LyondellBasell opens new Houston research center

Chemical giant LyondellBasell opened a new Houston research center on Monday that executives hope will help them make even higher profits off of America’s abundant natural gas resources.

Scientists at the facility will mix metals and other components in vacuum chambers, then test the materials in reactors to see if they can make operations more efficient and profitable, they said.

Executives wouldn’t say how much LyondellBasell’s new Houston Technology Center cost, but the site in Channelview was made possible because of the newly abundant supplies of natural gas and resources like ethane and propane in the United States.

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The 70,000-square-foot facility will house 80 employees, most of them scientists. Twenty-two of the workers were previously employed at a LyondellBasell research site near Philadelphia, which was closed and replaced with the new center, spokesman David Harpole said.

Scientists at the center will test new materials that they can use in chemical reactions to create basic chemical building blocks for plastics and other products.

The center is equipped with small-scale plants at the site, all of them tiny fractions of the size of full-scale plants. The small-scale versions will help scientists at LyondellBasell begin producing and operating with new materials they develop in laboratories at the center.

The testing will show whether the materials work well, and how much they improve efficiency, perhaps by cutting down energy costs or resulting in more products that LyondellBasell can sell, said Dan White, catalyst manager at the center.

LyondellBasell is in the midst of an expansion at its chemical complex in Channelview. The company is adjusting and restarting a defunct methanol plant and is increasing the capacity at one of its plants to produce more ethylene.

LyondellBasell emerged from bankruptcy in 2010 following a period of high oil and natural gas prices and a series of other events that put it into a slump. The company has since benefited from large supplies of cheap fuels in the United States, which have helped it become profitable and begin expanding.