Saturday Feb 24, 2018

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Iran, Air Liquide Cooperate in Licensing

(Monday, February 12, 2018) 13:12

TEHRAN, (Shana) -- Knowhow and technology are considered winning cards and advantages in any developed country. Access to modern technical knowhow would be impossible without benefiting from newly developed knowledge.

Knowhow and technology are considered winning cards and advantages in any developed country. Access to modern technical knowhow would be impossible without benefiting from newly developed knowledge. The necessity of such interaction for developing countries is much higher, as they can shorten their distance from developed countries in addition to preventing the waste of force. Add to all these advantages the fast growth of science and technology.

In order to further know about the latest scientific achievements in Iran's petrochemical industry, "Iran Petroleum" has conducted an interview with Ismaeil Qanbari, CEO and Chairman of Petrochemical Research and Technology Company (PRTC).

Q: In the first half of the current Iranian calendar year to March 2018, PRTC met with a number of foreign business delegations. What has  been the outcome of these meetings?

A: Petrochemical research projects often last three to four years. In the first half of the current [calendar] year, one of the main international activities of PRTC was its cooperation with Air Liquide in the commercialization of technology for converting methanol to propylene. The signature of this contract is a product of more than 1.5 years of talks with this company. Given the fact that for most experts the basis of development of downstream petrochemical industry would be to enhance propylene production and to plan significant methanol production in coming years, it seems that completion of units to convert methanol to propylene would be of high significance for the petrochemical industry. Methanol projects are about to become operational in the country. To that effect, our talks with Air Liquide that had started more than a year ago have been pursued more seriously. Fortunately, our talks came to fruition on August 8 and led to the signature of agreement for joint cooperation in granting license for methanol-to-propylene (MTP).Undoubtedly, the National Petrochemical Company (NPC)'s serious support was instrumental in achieving this success. This agreement was also the first scientific cooperation between Iran and Europe in the petrochemical sector post-JCPOA. Air Liquide is today among top 10 petrochemical companies in the world, whose research and technology section is well structured. Therefore, this cooperation is very valuable for Iran. In the event of signing agreement with this company for granting methanol-to-propylene license, we will be witnessing the development of the first joint technical knowhow in the petrochemical sector at a capacity of 500,000 tonnes a year. In coordination with Air Liquide, this technology is now known as Pars MTP and this joint cooperation is expected to reach the stage of agreement with Iranian customers. Based on agreements made so far, Pars MTP technology will be presented to both Iranian and foreign customers. Intensive talks had been held with the German side to reach this breakthrough.

Q: How is that Air Liquide, which is a petrochemical giant in the world, agrees to cooperate with Iran in licensing?

A: PRTC has had more than 18 patents registered in the field of MTP (process and catalyst). It was interesting for Air Liquide to see that some of these patents were related to the domains which they had not worked on. In 2004, we started building a demo plant in Mahshahr in cooperation with the German firm Lurgi, which has been acquired by Air Liquide. However, this cooperation halted several years later due to the imposition of sanctions. Upon their return to this unit, representatives of this company realized how much we had progressed without their help. We had launched this unit by ourselves. It was hard for the German side to believe that 18 patents had been registered by Iranian specialists. They could only believe 4 of the patents. It was incredible for them to see that Iranian scientists had managed to operate an MPT demo plant in Mahshahr without any foreign help. We have managed to resolve such problems as the flaws in the flow system, temperature control system of reactors, heaters, heating system and optimization of the separation unit of the demo plant. In their talks, Air Liquide negotiators said they had come to Iran to sell license, but they were faced with new developments. That along with efforts by my colleagues at the NPC Investment Directorate convinced this company to agree to joint cooperation with Iran.

Q: Given the active role of the private sector in methanol projects in Iran, have you ever received any offers for the purchase of this technology by the private sector?

A: Yes, so far more than five domestic private companies have offered to purchase this technology. We are in serious talks with the private sector. The private sector has concluded that PRTC could be a reliable side for receiving this technology from European companies like Air Liquide. Our suggestion for the private sector has been chain technological cooperation. For instance, we can present the package of MTP cooperation to the private sector. One of achievements of PRTC in the first half of this year was the launch of propylene-to-polypropylene demo plant in Mahshahr. In Iran, the catalyst of this process has been indigenized. Lab results show that the catalyst developed in Iran could compete with foreign-made ones and they have even been better than foreign products.

Q: In light of negotiations with the private sector for launching MTP units, how much investment do you think is needed?

A: We believe that production must be on a chain basis because according to our calculations, the rate of return on investment is for this project throughout the gas-to-methanol-to-propylene-to-polypropylene chain. According to initial estimates, the necessary capital for the complete chain of this unit with a capacity of 165,000 tonnes a year of methanol, 500,000 tonnes a year of propylene, and 450,000 tonnes a year of polypropylene is said to be around 1.5 billion euros.

Iran's annual propylene production totals one million tonnes of refinery-grade product. But under Vision 2025, Iran will bring its output to more than seven million tonnes. Iran's petrochemical industry has to change its approach and move towards propylene. We are in serious talks with leading producers of methanol like Kaveh Petrochemical Plant to sell MTP technology.

Q: It seems that PRTC spent its time mainly on concluding an MOU with Air Liquide in the first half of the year. What does this company plan to do in the second half of the year?

A: First and foremost, I should note that PRTC has had other activities in current calendar year. For instance, it has made valuable achievements like in developing spherical alumina catalyst base. This technology is significant because it can help us develop spherical alumina with a diameter of 1.5 to 3 millimeters that is used in oil, gas and petrochemical industries like in aromatization, reforming, LAB and HDS among other applications.

In response to your question, I should say that we have a variety of research plans on the agenda. Some of these research projects must be done fundamentally. Our research center in Tehran is active in this field. Conducting research on catalyst as a strategic product of petrochemical industry, establishing pilot and semi-industrial plants in the research centers of the Arak and Mahshahr branches of PRTC are among other activities in the second half of the year. Alongside these activities, new plans like presenting engineering documents for MTP basic design are on the agenda. That is a priority for the second half of the year and it will be done in collaboration with Air Liquide. We have managed this year to develop technical knowhow for producing pure polyvinyl alcohol at the Arak center; it is a biodegradable synthetic polymer used in hygiene, food, pharmaceutical, and agriculture sectors. We are also steering institutes and academic centers because this mission has been assigned to us by the NPC. Furthermore, commercialization of research achievements like offering MPT license to the private sector, license for propylene, producing catalysts for petrochemical industry in cooperation with companies like Petrochemical Commercial Company (PCC), producing catalyst PE100 for Arak Petrochemical Plant in cooperation with PCC and producing methanol in cooperation with BASF are among our other plans for the second half of the year.

Following up talks with foreign companies – Norway's Norner and France's Axens – are among other plans in the second half of the year. Foreign companies must note that Iran enjoys big potential in petrochemical sector. Other companies can step in for cooperation with Iran within the same framework set with Air Liquide. Therefore, there are good opportunities for foreign companies in the investment and technology sectors. In addition to Air Liquide, we have signed MOUs with Germany's BASF for producing methanol and ethylene oxide. Negotiations are under way for finalization of an agreement. PRTC has also signed MOUs with Axens and IBF of France for catalytic processes. I hereby invite all top petrochemical companies in the world to cooperate with Iran.

Q: In recent years, how much has PRTC cooperated with universities and research institutes?

A: At Iranian universities, research is viewed as a part-time job and we are trying to turn this positive phenomenon to a fulltime job. PRTC has been a leading company in cooperation with universities. This cooperation lies within the framework of four institutes in the value chain for methanol, propylene, olefin, polyolefin and catalyst. Not only is research a must for developing knowhow and technology, but also it would help boost companies, industries and even countries in applying knowhow. In fact, research organizations are better placed to use foreign available knowhow and the transfer of technology will be done more properly. Transfer of technology is common in the process of transactions between developing and developed countries as a unilateral process. This process often flows from developed countries into developing countries and what is displaced here is technical knowhow. One should not forget that such a process will not necessarily result in the technical and economic development of receiving countries. For this process to become efficient, planning and management are needed so that evolutionary developments would happen until the desired objective is achieved. We need a correct analysis of the past and the future in order to respond to future needs; otherwise, all efforts will be doomed to fail.

The PRTC experiences show that the transfer of technology within the framework of necessary communications and interactions could be carried out properly. The process of technology transfer has turned into a mutual process. It means that we are not solely buyer of technology and the other side is not merely a vendor of technology. Experience has shown that models of technology transfer could not be explained simply by focusing on what owners of technology have provided to others. Rather, we should concentrate more on host countries (receivers of technology) as well as policies and strategies of forming the pattern of technology transfer. Cooperation with international companies would accelerate indigenization of technical savvy and development of existing technical knowhow for the purpose of acquiring new knowhow.

 

By Javad Asghari

Courtesy of Iran Petroleum