Contributed photo                                This photo taken in July shows the three polyethylene reactors at Nova Chemicals’ PE1 plant at Joffre. The newest reactor, which is going through its testing phase, is on the left.

Contributed photo This photo taken in July shows the three polyethylene reactors at Nova Chemicals’ PE1 plant at Joffre. The newest reactor, which is going through its testing phase, is on the left.

Nova Chemicals poised to fire up a “world-scale” polyethylene reactor

It has been a $1 billion project that has been in the works for three years.

Three years since construction began, Nova Chemicals is poised to fire up a $1-billion polyethylene reactor at its Joffre site.

The “world-scale” polyethylene reactor will produce annually about one billion pounds of plastic pellets used to create more than two dozen grades of linear-low density polyethylene used in everything from packaging and Saran Wrap-type products to industrial linings.

When running at full production, this third reactor will boosts Nova’s polyethylene production by about 40 per cent to 3.5 billion pounds a year. It is an expansion to Polyethylene 1 — one of two polyethylene plants along with three ethylene plants as well as other facilities that are on the sprawling site west of Red Deer.

Joffre site leader Rick Van Hemmen said over the past few months the final construction work was completed by contractor Ledcor on what is known in Nova circles as R3.

As each portion of the project was completed it was turned over to a commissioning crew to undertake exhaustive checks ensuring every metre of piping is cleaned, the reactor is pre-treated to prevent chemical buildup and electrical and instrumentation systems are on line.

“Our folks are going through a very structured sequence of checks to make sure that it’s all ready to go and to the extent we can check the instrumentation without having the process running we’re doing that,” said Van Hemmen.

By mid-November, Nova expects to begin the start-up process.

By the end of the year, the polyethylene will pass through extrusion and pelletizing systems to produce the first batches of the final product, which resemble small white beads of plastic.

“We just make sure front to back everything is working,” he said, adding there will be a small amount of production this year.

“We then have a ramp-up plan where we’ll continue to take that system, over the course of next year, to higher and higher capacity.”

The project has pumped hundreds of millions in Alberta’s economy. Overall, 40 to 60 per cent of the total capital cost remained in Alberta and during peak construction 800 workers were on site.

Van Hemmen said the expansion is expected to strengthen Nova’s position in what is a competitive international market.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com