Polyethylene pellets – What we manufacture and how we do it
What is Polyethylene? Watch our video.
Follow the Molecule
Title: Follow the Molecule
The story of Polly the polyethylene molecule. Follow Polly as she was created and learn about all the many uses for polyethylene in our daily lives.
Follow the Molecule Transcript:
[background music plays softly]
Hey there, Hello. I'm over here. No. This way. Let me turn this music down. Closer, closer. Much closer.
There you are. Hi. The name is Polly. I'm a polyethylene molecule. It's so cool of you to join me inside this hard hat. I don't get too many visitors.
[animated molecule displays and begins telling story]
But I do protect this workers head like nobody's business. Keeping people safe is just one of the ways I can be used. And a hard hat like this, is just one of the thousands of really great things a polyethylene molecule like me can become.
Now, I wasn't always what I am today. It definitely took some hard work from the people here at Shell Polymers and some amazing science to get here. Would you like to see some baby pictures?
Oh, my that's me as a cute little ethane molecule. Look at those cheeks. This is where it all started.
I was safely and carefully extracted from the ground right over there. This was a long way back and I'm a little fuzzy on some of the details. Maybe my friend Bob can fill us in. Oh, Bob. Could you help me out?
[Shell worker begins to describe how ethane is collected]
Sure, Polly. At standard temperature and pressure, methane is a colorless, odorless gas just like air. We use a cooling process to isolate the ethane from the natural gas after extraction. The ethane has similar properties to propane, which many people use to fire up the barbecue, and butane, which is used in stoves for camping.
[Polly takes over the storytelling]
From there, I rode through a pipeline over the mountains and through the forest, all the way to Shell's facility in Beaver County, Pennsylvania. This place is huge.
First stop, the ethylene cracking units. This is where I went from ethane to ethylene and where I met Maria. Hey, girl.
[Another Shell worker describes how ethane become ethylene]
Polly's first stuff within the facility was at the ethylene fracking unit. Ethane molecules are first heated to a very high temperature. More than 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. This extreme heat breaks up or cracks off pieces, leaving a smaller molecule.
After being heated, the smaller molecules are compressed under high pressure and then cooled at negative 270 degrees Fahrenheit. This process turns Polly from ethane into ethylene.
Pretty cool, right. I crack myself up. This ethylene molecule was going places and I mean, big places. Like straight to one of Shell's three polyethylene units.
[visual of several options for using polyethylene]
Wow. It's a blizzard in here. Choices, choices, choices. Will I become linear, low density polyethylene, which is used to make things like plastic wrap, food packaging, and medical supplies? Or a high density polyethylene to be used to make things like car parts, containers for shampoo, and bubble bath and playground equipment.
[A Shell describes how ethylene the become polyethylene and distributed to manufacturers]
Luckily, my friend Steve was here to help.
In the polyethylene facility, a substance called the catalyst is responsible for the chemical reaction that helps join the smaller ethylene molecules with similar molecules called comonomers. These guys love to get together and when they do, we create the Polly we know and love today.
And here I am. Look at this structure, guys and gals. A polyethylene molecule in her prime. From here, I joined some friends for a relaxing swim where we were formed into pellets. We dried off and prepare to hit the road, aspiring to join the circular economy.
With your help, my friends and I can increase circularity. Well, my friends. See you again and again and again. Get it? Recycle. You got it. Be safe and thanks for dropping in. Bye--bye.
Types of polyethylene Shell Polymers manufactures
The plant will produce two categories of polyethylene, used to make products ranging from common every-day household goods to environmental liners for retention ponds that help to protect and preserve the environment. The types of polyethylene the plant would produce include:
Linear low-density polyethylene (LLDPE) which is the primary raw material for items like flexible food packaging and pouches, collation shrink wrap, stretch film, protective packaging, flexible tubing, sports equipment (canoes), industrial equipment (tornado shelters), wire and cable insulation, agricultural films; and
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) that is used to create “stiffer” products such as toys, crates, drums, shampoo bottles, milk jugs, detergent/bleach bottles, pails (buckets), environmental liners, paint containers, garden furniture and other types of housewares.
Within these two main categories of PE, there are many different slates Shell’s facility will be produced, to specific technical requirements for the differing slates.
The Polyethylene pellet manufacturing process
The Polyethylene Manufacturing Process
Title: The Polyethylene Manufacturing Process
Duration: 1:19 minutes
This animation portrays the general process of manufacturing ethane into polyethylene pellets.
The Polyethylene Manufacturing Process Transcript
[Background music plays]
Bright, uplifting music play throughout the animation
[Full sequence view of the four scenes of the manufacturing process with onscreen text]
Four arrows animate to show the sequence of the manufacturing process
The Polyethylene process
Cracking & distillation
Polymerisation & pellets
Manufacturing & products
Storage & shipment
[Zoom into second scene with onscreen text]
Zoom into first scene. Animated arrows depict the path that ethane makes through the cracker and lines depict the ethylene and other hydrocarbons being routed to distillation columns
Ethane enters the cracker’s furnace and is heated to temperatures of 1500°F (800°C)
Ethane’s molecules are ‘cracked’ under the high temperatures, re-arranging the carbon and hydrogen atoms to create ethylene
Ethylene and other hydrocarbons are routed through to distillation columns where ethylene is separated
[Arrow move to the third scene with onscreen text]
The animation transitions into the second scene by following the arrows representing the ethylene to the cooler and then to the polymerisation reactor and on to be extruded into strings and pellets, represented by the animated dots.
Polymerisation & pellets
Ethylene enters a polymerisation reactor where catalysts are added
Reacted ethylene gas becomes polyethylene
Polyethylene is extruded through small openings and cut into pellets
[Arrow move to the fourth scene with onscreen text]
The animation transitions into the third scene by following the animated dots that now represent polyethylene pellets flowing into storage units. The animated dots then flow into the truck and train. The truck and train move away.
Storage & shipment
Pellets are stored onsite and shipped by truck and train
[Arrow move to the last scene with onscreen text]
The animated truck drives into a building to show the manufacture of the polyethylene pellets into plastics. Animated pictures of everyday items – seat cover, laptop, jug/container, tire, wiring, building materials, shirt – appear to show the end use of the polyethylene.
Manufacturing & products
The pellets are shipped to manufacturers to make many of the plastic products we use every day
The facility will first “crack,” or break apart, ethane’s large molecules, re-arranging the carbon and hydrogen atoms to create ethylene. This is accomplished by heating the ethane to very high temperatures, greater than 1500°F (800°C), in one of the cracker’s seven furnaces. Natural gas and “tail gas” (a hydrogen and natural gas combination from the furnace that is recycled) fuel the process.
The ethylene stream will be sent to one of three units and further processed to create different types of polyethylene pellets. Those pellets then will be shipped to manufacturers to make many of the plastic products we use every day. Most of the products will be shipped via rail; some proximate customers will receive Shell product delivery via truck. The site will have both rail and truck loading capabilities: