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New reactor will boost capacity for Nova

The skyline at Nova Chemicals Corp.’s Joffre complex took on a new look Friday, as a pair of cranes hoisted a 38-metre-high reactor into place.

The approximately 280-tonne piece of equipment is at the centre of a billion-dollar expansion of Nova’s polyethylene plant. It joins two existing reactors and is expected to boost total production capacity by 40 per cent — to approximately 2.5 billion pounds of linear low density polyethylene annually.

Rick Van Hemmen, Nova’s Joffre site leader, said it took more than an hour to lift the reactor, with a 440-tonne crawler crane and a 250-tonne tailing crane providing the mechanical muscle.

“The two cranes have to work perfectly in unison,” he said. “There’s a very detailed lift plan that goes into place.”

On June 23, a lighter but taller flare stack went up. And work on a pipe rack, cooling tower and other equipment and buildings are progressing quickly.

“We’ve certainly been noticing a change to the skyline in the last couple of months,” said Van Hemmen. “We’re at a period now where a lot of the large prefabricated pieces of equipment and structures have been showing up.”

Not far away, a new electricity substation is being constructed, and expansion of Nova’s rail yard is underway.

The latter project includes the planting of some 30,000 native trees, shrubs and other plants.

“It’s pretty interesting how well we are integrating the industrial components of this project with the agricultural and more natural environment around us,” said Van Hemmen.

About 200 workers are currently involved in the expansion, and this number will ramp up as work intensifies.

“Well be more into the very, very heavy construction period with large quantities of workers by the time we get into the second quarter of next year, at which point we expect to see at least 600 workers and probably as many as 800,” said Van Hemmen.

The project, which started last spring, is expected to wrap up by mid-2016.

The timing is good, said Van Hemmen, noting that with polyethylene prices generally strong and looking favourable in the long term, producers are rushing to take advantage.

“I think we’re kind of on the early side of that curve but there are a lot of projects that have been announced, certainly in the United States, really building off of the shale gas boom and the associated liquids within the natural gas streams that allow for petrochemical production.”

The new polyethylene production line is being developed within the Joffre complex’s existing footprint, and the increased ethylene feedstock that will be required can be provided by the three ethylene plants already operating there.

Van Hemmen said Nova is looking into opportunities to boost the output of one of its ethylene plants.

Meanwhile, the company has expanded the sources from which it obtains the ethane for ethylene production. In addition compounds stripped from Alberta’s natural gas, Nova is now obtaining ethane from shale gas in North Dakota and from the off-gasses that result from oilsands upgrading in Northern Alberta.

“The feedstock side of the picture has come together very nicely and so our outlook is very optimistic,” said Van Hemmen.

Information about Nova’s polyethylene plant expansion, including a time-lapse video of the construction process, can be found online at

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