ExxonMobil Polyethylene Plant manager keynotes Golden Triangle Business Roundtable Semiannual Plant Manager's Meeting

Jason Duncan, plant manager of the ExxonMobil Beaumont Polyethlene Plant, gave an update on the Beaumont Polyethylene Expansion Project (BPEX) to the Golden Triangle Business Roundtable (GTBR) Tuesday, Feb. 20, at the Paul & Connie Szuch Multipurpose Conference Center at Lamar Institute of Technology.

Duncan received his Bachelors of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Louisiana State University in 1995 and accepted a position with ExxonMobil as an equipment engineer in the Baton Rouge Chemical Plant. He has worked in various manufacturing leadership positions in the Baton Rouge Complex as well as a marketing role in Chemicals Headquarters in Houston. In 2011, he transferred to Beaumont to serve as technical manager at the Beaumont Chemical Plant. In 2013, he moved to Singapore and became the Asia Pacific regional manufacturing manager responsible for manufacturing operations in China and the manufacturing planning for the Asia Pacific region. He assumed his current position as plant manager of the ExxonMobil Beaumont Polyethlene Plant in 2015.

ExxonMobil recently announced plans to add a new production unit at the plant that will increase its capacity by 65 percent — or approximately 650,000 tonnes (metric tons) per year — to meet growing demand for high performance plastics.

ExxonMobil is a leader in the manufacture of polyethylene products for packaging applications that deliver lightweight, tough, damage-resistant films. Construction of the new unit has begun at the plant, where current polyethylene production capacity is one million tonnes per year. Startup is expected in 2019.

The Beaumont project builds on supply advantages created by ExxonMobil’s expansion of its Mont Belvieu Plastics Plant, where two similar polyethylene units are being added. Combined, this multi-billion dollar investment will increase the company’s U.S. polyethylene production by 40 percent, or nearly two million tonnes per year, making Texas the largest polyethylene supply point for ExxonMobil.

The expansion of the polyethylene plant is now ExxonMobil’s third significant investment in the Beaumont area over the past 18 months.

“This is an incredibly dynamic time — it’s a renaissance, if you will. It’s a story of U.S. natural gas,” Duncan said. “The shale energy era is reshaping our industry, our products and our markets around the world. … Frankly, this started in Texas. Texas leads the U.S. in economic growth thanks to its pro-business environment across the state and right here in Beaumont, and it drives companies like ours to invest. That’s why we’ve invested in Texas more than any other state.”

“The U.S. has become a manufacturing powerhouse with growth in chemicals and refining by using clean burning natural gas ready to grow the economy while slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions,” he continued.

“As a leader in the U.S. energy industry, ExxonMobil is planning to spend more than $20 billion over the next 10 years to build and expand facilities in the U.S. Gulf Coast, creating thousands of jobs and billions of dollars worth of economic activity.”

ExxonMobil is calling the investment “Growing the Gulf.” The projects, at 11 proposed and existing sites, are expected to create more than 35,000 construction jobs and 12,000 full-time jobs, Duncan said. Four of those 11 projects are in Beaumont with potential for 4,000 construction jobs and 85 full-time jobs.

According to Duncan, the chemical industry is experiencing major growth as worldwide prosperity drives demand.

“Within the next 20 years, the global population is expected to increase by an additional 2 billion people,” he said, “from roughly 7 billion people today to 9 billion. And in just 15 years time, those considered earning enough income to be middle class are going to jump from just under 2 billion to nearly 5 billion in 2030. Most of that growth will happen in the developing world. Societies modernizing global living standards continue to improve and, therefore, demand for many types of chemical products will grow as well.”

Urbanization will also continue to drive consumption of products made from plastics such as lightweight packaging that extends the life of food and reduces the energy consumption of delivering that food, Duncan said. More disposable income will allow consumers to purchase items ranging from cars to washing machines to convenient, ready-to-eat meals.

“It’s what drives the local demand for chemicals,” he said. “Basically, we estimate an increase of about 50 percent of the demand over the next 10 years, significantly faster than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

To feed the growing world population, agricultural efficiencies are critical. In 2016, ExxonMobil introduced a next-generation plastic, Exceed XP, to meet this challenge. This product allows development of new-to-the-world, cost-effective film and liner solutions in a range of applications that help reduce food spoilage, decrease supply chain costs, and increase crop yields.

Agricultural film can increase yields up to 60 percent through improved moisture retention, weed control and temperature management, supporting an extended growing season, according to ExxonMobil literature. The films help farmers economically increase their efficiency, allowing them to feed more people while conserving resources such as water, nutrients and fertilizer.

“This is a substantial project,” said Golden Triangle Roundtable Executive Director Dennis Isaacs. “The vision of ExxonMobil in this unprecedented manufacturing project will have far reaching impacts for decades to come. Economic prosperity will be realized by many of our local Southeast Texas down stream vendors and suppliers, in addition to the expanded opportunity for new construction and permanent jobs. This investment by the ExxonMobil polyethylene business will not only expand their capacity to world class production, it will stimulate a positive economic impact across the state, national and international commercial and industrial markets. The abundance of the new supplies of shale gas … is giving them an opportunity to increase their capacity substantially to meet the global demand for polyethylene.

Left to Right: Dr. Lonnie Howard, LIT President; Natalie Thompson, Mechanical Manager ExxonMobil Refinery; Jason Duncan, Plant Manager ExxonMobil Polyethylene Plant; Dennis Isaacs, GTBR Executive Director