HOUSTON, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- The consumption and exports of ethane in the United States will increase over the next two years, and by the end of 2019, the product may reach China's market, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Tuesday.
According to the EIA, the Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) projected that growth in U.S. consumption of ethane in the petrochemical industry would exceed increases in the combined consumption of all other petroleum and liquid products, such as motor gasoline, distillate and jet fuel.
The agency also projected that ethane exports would continue increasing, as ethane is exported both by pipeline to Canada and by tankers to more distant destinations.
Ethane is separated from raw natural gas at natural gas processing plants along with other hydrocarbon gas liquids such as propane, normal butane, isobutane, and natural gasoline.
Ethane is mainly used as a petrochemical feedstock for the production of ethylene, which is a building block for plastics, resins, and other industrial products.
As U.S. natural gas production has increased, the amount of ethane contained in raw natural gas production streams has exceeded domestic demand or the ability to export it abroad.
Nonetheless, ethane is increasingly being recovered from the natural gas stream, and U.S. ethane consumption is increasing as existing ethylene crackers have expanded and new plants have begun operating.
In addition, expanding pipeline networks and two new ethane export terminals have allowed U.S. ethane exports to increase.
In 2017, construction was completed on the first three of a series of new ethylene crackers -- two early in the year and a third in late December, all on the Texas Gulf Coast. These crackers expanded the capacity to consume ethane in the United States by 210,000 barrels per day.
EIA expected annual U.S. ethane consumption to grow from an estimated 1.2 million barrels per day in 2017 to 1.4 million barrels per day in 2018 and 1.6 million barrels per day in 2019, as these new plants and related infrastructure ramp up operations.
EIA also projected continued growth in ethane exports, with average annual exports increasing from 180,000 barrels per day in 2017 to 290,000 barrels per day in 2018 and 310,000 barrels per day in 2019.
Ethane exports by pipeline to Canada are expected to increase in early 2018.
Ethane shipments from these facilities currently supply petrochemical feedstock to countries including the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, India, and Brazil. By the end of 2019, ethane exports from the United States may also reach China when a new ethylene plant there begins operation.