While we are still assessing the damage done by Hurricane Harvey, it has also highlighted a key and critical issue that most of us would probably have never considered otherwise. Some of the key building blocks for many manufacturing enterprises are under threat due to the storm. What is that building block? Ethylene.
Most Americans have probably never even heard of ethylene, but it is arguably the most important petrochemical on the planet today. Ethylene is the foundation for making plastics, and it just so happens that Texas produces a whopping three-quarters of the country’s supply of Ethylene. Harvey’s floods have closed most all of the state’s plants, which amounts to 61% of the U.S. ethylene capacity. Last year factories churned out 146 million tons of it.
Ethylene is then processed into polyethylene and ethylene glycol and even polyester. So in terms of products, it involves everything from garbage bags to antifreeze. The process of manufacturing is pretty fascinating. Oil or natural gas is steam heated to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit to crack apart the molecular bonds. The gas is then separated and piped to other production units for conversion into other things.
Ethylene is a great example of how the static mixing and inline steam injection heating products make a tremendous difference in cost and quality. Static mixing or heating allows ethylene to separate into high quality mixtures even at the microscopic level, ensuring a quality and consistent product every time.
So what does this ethylene issue mean for the American economy? Watch your supply chain, since the aftereffect of the ethylene crisis is going to hit every single sector of production, whether one makes food products, car parts, diapers or packaging and furniture. An old advertising slogan from the plastics industry years ago ended with “plastics make it possible.” We are about to discover just how true that really is!