29 November 1999 00:00  [Source: ICB]

New zeolite catalyst technology has ensured that global cumene supply meets increased demand for phenol


Global cumene production in 1998 is estimated by DeWitt at 7.5m tonne, over 1m tonne higher than ten years ago. By 2000, capacity will stand at 10m tonne/year. Supply has been plentiful over the past few years as new catalyst technology encourages low-cost expansions. Low barriers to entry could encourage benzene producers to build if attractive margins were available. This and oversupply and downstream integration has discouraged cumene players from pushing for anything other than adequate margins. Most European cumene producers are integrated to phenol production. In the US, fewer players are forward integrated to phenol. New European phenol capacity has converted Europe to a net importer of cumene and a net exporter of phenol.


Cumene is the main feedstock for phenol/ acetone production and nearly all is used in this way. Therefore demand is driven by market growth for bisphenol-A, phenolic resins and caprolactam.


US cumene contract prices have recovered sharply from lows close to 13 cent/lb in the second quarter of this year. Since then, rising oil and benzene prices have been the main factors lifting prices to over 20 cent/lb. The merchant market in Europe is very limited with most major cumene producers integrated downstream into phenol production. Over recent years global, and particularly US, supply has been boosted by new zeolite catalysts and this has encouraged merchant sellers to offer formula-based pricing to win business. Now around 90% of the US market is either captive or with product changing hands on formula-based prices.


The original process to manufacture cumene was propyl alkylation of benzene using sulphuric acid as the catalyst. This technology was replaced by processes reacting propylene and benzene, initially using solid phosphoric acid or aluminium chloride catalysts. However, in recent years production economics have been radically changed by processes developed and licensed by companies such as Mobil/Badger, CDTech and UOP which use zeolite catalysts. Over the past three years, there has been a rapid shift, particularly in the US, to these zeolite-based systems. In 1995 they accounted for only 6% of global capacity. Now it is around 50%. The zeolite-based routes offer lower costs through high benzene-to-cumene selectivity, high product purities and the ability to regenerate the catalyst, eliminating a waste disposal problem. Solutia's new Alphox technology for phenol production bypasses cumene production.


Company Location Capacity
Borealis Porvoo, Finland 180
Domo Group Leuna, Germany 200
BP Amoco Marl, Germany 250
Ruhr Oel Gelsenkirchen, Germany 500
Eni (Agip) Priolo, Italy 290
EniChem Porto Torres, Sardinia 2901
Ertisa Huelva, Spain 470
Dow Terneuzen, Netherlands 400
HICI North Tees, UK 135
Rhodia Rousillon, France 230
East Europe
MZRIP Plock, Poland 68
Neftochim Burgas, Bulgaria 50
Petro Brazi Brazi, Romania 105
Carom Borzesti, Romania 35
Slovnaft Bratislava, Slovakia 55
Ethanol-Camara Povolzhje, Russia 115
Kazanorgsynthez Povolzhjelga, Russia 98
Nitron Saratov, Russia 67
Omsk Kauchuk West Siberia 100
Orgsteklo Dzerzhinsk, Russia 65
Severodonetsk Severodonetsk, Ukraine 30
Ufaorgsynthez Ural, Russia 113
North America
CItgo Corpus Christi, Texas 500
Chevron Port Arthur, Texas 450
Coastal Eagle Westville, NJ 168
Georgia Gulf Pasadena, Texas 680
JLM Blue Island, Il 64
Koch Corpus Christi, Texas 672
Marathon Ashland Catlettsburg, Kentucky 363
Shell Deer Park, Texas 544
Sun Point Breeze, PA 490
Texaco El Dorado, Kansas 61
Middle East/Asia
Unichem/ Yanbu, Saudi Arabia 5202
Mitsubishi Chemical Kashima, Japan 210
Mitsui Chemicals Osaka, Japan 140
Chiba, Japan 550
Tosoh Yokkaichi, Japan 230
Kumho Shell Yeochon, Korea 280
Taiwan Properity Kaohsiung, Taiwan 130
Formosa Mailiao, Taiwan 2703
China various locations 318
India various locations 265
Huntsman West Footscray, Australia 30

Notes: 1expanded using zeolite catalysis by mid-2000 2 delayed, 3 onstream March 2000


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