Multi-billion Dow Chemical investment pegs Alberta as a top spot for low carbon plastics production

Net zero petrochemical complex seen as a signpost for future investment in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland

By Will Gibson
Dow CEO Jim Fitterling speaks at the announcement the company will construct the world's first net-zero carbon emissions ethylene and derivatives complex, in Fort Saskatchewan Alberta, on Wednesday November 29, 2023. Canadian Press photo

Dow Chemical’s Nov. 28 announcement confirming it will invest $8.8 billion to build a net zero petrochemical complex near Edmonton was close to a decade in the making for Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur. 

“Now that they’ve finally announced the project, I’m one of the happiest mayors around,” says Katchur, who was first elected in October 2010. 

“What Dow is building will inspire other industries with innovation and technology like this. Dow has been a cornerstone for our community for the past 60 years. This investment ensures they are going to be around for a lot longer.” 

The project, which has support from the municipal, provincial and federal governments, will increase Dow’s production of polyethylene, the most widely used plastic in the world. 

Welcomed by the community 

By capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions and generating hydrogen on-site, the complex will be the world’s first ethylene cracker with net zero emissions from operations.  

“I remember speaking to Dow executives during their regional visit some years back. They were curious about potential public concerns, given the visibility of their visit and the nature of their business,” Katchur says. 

“My response was clear: the primary concern in our community is the pace of progress. People here recognize and appreciate the petrochemical industry. We understand the benefits that it brings.” 

Competitive advantages 

Katchur’s joy is shared by Mark Plamondon, executive director of Alberta’s Industrial Heartland Association, who sees the Michigan-based multinational’s decision as an endorsement of the region’s competitive advantages. 

“Dow is a global company and could put their capital anywhere in the world,” says Plamondon, whose group attracts global investment in heavy industry to the 582-square-kilometre region northeast of Edmonton.  

“What this demonstrates is Dow can meet both their economic and environmental goals by investing in this region. That sends a real message.” 

Bob Masterson, CEO of the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada, sees Dow’s decision to build the facility as a signal of where the industry will make large investments in the future. 

“In the short term, you are looking at the province’s largest construction project requiring more than 7,000 high-skill, high-paying jobs for the next seven to 10 years,” says Masterson, whose Ottawa-based group represents chemistry and plastics producers across Canada.  

Alberta a top destination for low carbon chemical production 

“What Dow’s decision really says is Alberta is a top destination for the chemistry industry to invest. One of the top chemical producers in the world is making this investment in Canada,” he says. 

“When you look at the bigger picture, the only real rival for low-carbon investment of this kind is the U.S. Gulf Coast, where you have the same access to natural gas liquids as a feedstock and supportive public policy environment.” 

The Industrial Heartland region is particularly attractive for companies looking to invest in low-carbon products, Masterson says. 

“Alberta has an abundant low-carbon feedstock in natural gas liquids to produce hydrogen and the geological space to sequester carbon. These natural assets can encourage investment and support low-carbon chemistry industry,” he says.  

“One of the largest petrochemical companies on the planet believes it can build a low-carbon chemistry plant based on these assets. Other companies will see they can generate and extract that value out of those resources in a very sustainable and responsible manner.” 

Filling space on the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line 

In addition to geological and natural resources, the region already possesses critical infrastructure to woo investment in low-carbon production, such as the Alberta Carbon Trunk Line (ACTL), the world’s largest CO2 pipeline.  

Dow has signed an agreement with ACTL owner Wolf Midstream to utilize space on the system.  

ACTL is the foundation of a hub that captures CO2 from an oil refinery and fertilizer plant and moves it for permanent storage in a nearby depleted oil field.  

The pipeline currently transports 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year but is built to transport 14.6 million tonnes of CO2 per year.  

“The infrastructure is in place already. The trunk line has plenty of surplus capacity to transport additional emissions,” Plamondon says.  

“That just adds to the value proposition for potential facilities that are moving to low-carbon production.” 

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