Project report Belgium

Even the biggest projects have the smallest nooks and crannies


When one of the world’s largest single pieces of chemical engineering arrives by ship to be transported further by land, it’s bound to raise a few eyebrows and block a few streets on its way. With all eyes on this mammoth project, KAEFER in Benelux knew the pressure was on.


The Borealis propane dehydrogenation plant in Antwerp, Belgium is one of the largest engineering projects in Europe. One of the biggest parts of it is the splitter, which is a distillation column used for splitting propane from propylene. It is 109 metres long, 10 metres wide and was the largest appliance ever delivered to the port of Antwerp in one piece by ship.

But even such a big piece of equipment has small areas where thermal energy can escape, leading to lower efficiency. This is exactly where KAEFER comes in. Since the company has a maintenance contract with Borealis in Europe, KAEFER was tasked with the cryogenic insulation of the new splitter.

Cutting things down to size

For the Borealis project, KAEFER used Cryogel. Compared to others, it is extraordinarily thin, requiring just two layers 2.5 centimetres wide to be effective. Normal insulation material would need to be at least 100 mm thick in these circumstances. “It brings much more efficiency,” says Jan Buys, Business Unit Manager.

“It gets into even the smallest nooks and crannies and squeezes into the hard-to-reach areas, meaning that we can provide better, more efficient insulation.”

Given the sheer scale of the project and the ambitious timing, there was little room for error. On top of that, all eyes were on the team doing the work. “It is such a huge, high profile project that made it the talk of the town in the Antwerp chemical world,” says Operations Director at KAEFER in Benelux Johan Buys. “Everyone now knows that KAEFER is insulating this tremendous piece of engineering and we’re using unconventional, innovative ways to do it. But with that kind of pressure, the trick is to break the job down into manageable parts, cut things down to size and do each bit as well as we possibly can.”

Lending a helping hand

The entire insulation of the splitter needed to be done in just eight weeks. That includes the planning, organisation, scaffolding and the actual insulation work itself. For that kind of timeframe, you need good colleagues you can count on.

Manpower for this project was provided by KAEFER in Lithuania who have highly skilled insulators able to support this complex project. This demonstrated, once again, the benefits of collaboration within the KAEFER Group.

The Borealis project shows what is possible when KAEFER makes the most of innovative technology, detailed planning and skilled manpower. Each team needs to be able to count on the other, so that the client can count on them. When the stakes are as high as with the splitter in Antwerp, it’s a strategy that works.