Inter Pipeline constructs an industrial landmark for the future

If you drive a car, wear glasses, use a cell phone or many other everyday items, you’re most likely using a product made from polypropylene. Manufactured from propane, a feedstock that’s abundant in Alberta, polypropylene is the most widely used plastic in the world.

In today’s blog, we’ll focus on Inter Pipeline’s integrated propane dehydrogenation (PDH) and polypropylene (PP) complex under construction northeast of Edmonton in Strathcona County, Alberta.  The project is called the Heartland Petrochemical Complex and, when complete in 2021, it will be able to convert locally-sourced, low-cost propane into 525,000 tonnes per year of recyclable, high-value polypropylene.


Turning a disadvantage into an advantage


“There’s an abundance of propane resources in Alberta to feed the complex,” says Steven Noble, Senior Communications Advisor at Inter Pipeline. “The Heartland Complex will bring much higher value for our product than if we just ship it raw for processing.”

The project will be built near Inter Pipeline’s existing Redwater fractionation facility, which separates (fractionates) gasses, such as propane, butane, propylene, ethane-ethylene, and other hydrocarbons that are extracted from bitumen during the upgrading process. On its own, propane prices are quite low, trading at less than .30 cents US per gallon, on average. However, propane’s biggest value is as a feedstock for polypropylene.

Polypropylene is a high-value, recyclable, easy-to-transport plastic used to make a vast range of finished products, including consumer packaging, textiles, automobile components, medical equipment and currency. It’s represented on products by the letters PP.

Typically, Canadian propane has been shipped by pipeline to the U.S. for processing into polypropylene. Because of global demand, polypropylene prices are high, so Canadian manufacturers have to buy it back from U.S. processors at a premium. With the Heartland Petrochemical Complex, Canadian producers will be able to derive greater value for their propane resources.


Integrated facilities a first for Canada


The new complex will integrate three processing facilities, which is a first for Canada. It will include:

  • The existing Redwater Olefinic Fractionator, described earlier;
  • A new propane dehydrogenation (PDH) facility, which will separate the hydrogen atoms from propane molecules to form propylene; and
  • A polypropylene (PP) facility that will employ a special process to bond the propylene molecules and create polypropylene, a recyclable plastic that’s then pressed into pellets for ease of transport.

When completed, Inter Pipeline estimates the new facility will fill 16 rail cars a day with the high-value plastic. The project will create around 13,000 direct and indirect jobs for Canadians during the four years of its construction. The company expects there will be about 200 high-quality jobs once the complex is in operation. And they’re already looking for qualified people to fill roles in areas such as administration, instrumentation, power engineering and electrical, mechanical trades, and control room operations.

Like most large industrial projects, the Heartland Petrochemical Complex is not without its challenges. But Inter Pipeline has well-defined processes to manage those challenges. That became very clear in January 2019 when they managed the complex movement of four massive pieces of equipment (some as long as a football field) along Alberta’s highways. Carefully planned stakeholder and municipal engagement, as well as strategic planning, made for a smooth operation with few, if any, hiccups.

Workforce safety and managing the construction of this large-scale project, within a tightly-defined land footprint, are also challenges that are being well managed. In fact, the company is approaching one million hours worked without a lost-time injury.


A significant industrial landmark for the future


Clearly, the biggest triumph of the Heartland Petrochemical Complex is what it will mean for the future of the Canadian energy industry.

“The new complex will be a significant industrial landmark, furthering diversification of our industry,” says Inter Pipeline’s Senior Vice President Petrochemical Development, David Chappell. “This complex is a sign our thinking is changing about the future of our industry. And it shows that if Canadians continue to look for different ways to strengthen our economy, the future is bright – much brighter than we think it is right now.

*Feature image courtesy of Inter Pipeline