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.


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.


The original source of toluene from coke-oven gas has been replaced by pyrolysis gasoline co-produced in the steamcracking of liquid feeds or the catalytic reforming of naphthas.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.


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.



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.


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: +44 181 652 3535

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