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Aiming to lower costs to better compete with rivals, ExxonMobil launched the world’s first chemical unit that processes crude oil.

Chemical companies typically process refined oil products such as naphtha — created by separating crude oil into lighter groups — at facilites called crackers to create petrochemicals like ethylene and propylene. They end up going through further processing to convert into products such as plastics, soaps or synthetic fibers.

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Exxon’s new cracker in Singapore allows the company to bypass the refining process by processing crude directly into petrochemicals.

“This is the right place to do crude cracking because it gives us an advantage over the predominant feedstock in the region,” said ExxonMobil Chemical’s president Stephen Pryor in a report on Reuters. “The cracker we’ve built is by far the most feed flexible cracker we’ve ever built. It can crack anything from light gases to heavy liquids, including crude oil.”

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The new technology helps reduce raw material costs, energy consumption and carbon emissions, while the cracker also produces fuel components.

Crackers in Asia typically use naphtha as a feedstock, while those in the Middle East have a cost advantage as they process cheaper ethane and propane gases into petrochemicals.

The multi-billion dollar complex on Singapore’s Jurong Island includes the 1 million metric ton per year (tpy) steam cracker as well as production of at least 1.4 million tpy of polymers and elastomers. The cracker came online in the middle of last year, but Exxon has not previously confirmed the use of crude as a feedstock.

The project suffered through delays two years due to its complexity and a weak economic outlook which has pared the use of petrochemicals in automobile parts, electrical appliances and consumables, despite excess capacity.

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