BASF TOTAL Petrochemicals (BTP), a joint venture between BASF and Total has modernized the Port Arthur steam cracker in Texas, US, to process ethane, which is found in abundance in the shale gas prospects in the country.

BTP’s Port Arthur steam cracker will process ethane produced at the Mont Belvieu, Texas site, and produce up to 40% of its ethylene from ethane and another 40% from butane and propane.

In addition, BTP has started constructing the 10th ethane cracking furnace, scheduled to come on stream in the second quarter of 2014.

The new furnace will improve the steam cracker’s availability and increase its cracking capacity by nearly 15%.

Total Refining and Chemicals president Patrick Pouyanné said the steam cracker has a capacity of one million tons of ethylene per year.

"It was commissioned in 2001 to process naphtha, distilled from petroleum. In response to petroleum product price hike and the emergence of abundant gas resources, we adapted the steam cracker to give it flexibility and maintain its competitiveness," Pouyanné added.

"It can now use as a feedstock ethane, which costs around $30 per barrel of oil equivalent (boe) — versus around $100/boe for naphtha — and liquefied petroleum gases such as butane and propane, which are also cheaper."