Hurricane Harvey Aftermath: Why Solvent Recycling is Mission Critical

Hurricane Harvey wiped away 40% of the nation's supply of ethylene, arguably the world's most important petrochemical. Solvent recycling is needed now more than ever.

A once-in-a-1,000-year flood across the Gulf of Mexico is proving to have ramifications on the entire world. Before Hurricane Harvey began its destructive path through Texas and Louisiana, ethylene, a colorless, flammable gas given off naturally by ripening fruit, was the probably the last thing on people's minds.

Now, 61 percent of U.S. ethylene capacity has been closed due to Harvey. As it stands, about 70 million pounds of daily ethylene output is shut down.

What does this mean? For starters, this could begin a ripple effect that begins first with chemical communities along the Gulf, before moving to the heart of a $3.5 trillion global chemical industry — from U.S. consumer and industrial goods to car parts to diapers to milk cartons (translation: the world's most common plastics).The refineries and plants surrounding Galveston Bay are responsible for roughly 25 percent of the United States’s petroleum refining, more than 44 percent of its ethylene production, and 40 percent of its specialty chemical feed stock. Producers such as Exxon Mobil Corp and Occidental Chemical Corp both have already shut plants and cut back operations in recent days along the flood-crippled Coast.

How does the ethylene shortage impact solvent recycling?

When transformed into ethylene glycol, a solvent, ethylene becomes the antifreeze that keeps engines and airplane wings from freezing in winter. It becomes the polyester used in textiles. It helps combat global warming with polystyrene foam insulation. Ethylene and its derivatives account for about 40 percent of global chemical sales, according to an analyst at Alembic Global Advisors.

A shortage of ethylene of this magnitude will tighten supply-demand balances – meaning ethylene glycol costs are likely to surge. This puts more of a premium on solvent recycling than ever before. Solvent recycling involves heating a spent solvent to its boiling point in a tank, causing the solvent to vaporize and separate from its contaminants. This type of distillation is referred to as "fractional distillation"– which is used to separate mixtures of two liquids with different boiling points, such as a mixture of alcohol and water. The vapor is then passed through a water condenser and returned to a liquid in a virgin and clean state, ready to be reused.

Reclaim 98% of Ethylene Solvent Waste with Solvent Recycling Systems

Maintaining efficient operations requires a clean solvent, but a shortage of ethylene means less availability to ethylene glycol. Solvent Recycling Systems can recycle ethylene glycol on site –1.5 to 4.5 gallons of dirty solvent per hour—and return clean, ready-to-use solvent. The company is dedicated to making sure that your company’s solvent recycling system is up and running, achieving optimal performance.

To learn more about how Solvent Recycling can help restore ethylene glycol to its virgin state in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, contact us today.

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