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BP reveals step-out routes to acetic acid and ethylene with all-new technologies

Release date:
7 November 2013

BP today announced two new technologies for the production of key petrochemical feedstocks. SaaBre™ is a new route for the production of acetic acid from syngas and Hummingbird® directly converts ethanol to ethylene through dehydration.


SaaBre’s breakthrough is a process for the conversion of synthesis gas (carbon monoxide and hydrogen derived from hydrocarbons such as natural gas) directly to acetic acid in a proprietary, integrated three-step process, that avoids the need to purify carbon monoxide (CO) or purchase methanol.


SaaBre™ is expected to deliver a significant reduction in variable manufacturing costs, and lead to capital efficiencies, compared to the carbonylation of methanol route which has been the leading technology for several decades.


Acetic acid is a versatile intermediate chemical, used in a variety of products, such as paints, adhesives and solvents, as well as in the production of PTA, used extensively in polyester manufacture.


Nick Elmslie, Chief Executive of BP’s Global Petrochemicals business said: “SaaBre™ is the most significant development for acetic acid production in 40 years and adds to our portfolio of leading technologies.


“The principle advantages of SaaBre™ are that it eliminates the need to purify carbon monoxide, does not require the purchase of methanol and contains no iodides reducing the need for exotic metallurgy. We are excited about the development potential of this technology for the production of additional products such as methanol and ethanol.”


“BP has a long history of successfully optimising methanol carbonylation chemistry and the associated process, but we believe that methanol carbonylation has reached the limits of its fundamental chemistry,” says Dan Leonardi, Petrochemicals Technology Vice President. “So we decided some years ago that, to make a significant difference to the economics of manufacturing acetic acid at scale, we needed a fresh start.”


Hummingbird® is a newly developed proprietary process by which ethanol is dehydrated to produce ethylene, a fundamental building block for the plastics and other petrochemical industries. The new technology is lower cost and simpler compared to existing ethanol to ethylene technologies.


“Hummingbird® is a next generation technology, clearly differentiated from the competition,” said Charles Cameron, BP’s Head of Technology, Downstream. “The Hummingbird® process with its proprietary catalyst and its milder operating conditions is ultra-selective, resulting in a market leading conversion of ethanol to ethylene.”


Both SaaBre™ and Hummingbird® were developed over a number of years at BP’s advanced laboratories at the Hull Research and Technology Centre (HRTC), alongside its acetic acid manufacturing site, Europe’s largest, at Saltend, Hull in the UK.


BP is actively exploring options for commercialising both technologies. SaaBre™ is planned for deployment in future acetic acid investments whilst Hummingbird® is a licensing play for BP. “We see a considerable market for smaller-scale ethylene production where full-scale crackers would not be commercially viable,” said Mark Howard, Technology Vice President, Conversion. “These two new processes, developed in-house at Hull, show the significant value technology brings to our chemicals business.”

Further information



BP press office, London, +44 20 7496 4076, bppress@bp.com

Notes to editors


  • BP's global petrochemicals business has total (net to BP) capacity at 15 locations in eight countries of 18.4 million tonnes per annum (tpa) including 2.5 million tpa of acetic acid.
  • BP’s conversion licensing includes Veba Combi-Cracking (VCC™) and its Fischer-Tropsch technology. BP’s VCC™ licensing partner, KBR, has sold four VCC™ licences. BP’s paraxylene (PX) and purified terephthalic acid (PTA) technologies are used extensively at its own facilities and by numerous licensees worldwide.
  • BP’s Cativa® methanol carbonylation technology for the production of acetic acid is world class in terms of capital and variable costs and is continually being developed and optimised.
  • BP is one of the world's largest oil and gas companies, serving millions of customers every day in more than 80 countries, and employing over 85,000 people. BP’s business segments are oil and gas exploration & production, and refining & marketing. Through these activities, BP provides fuel for transportation; energy for heat and light; services for motorists; and petrochemicals products for plastics, textiles and food packaging. It has strong positions in many of the world's hydrocarbons basins and strong market positions in key economies.