By Agnes Lim on Mar 1, 2020
Shell Catalysts & Technologies’ specialty businesses are like undervalued startups that have the potential to be a unicorn. Its diverse specialties range from bulk commodities such as aromatics processing using zeolite catalysts to niche solvent applications like nickel (Ni) utilization. I’ve made it a personal goal to unleash the potential of the specialty business division by delivering tangible growth through diversification into emerging, niche, and quality driven markets, and by developing my team of capable and talented individuals.
I’m a specialty business manager at Shell Catalysts & Technologies for the Asia Pacific Region (APR). I’m part of the Petchem division and responsible for aromatics and hydrogenation technologies, which work primarily with zeolites and Ni, palladium (Pd), and platinum (Pt) based catalysts.
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Serving the Petchem Industry with Superior Technical Expertise
One of my proudest experiences at Shell Catalysts & Technologies was to bring together Zeolyst Aromatics and Performance Products into one specialty businesses. Two years into the integration, the specialty team is working more seamlessly together, having identified areas of collaboration and opportunities in the petchem industry to maximise our offerings.
I’ve led my team to establish the APR sales strategies for the combined businesses. We’re working towards capturing a greater share of the market and expanding our portfolio into new applications. I’m proud of the team I work with today, especially in how we address customer concerns around processes and technical issues; in fact, one of our major differentiators is our superior technical expertise.
For example, in the recent wave of cracker development where more than 20 new crackers were built in Asia, the specialty division deployed our robust and high-performing acetylene hydrogenation technology in several world-scale ethylene crackers of greater than 800-kilo tons per annum (KTA).
We have a saying in our department of “Right First Time.” This means that we’ve been successful with all the new crackers we’ve helped to start up in the APR to date. We’ve helped our customers reduce runaway reaction, avoid flaring, and minimize emissions to the environment. Helping our customers be successful also helps us to reinforce our superior technology and reputation in the market, thereby setting a strong foundation for future developments.
Focusing Forward on New Technology Growth Areas
In my day-to-day work, I’m focused on seeking new relationships and ensuring a healthy opportunity pipeline. I also stay up to date on major oil-and-gas developments, especially in new technology growth areas such as chemical derivatives and biofuel and renewable energy technologies.
As part of the energy transition, I think more customers in the APR will be impacted by biofuels, steam-to-methane reforming, and H2. With a greater emphasis on plastic circularity due to companies’ social responsibility initiatives, many companies are evaluating biofuel technologies that convert waste from single-use plastics and biomass back to fuel or chemical feedstocks to reduce the amount of CO2 molecules released into the environment.
Furthermore, to aid decarbonization, many technology companies are researching H2 technology since H2 is a clean fuel to burn. A widely applied H2-producing technology is steam-to-methane reforming -- a chemical synthesis process for producing syngas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide) from hydrocarbons such as natural gas. Other novel ideas include electrolysis of water with renewable power to produce green H2.
Another development that may impact APR customers involves the upgrading of refining streams to produce high value-added products such as solvents and white oil, which can maximise margins in times when refinery margins are squeezed. We foresee more refiners reconfiguring their plants to increase efficiency and feed/product flexibility to manage demand volatility.
In addition, more downstream expansion activities such as investments into the fine chemicals and derivative space and acquisitions/joint ventures with petrochemical companies are occurring as part of a growing shift from crude oil to chemicals. We should see similar trends with petrochemical customers, where they will look to backward integration to secure cheaper feedstock.
I also think that with the increase in the number of crackers in the APR -- resulting in a higher disposition of C5/C9 streams -- that C5/C9 aromatic hydrocarbons will be processed into resins at higher quantities to uplift chemical margins.
My long-term goals are to acquire more commercial experience in various business lifecycle phases in different markets and regions. I aim to build my expertise and reputation in the energy industry and to develop strategic global management thinking.