18 June 2001 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Demand will continue to grow rapidly and several projects are planned worldwide to stop consumption outstripping supply


Purified terephthalic acid (PTA) is mainly used in polyester production, with polyester fibre consuming a large proportion of global output. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) resin used for packaging and film applications is growing very rapidly following its success in penetrating the soft drinks and water bottles market and accounts for about 30% of world production of PTA.


West European production was 2.14m tonne in 2000, compared to demand of 2.08m tonne, according to PCI Xylenes & Polyesters which puts operating rates at 89% last year. PCI expects utilisation rates to climb slightly to 91% this year. PET consumption is fundamentally strong but quarter two demand has been sluggish because of poor weather, forcing Eastman to slash PET output across Europe. Fibre markets remain weak. Slow demand and low prices in Asia during quarter one encouraged exports to Europe and India's Reliance has been sending sizeable volumes for several months.


Producers have managed to achieve about DM65-80/tonne (E35-50/tonne) of the DM100/tonne increase they were seeking for quarter two contracts which are in the range DM1600-1700/tonne. A further price rise is expected to be sought in quarter three following the news of an early quarter three settlement for paraxylene feedstock up E73/tonne at E640/tonne. However, PTA suppliers will face difficulty in passing the whole increase down to consumers, particularly in the fibre sector.



Modern technologies are via the catalytic liquid phase oxidation of paraxylene in acetic acid in the presence of air. A manganese or cobalt acetate is used as a catalyst. The exothermic reaction produces water which is removed in a solvent recovery system. Acetic acid from this is returned to the reactor together with the oxidation catalyst. The resulting PTA is purified in a crystalliser where the unreacted xylene and water are flashed off. Some plants can also produce purified isophthalic acid by substituting metaxylene for paraxylene.

New processes have recently been developed by BP and Samsung. BP claims it has simplified the process which offers savings in capital and running costs with the optimal plant size at 700 000 tonne/year. Samsung has discovered that using appreciable amounts of carbon dioxide accelerates the oxidation of paraxylene to PTA by as much as 26%, improving production and yielding a higher quality product.

Health and safety

PTA is a white crystalline powder with a slightly acidic odour. It is insoluble in water but soluble in ether and acetic acid and slightly soluble in ethanol. It poses a low risk hazard to human health. Dust is an irritant to the eyes, skin and lungs and prolonged exposure should be avoided. Dust build-up must be prevented as severe explosions can occur, especially at levels of 0.05g/litre.


Continuing strong demand by PET is the principal driver of PTA, although filament and speciality fibres will also support growth, says PCI, which rates European growth at 6.7%/year to 2006. PCI expects European supply to tighten over the next two years driving significant price increases. Interquisa's new 350 000 tonne/year plant in San Roque is due onstream Q3 2002 and a supply deal has been reached with Egypt's Sepco for its polyester complex due to start up in early 2003. Interquisa's 500 000 tonne/year project in Montreal, Canada, is due onstream by end 2002. BP's 100 000 tonne/year debottlenecking at Geel is due onstream early 2002. Both BP and DuPontSa plan worldscale units in Europe for 2004-05.

BP is also planning another worldscale plant in the US and is currently expanding at Cooper River by 160 000 tonne/year, due mid-2002. Other BP projects include a 50 000 tonne/year expansion in Kuantan, Malaysia, to start up in 2001, a 700 000 tonne/year unit at its Capco jv in Taiwan due onstream by March 2003 and a 350 000 tonne/year plant in Zhuhai, China, also due to start in 2003. Several other projects are planned or under way in Asia and the Middle East for post-2003. China is adding nearly 1m tonne/year new PTA capacity between 2001-03.


Company Location Capacity
BP Geel, Belgium 350 (No2)
Geel, Belgium 500 (No3)
DuPontSa Wilton, UK 180 (T7)
Wilton, UK 370 (T8)
Eastman Rotterdam, Netherlands 290
Inca (Dow)* Ottana, Italy 180
Interquisa San Roque, Spain 425
PCK Schwedt, Germany 80
Petkim Aliaga, Turkey 70
BP Cooper River, South Carolina 1250
Decatur, Alabama 1000
DuPont Cape Fear, North Carolina 450
Eastman Columbia, South Carolina 425
Kingsport, Tennessee 225
KoSa Wilmington, North Carolina 180

* 80% Dow ownedSource: PCI

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