Toluene

19 July 1999 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Although toluene demand is forecast to grow on average by 2.13%/year between 1997 and 2002, Europe's 2005 limits on aromatics in gasoline could lead to oversupply.

Supply/Demand balance



Toluene supply/demand balance and pricing is driven more by gasoline values than petrochemical demand. When petrochemical demand is poor, toluene extraction from pygas or reformate can be reduced and the product retained in gasoline. Extracted toluene can also be back-blended into gasoline. The cost of toluene extraction from refinery streams is estimated by DeWitt at only $10-15/tonne. Gasoline blend value therefore always puts a floor to toluene price weakness.

In Europe demand for toluene for petrochemical use has fluctuated from as high as 2.1m tonne in 1996 when demand from HDA units was high, to current levels of 1.7m tonne. DeWitt estimates European toluene extraction capacity at around 2.16m tonne/year.

Uses



Toluene is used in large quantities as an octane booster in gasoline but most of that portion is never removed from refinery streams. Its petrochemical uses are as a feedstock for xylenes using disproportionation technologies - around 24%, for benzene through hydrodealkylation, once the major use but now only 14% of demand; 9% is used in phenol production; 18% in toluene di-isocyanates; and 22% in solvent use.

Technology



The original source of toluene from coke-oven gas has been replaced by pyrolysis gasoline co-produced in the steamcracking of liquid feeds or the catalytic reforming of naphthas. The rich aromatics stream is then fed to a solvent extraction unit and fractionation columns to separate the benzene, toluene and mixed xylenes. Toluene could also be obtained from the aromatics produced from propane/butane in the BP/UOP Cyclar process.

Health & safety



Exposure to toluene can irritate the nose, throat and eyes while higher levels can cause dizziness and lightheadedness. Repeated exposure can damage bone marrow, the liver and kidneys. Toluene is flammable and poisonous gases are produced in a fire.

Pricing



Reduced HDA use has diminished the price link with benzene and in recent years there have been periods when toluene prices have risen above benzene, particularly in the run up to summer when octane demand increases. Toluene prices are also closely linked to crude and gasoline values, which accounts for the steep rise in the past four months from spot numbers of $165/tonne fob Rotterdam to the current $230-240/tonne. Toluene contracts for the third quarter at E246/tonne fob Rotterdam are a full E67/tonne above quarter two prices.

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Outlook



The increasing availability of benzene from other processes limits the usefulness of HDA - an older less economic process, although for some European sites it is an integral part of their production configuration and therefore likely to continue. However, the outlook for demand from the selective toluene disproportionation processes is positive.

Although toluene use in petrochemical production in Europe fell by around 2.27%/year between 1994 and 1997, DeWitt estimates demand will grow on average by 2.13% between 1997 and 2002. One big uncertainty is the impact of Europe's 2005 limits on aromatics in gasoline. If refiners adopt 2005 gasoline specifications early this could lead to additional toluene volumes coming onto the European marketplace. The other major driver of demand and pricing will be a pickup in global paraxylene demand.

EUROPEAN TOLUENE CAPACITY,'000 TONNE/YEAR





Company Location Capacity


Western Europe


Fina Antwerp, Belgium 50


Elf Antar Feyzin, France 36


Total Gonfreville, France 30


BASF Mannheim, Germany 85


BASF Wintershall Lingen, Germany 60


DEA Heide, Germany 130


Wesseling, Germany 80


Deutsche Shell Godorf, Germany 150


Erdölchemie Dormagen, Germany 100


PCK Schwedt, Germany 80


Veba-Oel Gelsenkirchen, Germany 125


Enichem Porto Marghera, Italy 50


Porto Torres, Italy 60


Priolo, Italy 200


Exxon Botlek, Netherlands 225


Petrogal Oporto, Portugal 140


Cepsa Algeciras, Spain 140


Conoco Immingham, UK 110


HICI Wilton, UK 330


Shell Stanlow, UK 90




Eastern Europe


Neftochim Burgas, Bulgaria 45


Mol Szazhalombatta, Hungary 100


Chem Works Blachownia, Poland 30


Petrochemia Plock, Poland 85


Arpechim Pitesti, Romania 15


Petrobrazi Brazi, Romania 46


Petromidia Midia, Romania 68


Slovnaft Bratislava, Slovakia 40


Petkim Aliaga, Turkey 40


ICIS LOR publishes monthly Plant Performance Data. Contact:

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