A billion-euro investment from Borealis sets the tone for Flanders’ petrochemical industry

Austria-based Borealis is channeling EUR 1 billion into the construction of a new propane dehydrogenation plant at its existing site in Kallo, at the Port of Antwerp (Flanders). Scheduled to start up in the first half of 2022, the facility will convert propane into propylene, an essential building block for the chemical industry. The majority of the propylene will be used in Borealis’ own polypropylene operations, and parts will be sold to existing and new customers. The new plant will be one of the largest and most efficient facilities of its kind, with a targeted production capacity of 750,000 metric tons per year. Thanks to this project, Borealis is nominated for the 2019 Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy, presented by Flanders Investment & Trade.

Borealis decided to build its new PDH plant at its existing site in Kallo, due to the location’s excellent logistical position, its experience in propylene production and handling, as well as the possibility to create synergies with the existing PDH unit in Kallo. The Austrian firm is a leading provider of polyolefins, base chemicals and fertilizers. It operates on four core values: Respect, Responsible, Exceed and Nimblicity™, which are reflected in Borealis’s dedication to “Value Creation through Innovation”. This strategy differentiates the company from its competitors, positioning it as an innovation powerhouse that registers roughly 100 patents every year.

“Our new plant in Flanders further puts Antwerp on the map as the largest integrated petrochemical cluster in Europe.” — Thomas Van De Velde, vice president of BU Hydrocarbons & Energy at Borealis.

Walking the talk

Borealis has a deeply embedded sustainability strategy. The implications of its business decisions on People, Planet and Profit are carefully considered. “Everything we do needs to reflect this three-fold dedication,” says Thomas Van De Velde, vice president of BU Hydrocarbons & Energy and head of the digitalization program at Borealis. “We do not just claim values to improve our business reputation: they are real guiding principles for how we do things,” Van De Velde assures. “And there are hundreds of examples that back this statement.”

Borealis’s sustainable development efforts reach far beyond safety and security for its permanent employees and contractors. Van De Velde: “We want to change the way people perceive plastics. To us, plastic is a valuable material that should not be thrown away after a single use, end up in a landfill or in the environment. This is why we strive to make plastics more circular. We do this by designing our products for recyclability as well as by recycling plastics at our recycling plants in Germany and Austria. What’s more, together with Systemiq, we are also the founding partner of Project Stop — an initiative to set up a waste collection economy pilot in Indonesia to avoid plastic finding its way into the oceans.”

Circular economy

In fact, Borealis has made recycling a key element of its overall strategy and seeks to make polyolefins more circular. In 2014, for example, the company began offering high-end compound solutions to the automotive industry, consisting of 25% and 50% recycled content. In 2016, Borealis was also the first polyolefin producer to explore the possibilities of mechanical recycling through the acquisition of one of Europe's largest producers of post-consumer polyolefin recyclates (mtm plastics and mtm). Since then, the Austrian firm has continued developing new technology and products in the field of circular polyolefins. Even more, in 2018, Borealis acquired an additional recycling company: Austria-based Ecoplast Kunststoffrecycling.

But there’s even more to be said about the environmental efforts of Borealis. Van De Velde: “As an industry, I believe we should also play an active role in the energy transition. The wind turbines we already have at our site in Kallo produce approximately 15% of all electricity we need. In the future, we want our installations to run largely on renewable energy.”

Kallo’s logistics and transport infrastructure

There are several reasons why Borealis preferred Kallo to other candidate cities – all outside of Europe – to host the billion-euro factory. The existing transport and logistics infrastructure proved to be the main asset of the location: “The new propylene factory in Kallo will allow us to transport all the propane we need by ship,” explains Van De Velde. “As soon as the ships arrive at the Port of Antwerp, the gas will flow into our holding tanks. Via Antwerp’s well-connected underground pipeline network, it will be transferred to our production facilities in the safest way possible.”

Reinvesting in Kallo also enables the expansion of Flanders propylene customer base, in which Borealis plays a leading role. Van De Velde: “Our new factory aims at competitive propylene production for our own polypropylene and for our customers in other value chains. In addition, we have decided to boost our production capacity for polypropylene in Kallo and we are studying an even larger capacity increase in Beringen. With our investment, we have set the tone for other industry players: the Flemish petrochemical cluster is alive and growing.”

“Via Flanders’ ship and pipeline infrastructure, we can transport propane, the gas needed for propylene production, straight to our facilities in the safest way possible.” — Thomas Van De Velde, vice president of BU Hydrocarbons & Energy at Borealis.

As a region, Flanders will also benefit from Borealis investment. The company’s new plant highlights Antwerp’s role as the largest integrated petrochemical cluster in Europe and will create around 1,500 jobs during the construction phase. “And it doesn’t stop there,” Van De Velde adds. “Voting for Borealis and helping us win the 2019 Foreign Investment of the Year Trophy also means supporting innovative, sustainable solutions that respond to societal issues.”