20 November 2000 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Rapid demand growth for phenol has led to excess acetone capacity which will be hard to absorb, athough companies are studying recycling as a future solution


As a coproduct of phenol manufacture, acetone supply depends on conditions in the phenol market. Phenol/acetone markets are oversupplied but production outages at various suppliers during the year have kept European acetone supply balanced to tight.

Rhodia has mothballed one line at Roussillon, France, and Italy's EniChem is still trying to bring its Porto Torres unit back online after it went down at the beginning of the year for debottlenecking. The plant was originally due back up on 1 June but has been dogged by setbacks. Players say demand from the MMA sector is strong and better than last year. Global demand for acetone is expected to increase by about 3%/year to 2002. West European consumption is forecast to grow from 1.32m tonne to 1.47m tonne in 2005.


Acetone's main use is in the manufacture of acetone cyanohydrin, a feedstock for methyl methacrylate (MMA). The other major derivative is bisphenol-A (BPA), a raw material for epoxy and polycarbonate resins.

It is used directly as a solvent as well as to make other solvents such as methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) and methyl isobutyl carbinol (MIBC), and is an intermediate for pharmaceuticals and antioxidants.


About two-thirds of acetone production is via the cumene route which involves the reaction of propylene and benzene in the presence of phosphoric acid-based or zeolite catalysts. Cumene is oxidised in the liquid phase to cumene hydroperoxide which is then cleaved in the presence of sulphuric acid to phenol and acetone. The isopropyl alcohol route, where the alcohol is dehydrogenated to acetone over a metal, metal oxide or salt catalyst, is in decline.

A new process in Japan is the direct oxidation of propylene but this suffers from high capital costs and corrosion problems. Small quantities of acetone are also produced as a byproduct in the manufacture of propylene oxide (Lyondell), acetic acid and hydro-quinone (Eastman Chemical and Goodyear respectively).

Health and safety

Acetone is a clear, colourless, volatile liquid with a fragrant odour. It is highly flammable, miscible in water, ethyl alcohol and ether and will react explosively with strong oxidising agents. Acetone vapour has a slight narcotic effect and excessive exposure can cause dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. Prolonged contact can cause skin irritation and aspiration can severely damage lungs.


Some suppliers say November contracts for MMA consumers have been agreed at a rollover although others have still not settled.

Prices are reported in the DM1180-1250/tonne range. Prices to the solvent sector are heard between DM1150-1200/tonne FD. Suppliers say margins are negative for acetone which is being subsidised by phenol.



Company Location Capacity
Aristech Haverhill, OH, US +268
Borealis Porvoo, Finland 80
BP Hull, UK *65
Caprolactam Leuna Leuna, Germany 80
Dow Chemical Freeport, TX, US 181.5
EniChem Mantova, Italy 176
Porto Torres, Italy 111
Ertisa Huelva, Spain 200
Frontier Oil El Dorado, KS, US 38
GE Plastics Mount Vernon, IN, US 197
Georgia Gulf Pasadena, TX, US 45
Plaquemine, LA, US 227
JLM Blue Island, IL, US 26
Phenolchemie Theodore, AL, US 250
Antwerp, Belgium 271
Gladbeck, Germany 400
Rhodia Roussillon, France 50
Shell Berre, France **75
Pernis, the Netherlands **80
Stanlow, UK **40
Deer Park, TX, US 513
Sunoco Frankford, PA, US 280
Union Carbide Institute, WV, US **77

+ company being sold by owner Mitsubishi to Sunoco * from acetic acid ** from isopropyl alcohol

Source: ECN/CMR


A significant amount of new capacity has come onstream in the last two years as suppliers position themselves to take advantage of the rapid growth in demand for phenol from bisphenol-A and polycarbonate. The excess acetone capacity will not be easy to absorb as only moderate growth is expected overall, although it has benefited from its declassification as a volatile organic compound in the US.

Demand from the MMA sector reflects GDP-rate growth in acrylic sheet and surface coatings for the automotive and construction industries. Producers are studying recycling acetone into propylene as a way of avoiding surplus capacity but no firm commitments have yet been made. No major new capacity has been announced for Europe although Ertisa will debottleneck production twice next year, adding 50 000 tonne/year phenol and 30 000 tonne/year acetone in quarter one and the same again in quarter three.

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