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Traveler - Supply/Demand Trends That Spurred a Gulf Coast Ethylene-to-Alkylate Project Hold Strong

There’s always a risk when you take a new approach to doing or making something that your expectations won’t pan out — that something you hadn’t figured on happens and messes things up. But oh, the satisfaction that comes when the stars align exactly as you foresaw. The folks who developed Project Traveler, a recently completed Houston-area plant that produces high-value, octane-boosting alkylate from ethylene, isobutane and other widely available and low-cost feedstocks, know that good feeling, as we discuss in today’s RBN blog on the project’s economics. 

We first mentioned Next Wave Energy Partners’ ethylene-to-alkylate project in Pasadena, TX, (see photo below) four years ago, in Drive My Car. As we said then, gasoline is a blend of many hydrocarbon components that in combination meet certain specifications and it’s up to refineries and gasoline blenders to come up with their own gasoline recipes that satisfy the requirements of specs like Reid vapor pressure (RVP),  octane, and sulfur content. And, as you’re reminded with each visit to the pump, there are at least three octane-based grades of gasoline, the standard ones being 87 (regular), 91 (intermediate) and 93 (premium).

High octane, low RVP and low sulfur content are three of the most desirable qualities that refineries and gasoline blenders seek in their blendstocks, and alkylate — typically produced as part of the crude oil refining process — has perhaps the best combo of the three of any major gasoline component: octane of 90 to 95, RVP of 4 to 5 pounds per square inch at atmospheric pressure (psia), and sulfur content of only 5 to 15 parts per million (ppm). (The octane number indicates how much a fuel can be compressed before it self-ignites, which causes “knocking”  — the closer to 100 the better — while the RVP measures how easily a fuel vaporizes — the lower the better.)

Next Wave’s Project Traveler in Pasadena, TX

Next Wave’s Project Traveler in Pasadena, TX. Source: Next Wave 

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