxygen to produce EO and a thermal process in which EO then reacts with water to form glycols, OMEGA is an entirely catalytic process.

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