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British chemical giant chooses port of Antwerp for €3 billion investment

20:14 17/01/2019

After careful consideration of a number of European ports, British chemical company Ineos has chosen the port of Antwerp for a €3 billion investment. That is not only the largest single investment made in Flanders in two decades, it is also the largest investment by a chemicals firm anywhere in Europe in that period of time.

The London-based Ineos is one of the largest chemical manufacturers in the world, with an annual turnover exceeding €52 billion. A crucial moment in the history of the company actually occurred in Antwerp: Ineos formed in 1998 order to buy out BP’s petrochemicals assets in the port city.

It is now ranked as the 50th largest business in the world, employing some 20,000 people in 24 countries. The new production facility in Antwerp will provide 400 new jobs.

The investment includes a propane dehydrogenation (PDH) plant and an ethane cracker unit in the port area. The former processes propane into propylene, while a “cracker unit” takes ethane, a component of natural gas, and processes, or “cracks”, it into ethylene by breaking apart the molecular bonds with extreme heat.

Propylene and ethylene are raw materials for chemical products used by a number of industries, including car manufacturing, building construction, electronics and pharmaceuticals. “After Borealis similarly opted for Antwerp a few months ago, this decision by Ineos puts the chemical sector in Flanders even more firmly on the world map,” said Frank Beckx, managing director of Belgian chemical sector federation Essenscia, at a press event yesterday at the port.

The “construction of a hyper-modern cracking plant,” he continued, “is of great strategic importance, as no such installation been built in western Europe since the 1990s. A cracker produces the essential simple molecules that form the basis of the entire chemical industry.”

The plants will be built in the Lillo area of the port of Antwerp, where Ineos is already established. It will use part of its own site in addition to unused sections it has purchased from neighbouring companies.

“Our investment in a world-class ethane cracker and PDH plant is the largest of its kind in Europe in more than a generation,” said Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe, in Antwerp for the announcement. “As such it is a major development for the European petrochemical industry. We believe that this investment can reverse the decline in the European chemical industry in recent years.”

The new production facilities are expected to be operational by 2024. Once they are up and running, they will provide 400 full-time jobs directly and five times that number indirectly. Some 3,000 people will be employed during the construction phase.

“I have to admit that I am both humbled and overcome with a sense of pride,” at Ineos’ decision, said Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever. “These are the moments you live and work for. We can have every confidence in the future. This is an investment for an entire generation. It also demonstrates that, even in times of Brexit uncertainty, investors still maintain belief in the process of economic growth, internationalisation and sustainable technology. There is still a trust in progress.”

Investment planning for the project was carried out by the Welcome Team for the Chemical Sector, a group of experts in tax policy, chemical manufacturing and sustainable technologies, launched early last year by Flanders Investment and Trade (Fit).

The €3 billion investment emphasises “the efficient collaboration between government, the business world, centres of knowledge and Antwerp Port Authority that enables our region to attract such large investments,” said Fit director Claire Tillekaerts. “The Welcome Team for the Chemical Sector offers the necessary expertise for finding the ideal location and selecting the right local partners.”

Everyone involved in the Ineos project, she said, “reacted very promptly and professionally to queries from Ineos”. A package of tailor-made services was put together, “which managed to brilliantly convince the British chemical company and land the investment despite intense competition”.

Photo, from left: Ineos CEO Jim Ratcliffe, Antwerp mayor Bart De Wever, Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois, port city councillor Annick De Ridder, port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren and Flemish innovation miniser Philippe Muyters at the event to announce the Ineos investment ©Port of Antwerp

Written by Flanders Today