Felipe Trujillo Manager Petrochemicals & Products, ECOPETROL
"Ecopetrol is the most important supplier of raw materials for Colombia, accounting for 100% of the national demand of BTX, 33% of polyethylene, 30% of propylene, 100% of asphalt and 70% of lubricant bases."
How have the last 12 months been for Ecopetrol’s petrochemical division?
The last 12 months have been the best and most successful. In 2019, we set out to double Ecopetrol’s petrochemical business with no additional capex or opex, only through our understanding of the market and reconfigurations of different logistical and commercial topics. By the end of 2021, the growth of the petrochemical business was 49% compared to 2019; measuring against pandemic years, the growth is even bigger. In 2022, we expect growth of approximately 14% compared to 2021, even after billing in 2021 what we had planned for 2023. We believe this growth is sustainable, which will allow us to double the business or even more by 2025.
Which petrochemical business lines is Ecopetrol investing in to increase capacity and improve operations?
Ecopetrol’s petrochemical business has two components: the first is strictly related to refiners in Barrancabermeja and Cartagena; and the other is Esenttia, our sister business where we are expanding the capacity for imported raw materials. Esenttia imports 70% of its propylene while the rest is supplied by Ecopetrol. We are improving the supply reliability of our plants in areas of raw materials, equipment and maintenance. Some of our plants are working excellently, such as aromatics production at BTX, and we want other operations such as our polyethylene plant to increase capacity and value add.
We are currently studying the role of Ecopetrol’s petrochemical business as we move forwards. Should we think about converting some gasoline plants into aromatics or think of polyolefins plants or a propane dehydrogenation plant? That is something in development and we shall have conclusive results by the end of this year on whether to invest several million dollars on certain transformations.
Can you elaborate on the circular economy initiatives that Ecopetrol is currently working on?
We are working on a very ambitious project that has brought great results, developing and testing the incorporation of postconsumption low-density polyethylene plastic in asphalt with one of our business partners. We produce PG64-22 or 60-70 asphalt, which is required for more specialized and demanding applications like freeways and high urban traffic driveways. These asphalts are usually modified with an imported polymer. Our initiative producers low-density polyethylene, and in a first approach with a Colombian plant that produces various degrees of post-consumption plastic, we managed to incorporate and replace that imported polyethylene with post-consumption polyethylene.
We hope that the incorporation of plastic in asphalt in four to five years is equivalent to Ecopetrol’s production of plastic, which would warrant a cycle closure of 100%. This translates into a huge social impact for recycling groups, and on the environmental side, every ton of plastic that we incorporate into asphalt not only improves its quality, but is also a ton of plastic that does not end up in landfills, rivers, seas.
What impact could the election of Gustavo Petro as Colombia’s new president mean for Ecopetrol?
In the petrochemical business I am optimistic and we anticipate opportunities. We believe that if campaign promises of an emphasis on sustainability materialize, we may be favored because we have several initiatives aiming for circular economy and the energy transition. Ecopetrol is the most important supplier of raw materials for Colombia, supplying 100% of the national demand of BTX, 33% of polyethylene, 30% of propylene, 100% of asphalt and 70% of lubricant bases.
Can you tell us about the green hydrogen production Ecopetrol is developing in Colombia?
This is a fascinating topic and an important focus of the company, being led by Ecopetrol’s gas vice-presidency. It started with a pilot plant operating in our Cartagena refinery, followed by a well-recognized vehicle brand, which initiated tests with green hydrogen in Cartagena. Ecopetrol’s expectation is that from this pilot, the production process can be replicated on an industrial scale in a short timeframe, generating subproducts that the country has a deficit of. That is why we are not only aiming towards a transition through green hydrogen, but we are also starting production of other raw materials currently been imported.