By Shell Catalysts & Technologies on Sep 4, 2020
At Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ Port Allen, Louisiana plant, inventive naming is one aspect of its personable work atmosphere. The flagship catalyst manufacturing plant is located on Catalyst Drive. The plant’s powder production unit is called PAPA, an acronym for Port Allen Precipitated Alumina.
Construction on the new PAPA expansion project started in early 2019, and by September 2020, it has been fully commissioned and operating per design. The project included construction of a new wing as well as increasing the capacity of existing equipment and exporting powder via rail.
The PAPA plant expansion has doubled the Port Allen plant’s capacity to produce precipitated alumina powder. Precipitated alumina powder is a key raw material for catalyst production.
To learn more about the PAPA expansion project, we spoke with plant manager Darylene Harris and Ricky Mincey, the Capital Projects manager for Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ manufacturing sites.
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What was the motivation behind the PAPA expansion project?
Darylene Harris: This project was birthed out of the catalyst business’ strategy of growth to meet future demands. A major feedstock to catalyst production is powder, and Shell Catalysts & Technologies is the sole supplier of its own powder. In order to expand our catalyst business production, we needed to expand our powder production.
Ricky Mincey: We are a premiere catalyst provider, and while we make multiple and varied products, the base fundamental input for catalyst is powder. The PAPA expansion project is part of our growth aspirations, and increasing our powder production will enable additional expansions down the road. We're constantly looking to the future.
How does this expansion change the Port Allen plant?
Darylene Harris: The Port Allen plant is unique in the sense that we are fully integrated with powder and catalyst production lines; we make the powder for the catalyst and produce catalyst as well. The world’s largest refining catalyst plant is the Shell Catalysts & Technologies plant at Port Allen, which we call WOSCAT, or World Scale Catalyst Plant, which receives the powder from PAPA to produce catalyst. This project will help us not only be self-sufficient with our own powder needs, but to also supply the other catalyst plants within the Shell Catalysts & Technologies network.
Ricky Mincey: The Port Allen plant is centrally located because it has Gulf Coast port access, as well as connectivity with three other Shell plants that are within an hour’s drive away. The Port Allen plant has a great operating facility and with the additional capacity, the ability and the resources to continue meeting our customer’s needs.
We have six manufacturing facilities worldwide, but the cool thing about the Port Allen plant is that it is fully inclusive. We make powder, we make extrudate, which as Darylene mentioned occurs in WOSCAT, and we also have specialty metals impregnation, which is needed for final production of many hydroprocessing units. Of all the other plants within our system, none of them can take catalyst from the very beginning phase all the way to completion as the Port Allen plant can.
What was notable about the expansion project during its construction phase?
Darylene Harris: A big factor in the success of this project was the inclusion of operational readiness resources from the project design phase through all phases of the project. This ensures that when the project has been commissioned and started, staff can operate the equipment and maintain it with good reliability. We’ve made sure that the operations members on the team have been active in understanding how to position and lay out equipment, so that we don't create safety risks.
We also improved some of our equipment designs, based on what we had experienced with existing equipment. For example, we modified a compressor design based on an old air compressor that had to go through desiccant, which dried the air. In our new design, we went with an oil-free compressor to build in reliability.
Ricky Mincey: Some of the individuals who were around for the original PAPA design and build in 2009 are still on site and have continued to have roles within the operations team. We moved some of those same individuals from operations to the project team to help us understand and implement reliability improvements from their firsthand knowledge that they have acquired through the years.
There also continues to be a great connection and technical sharing between the only powder producing units within our business at the Port Allen and Michigan City plants. We have shared technical experts that stay abreast of the most recent technology advancements and construction methods in the industry. That knowledge is shared with both Port Allen and Michigan City where we continue to learn together and from one another.
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Could you provide a glimpse into the people and culture at the Port Allen plant?
Darylene Harris: It’s a very family-oriented site. It has about 80 Shell employees, as well as 30 to 40 contractors. During the PAPA expansion, one of the things I found memorable was how we were able to successfully complete the project in the midst of the pandemic. With the environment that we’ve been working in, it’s been very challenging to be able to assemble so many contractors on site while prioritising health and safety.
We’ve also had an opportunity to bring in additional talent and add six new positions as a result of the expansion.
The Port Allen plant and its people have an interesting history. Shell’s history with it started in 2006; before it was an aluminum plant and then a chemical manufacturing plant. Some people have been here since it was an aluminum plant, so they truly have all of the history of the former business operations and deep operations experience with the catalyst plant operations, because they were part of Shell’s construction projects. That's the benefit and the beauty of the people who work here.