19 February 2001 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Impending changes to European regulations on aromatics in gasoline could lead to a toluene surplus, while demand from the chemical industry is not expected to grow in the near futureUPDATED FROM PRODUCT PROFILE, ECN 19 JULY 1999


Toluene's major outlet is in gasoline where it boosts the octane rating. However, most of that portion is never removed from refinery streams. Its major chemical use is to make xylenes (and benzene) via disproportionation (TDP) or benzene via hydrodealkylation (HDA) processes. About 16% is used to make solvents, although this outlet is declining because of stricter emissions laws. About 8% of world demand is from toluene diisocyanate (TDI) used in polyurethane foams. It also has minor use in phenol and caprolactam production, and is used as a chemical intermediate to make nitrobenzene, benzoic acid and benzyl chloride.


There are three grades of toluene: TDI-grade with a purity of 99.9%, nitration grade at 98.5% which is used as a solvent, as feedstock for HDA and TDP plants and for phenol manufacture. In the US there is a commercial grade with only 95% purity used for gasoline blending and HDA feedstock. European demand for toluene is about 1.7m tonne/year with extraction capacity rated at about 2.16m tonne/year. DeWitt consultancy is expecting to see a slight decline in production during 2000 compared to 1999. Europe is a net importer of toluene and imports in 1999 are put at about 120 000 tonne. DeWitt estimates imports for first half 2000 at 88 000 tonne, mainly from Hungary, Israel, US and Korea. Significant imports from the US and Asia also arrived in the second half and are continuing to appear in Europe in quarter one. Supply is tight with the gasoline pool still consuming high amounts of toluene because of more attractive returns. Current operating rates are in the low to mid-70% range.


Prices are primarily driven by gasoline values, and its blend value in the gasoline pool generally sets a floor to pricing. The quarter one European contract price settled at E375/tonne ($356/tonne) fob, a E25/tonne fall on quarter four reflecting weaker crude and gasoline numbers. Spot prices were quoted early last week in the range $370-390/tonne fob Rotterdam. TDI-grade generally commands a $5-10/tonne premium over nitration.


Most toluene is sourced from pyrolysis gasoline (pygas) or from the catalytic reforming of naphtha. The reformate is fed to a solvent extraction unit and then to fractionation columns to separate benzene, toluene and mixed xylenes. Toluene can also be obtained from the aromatics produced from propane/ butane in the BP/UOP Cyclar process and from light oil formed by the carbonisation of coal.

Health and safety

Toluene is a clear mobile liquid with a characteristic sweet, pungent odour. It is soluble in benzene, ethanol, ketones and most organic solvents but only slightly soluble in water. It is highly flammable, burning with a sooty flame, and flashback can occur due to its heavy vapour. Vapours are irritating to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract and exposure leads to drowsiness, confusion and headaches. Repeated exposure can damage bone marrow, liver and kidneys, but it is not considered to be carcinogenic.



No major growth is forecast for toluene demand from the chemical industry, says DeWitt. The current issue is the impending change in European regulations in 2005, which require a further 7% reduction in aromatics content in gasoline to 35%, which could lead to a large toluene surplus. In theory, an additional 4m tonne/year of toluene and xylenes could be released into Europe. Most refiners are already aiming to meet the new requirement ahead of the 2005 deadline. According to DeWitt, if the US proceeds with a partial ban of MTBE as an octane booster, European gasoline exporters may have to increase toluene volumes in the blend to compensate, resulting in a positive effect on the toluene balance.


Company Location Capacity
Western Europe
Aral Gelsenkirchen, Germany 30
BASF Mannheim, Germany 140
Cepsa Algeciras, Spain 200
DEA Heide, Germany 130
Wesseling, Germany 100
EniChem Porto Marghera, Italy 50
Porto Torres, Italy 60
Priolo, Italy 240
Erdölchemie Dormagen, Germany 100
ExxonMobil Botlek, Netherlands 230
FinaAntwerpOlefins* Antwerp, Belgium 100
HICI Wilton, UK 340
PCK Schwedt, Germany 52
Petkim Aliaga, Turkey 15
Petrogal Oporto, Portugal 140
Shell Stanlow, UK 80
Godorf, Germany 150
TotalFinaElf Gonfreville, France 40
Feyzin, France 50
Veba Lingen, Germany 60
Eastern Europe
Arpechim Pitesti, Romania 60
Borzesti Petrochemical Borzesti, Romania 50
INA Rafinerija Rijeka, Croatia 70+
Sisak, Croatia 88+
Mol Szazhalombatta, Hungary 110
Neftochim Burgas, Bulgaria 45
PC Blachownia Kedzierzyn, Poland 40
Petrobrazi Brazi, Romania 200
Petrochemia Plock, Poland 90
Petromidia Midia, Romania 50
Slovnaft Bratislava, Slovakia 80

* shared with ExxonMobil+ operational status unknownSource: DeWitt

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