Saudi Aramco's crude oil-to-chemicals technology: The next revolution for oil and gas?

SABIC and Saudi Aramco are venturing in a crude oil to chemicals (COTC) complex in Yanbu, which is expected to have a direct conversion rate from crude oil to chemicals of around 50%

COTC, Saudi Aramco, SABIC, Yanbu, IHS Markit

As Saudi Aramco looks towards vertical integration and Saudi Arabia pushes to diversify its economy, crude oil-to-chemicals [COTC] is proving to be a huge area of opportunity.

“We have two major programmes that comprise this flagship programme, and both are converting crude to chemicals directly,” said Amer Amer, chief technologist in Saudi Aramco’s Fuel Technology Division. “One of them uses a catalytic route, and the other uses a thermal route to do the same.”

SABIC and Saudi Aramco are venturing in a crude oil to chemicals (COTC) complex in Yanbu, which is set to start operations in 2025. It is expected to have a direct conversion rate from crude oil to chemicals of around 50%, where traditional methods yield around 10%.

"We’re looking at opportunities to convert up to 60% maybe to 70% of our crude directly into chemicals that can be used in various industrial applications,” Amer said. This would greatly boost the amount of profit to be drawn from the same amount of crude. 

In a recent comment piece, IHS Markit noted that "global, integrated refining/petrochemical companies typically earn about $8.50 per barrel of refined crude oil, but by leveraging the new COTC process technology (based on a Saudi Aramco Technologies COTC design) in a world-scale refining and chemical facility, owners could increase their plant net margins to approximately $17 per barrel."

“This innovative new COTC-process technology is still in its infancy, but, according to our independent analysis, if commercially proven and built to world-scale, it has the potential to more than double the value refiners can unlock from a barrel of oil,” said Don Bari, vice president of chemical technology at IHS Markit. “This process is both transformative in terms of its potential, and timely, as refiners face declining future demand for gasoline and fuel production due to carbon emission mandates, greater vehicle fuel efficiency, and an increasing penetration of electric vehicles."

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