Oman is preparing to build its largest ever chemicals project as a key engineering and design tender is floated on a $3.6bn steam cracker and downstream production units.

The Liwa Plastics Project in Sohar, expected to be completed by 2018, will give Oman its first capacity to produce grades of polyethylene (PE) that have formed the basis of major chemicals expansions in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. PE grades represent the majority of polymers produced in the GCC ahead of polypropylene (PP), with smaller amounts of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polystyrene (PS) also produced.

With the exception of Bahrain, Oman has lagged behind the other GCC states in terms of plastics production, with its Sohar operations able to produce 350,000 tonnes a year (t/y) of PP. Oman Oil Refineries and Petroleum Industries Company (Orpic) is designing the Liwa scheme with a PE and PP capacity totalling more than 1 million t/y. This would see the sultanate become the region’s fourth-largest producer.

Orpic will build the project in tandem with the expansion of its Sohar refinery. The upgrade will also enable Orpic to increase the output of its existing PP plant, which has been running at less than 60 per cent of nameplate capacity due to a lack of propylene from the refinery.

With another major refinery and chemicals scheme planned at the central port of Duqm, Oman’s petrochemicals industry could become a regional powerhouse by the end of the decade.