A project to break all records, the petrochemical mega complex in Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, involved shifting 35 million cubic metres of sand, earth and rock to make way for 26 individual plants spanning more than 6 square kilometres – equivalent to 575 football pitches. These towering structures make up the chemical complex owned by the Sadara Chemical Company – a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Dow Chemicals. In total, the companies are investing 20 billion US dollars in the Al Jubail site, which is now crisscrossed by 2,500 kilometres of piping and 11,000 kilometres of cable. During peak construction periods, 60,000 workers were on site, ensuring that all 160,000 tonnes of steel ended up in the right place. However, Sadara’s records are not limited to materials – this is the first time a chemical facility of this size, consisting of so many units, has ever been constructed in a single phase lasting just a few years.
Compelling operating concept
Linde is responsible for an essential piece within the complex: long-term supply of carbon monoxide, hydrogen and ammonia. These gases play a key role in the production of various aromatic compounds, amines and hydrogen peroxide, as well as isocyanates used to generate polyurethane. This plastic material is essential to the manufacture of synthetic fibres, foam and adhesives, used in products such as mattresses and car seats. With a volume of 380 million US dollars, the Sadara project is one of Linde’s largest single investments over the last few years and the company’s first on-site project in Jubail. “A key factor in winning the Sadara contract was our technical operating concept for the two HyCO facilities and the ammonia plant,” reports Linde Project Manager Thiemo Gross. “At the same time, we were able to meet the customer’s extraordinary timeline and high availability expectations.”
Teamwork as the key to success
Gross has been involved in this project since April 2012, when Linde and Sadara first signed the contract. His role is rather like that of a conductor who is leading a top orchestra – except his 90 musicians are never in the same place at the same time. “The plant blueprint was born at Linde’s Munich headquarters, continued to evolve at engineering offices in India and the US, and finally transitioned step by step to the real world in Saudi Arabia,” explains the Linde expert. A close collaboration with the customer, which Gross likens to working with trusted colleagues, was a key success factor, as was the cooperation within the Linde project team, consisting of both Engineering and Gases specialists. This global coordination effort posed an impressive challenge. Engineers, procurement agents and quality managers must all play in perfect time and harmony to ensure a successful, polished execution. “Our integrated team meant we could offer Sadara a one-stop answer for all their needs, which was a major benefit”, Gross confirms.
At the Al Jubail site, Linde’s HyCO and ammonia plants supply the Sadara Chemical Company with essential gases: hydrogen, carbon monoxide and ammonia.
In fact, Linde was one of the first contract partners in the whole complex to achieve mechanical completion of its plants ahead of schedule. This achievement did not go unmarked: in April 2015, Sadara presented Linde with an award in recognition of the company’s performance. The overall chemical complex in Al Jubail went on stream in 2016. So the Sadara facility can now produce three million tonnes of various fine chemicals and high-performance plastics per year. In turn, these provide the basic materials for diverse products across a wide range of industries – from automotive through construction to electronics. In the long term, the Al Jubail site’s extensive offering should enable several industries to gain a local foothold and capitalise on the region’s growing demand for consumer and industrial goods.