Costs may constrain transatlantic ethane trade

By Peter Stewart 5 October 2016
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An INEOS Dragon-class ethane carrier. A shipment of the fuel arrived in the UK last week. (INEOS) An INEOS Dragon-class ethane carrier. A shipment of the fuel arrived in the UK last week. (INEOS)

The ethane tanker INEOS Insight – blazoned with the slogan "Shale gas for manufacturing"– arrived at the Scottish port of Grangemouth last week to deliver the first cargo of shale gas to the UK. Media reports referring to the shipment as being LNG were incorrect – it was in fact carrying ethane, which is used along with propane and butane as a petrochemical feedstock.

Ethane is a type of NGL – as are propane, butane and pentane – and is primarily used in the production of ethylene. While propane and butane are sometimes used for heating, cooking, and – in some countries – as a vehicle fuel, they are mainly used by the petrochemical industry to produce ethylene and propylene to make chemicals and plastics. All three fuels compete with naphtha, a liquid petroleum product derived from crude oil or gas condensate, which has for decades been the mainstay of petrochemical manufacturing in Europe and Asia.

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