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.
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.
|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|
|HICI||North Tees, UK||135|
|Petro Brazi||Brazi, Romania||105|
|Omsk Kauchuk||West Siberia||100|
|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|
|Unichem/||Yanbu, Saudi Arabia||5202|
|Mitsubishi Chemical||Kashima, Japan||210|
|Mitsui Chemicals||Osaka, Japan||140|
|Kumho Shell||Yeochon, Korea||280|
|Taiwan Properity||Kaohsiung, Taiwan||130|
|Huntsman||West Footscray, Australia||30|
Notes: 1expanded using zeolite catalysis by mid-2000 2 delayed, 3 onstream March 2000
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