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What is propylene oxide?

CAS number: 75-56-9
Chemical formula: C3H6O

Propylene oxide is a colourless, reactive liquid with an ether-like odour.

It is used primarily as a building block for the manufacture of a versatile range of derivative products. There are a number of known technologies to produce propylene oxide but Shell chemicals companies and their joint ventures employ the Shell proprietary 'SM/PO' technology.

How is propylene oxide used?

Propylene oxide is used as a chemical building block in a range of products. Examples of these so-called PO-derivative products are:

  • polyether polyols (poly-alcohols) for use in urethane applications such as rigid foam, flexible foam, and Coatings, Adhesives, Sealants & Elastomer (CASE) systems;
  • polyether polyols for use in non-urethane applications such as surfactants and oil demulsifiers;
  • propylene glycol for aeroplane de-icers, fibreglass-reinforced unsaturated polyester resins, and hydraulic fluids;
  • propylene oxide glycol ethers and propylene carbonate solvents;    
    butanediol for engineering plastics and fibres;
  • polyalkylene glycol fuel additives and lubricants;
  • modified starches and allyl alcohols.

What are our key strengths in the propylene oxide sector?

  • Integrated and reliable global manufacturing and supply network.
  • High quality standards.  
  • Strong propylene oxide technology.
  • Long-term commitment to the sector, having entered the market in 1957.  

Currently, Shell Chemicals is among the top four global players in the PO and derivatives sector. This substantial capacity growth has been fuelled by continual developments in our proprietary SMPO technology, and manifested in world-scale, integrated assets that are strategically placed to meet customer needs. It is this same commitment to our customers that drove the establishment of our polyurethanes research and technology centre in Bangalore, India, providing our key clients with practical advice and research findings on the issues that matter to their industries.

Propylene oxide and derivatives: a Shell history
Year Event
1957 First propylene oxide plant acquired in Carrington, UK
1959 First polyether polyols produced in Carrington
1964 New polyol plant starts up in Pernis, The Netherlands
1970
New TDI / MDI joint venture plant starts up in Antwerp, Belgium (halted production in 2003)
1971
Major polyol plant expansion at Pernis, The Netherlands
1980
First SMPO plant starts commercial production in Moerdijk, The Netherlands
1988
New "product" laboratory opened in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
1990
Polyols and SMPO de-bottlenecking in The Netherlands
1997
Shell Seraya Research Laboratory opens in Singapore
1997
SMPO/Polyols/MPG plants start up in Singapore
1998
New rigid polyols facility starts up at Pernis, The Netherlands
1999
New SMPO plant starts up in Moerdijk, The Netherlands
1999
New polymer polyol capacity becomes available
1999
Shell/Huntsman Strategic Alliance on Rigid foam Urethanes
2002
New SMPO/Polyols plant starts up in Singapore
2003
New styrene acrylonitrile (SAN) polymer polyol plant in The Netherlands
2006
SM/PO and derivatives plants come on-stream at CSPCL Nanhai in China
2007
Closure of CARADOL polyether polyols plant at Carrington UK
2008
Opening of new R&D centre in Bangalore, India. Expansion of polyols plant at Pernis, The Netherlands
2009
Shell Chemicals celebrates 50 years of polyols (see link to feature article)
2011 Modifications at Pernis increase capacity of CASE polyols

What do waterproof jackets, bathtubs, sealant systems and aircraft de-icers have in common? All are made from derivatives of propylene oxide.

Shell chemicals resources