07 January 2002 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Reduced availability because of phenol cutbacks lent support to European markets, which stayed fairly stable during 2001


Acetone's main use, accounting for just over a quarter of total consumption, is in the production of acetone cyanohydrin, a feedstock for methyl methacrylate (MMA). The other major and fastest growing derivative is bisphenol-A (BPA), a raw material for polycarbonate and epoxy resins. It is used directly as a solvent as well as in the manufacture of other solvents such as methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) and methyl isobutyl carbinol (MIBC). It is also an intermediate for pharmaceuticals and antioxidants.


As a co-product of phenol manufacture, acetone availability is dependent on market conditions for phenol. With phenol operating rates reduced across Europe because of the downturn in demand, acetone supplies were tight to balanced last year. Inventories are low and consumption is steady. Demand into the solvents sector has been flat during 2001, although consumption into the biggest outlet, MMA, has been good. BPA held up strongly in the first half of 2001, although it dropped off sharply mid-year.

Total west European production was just under 1.3m tonne last year against consumption of nearly 1.2m tonne, according to SRI Consulting. Germany is the largest producer and consumer of acetone and accounted for 28% of total demand in 2001, said the consultancy group. Net exports were 30 000 tonne in 2001. Degussa has sold Phenolchemie to Ineos. Domo's plant remains down after an explosion and fire last October, and could be out until quarter two. Frontier Oil will shut its phenol/acetone operations at El Dorado, Kansas, US, by the end of quarter one.



European contract prices to the MMA sector rolled over in November in the range DM930-975/tonne (E470-500/tonne) FD, although they were expected to ease in December as downward pressure gained momentum. Spot levels to solvent suppliers have been relatively stable in quarter four at between DM970-1040/tonne (E488-523/tonne) FD.


Nearly 90% of production is via cumene where acetone is co-produced with phenol. The main process 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. About 0.62 tonne of acetone is produced with each tonne of phenol. The isopropyl alcohol (IPA) route, where the alcohol is dehydrogenated to acetone over a metal, metal oxide or salt catalyst, has been declining.

SRI said cumene peroxidation accounted for 84% of west European production in 2001, followed by IPA at 12%, and 4% from acetic acid by-products. A newer process gaining importance in Japan is the direct oxidation of propylene, but it suffers from high capital costs and corrosion problems. Small quantities of acetone are also produced in the manufacture of propylene oxide (Lyondell), acetic acid (Eastman Chemical) and hydroquinone (Goodyear).

Health and safety

Acetone is a clear, colourless, liquid with a fragrant odour. It is highly flammable and reacts explosively with strong oxidants. Vapour has a slight narcotic effect and excessive exposure can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and cause dizziness, nausea and drowsiness. Aspiration can severely damage the lungs and prolonged contact can irritate the skin.


SRI forecasts west European demand growth to average 2.8%/year to 2006. Total consumption will rise from just under 1.2m tonne in 2001 to nearly 1.4m tonne in 2006. Annual MMA growth is rated by SRI at 1.8%, solvents at 2.3% and BPA at 5.2%. No new capacity is planned or needed in the next five years. Rhodia expects to restart its mothballed phenol/acetone line at Roussillon, France, once the economic crisis is over.


Company Location Capacity
Borealis Porvoo, Finland 80
BP Hull, UK 65*
Chiba Phenol Chiba, Japan 124
Domo Caproleuna
Leuna, Germany 81
Dow Chemical Freeport, Texas, US 183
Institute, West Virginia,
US 77**
EniChem Mantova, Italy 186
Porto Torres, Italy 112
Ertisa Huelva, Spain 230
Formosa Plastics
Mailiao, Taiwan 124
GE Plastics Mount Vernon, Indiana,
US 211
Georgia Gulf Pasadena, Texas, US 45
Plaquemine, Louisiana,
US 140
Ineos Phenol Antwerp, Belgium 260
Gladbeck, Germany 390
Theodore, Alabama, US 248
Kumho P&B Chemicals
Yeochon, South Korea 74
Mitsubishi Chemical
Kashima, Japan 118
Mitsui Chemicals
Chiba, Japan 118
Takaishi, Japan 124
Mitsui Phenol Pulau Sakra,
Singapore 124
Petrobrazi Brazi, Romania 47
Rhodia Paulinia, Brazil 78
Roussillon, France 65
Sasol Sasolburg, South Africa 110
Shell Berre, France 75**
Deer Park, Texas, US 320
Pernis, Netherlands 80**
Stanlow, UK 40**
Sunoco Frankford,
Pennsylvania, US 291
Haverhill, Ohio, US 265
Taiwan Prosperity
Lin Yuan, Taiwan 74
Institute, West Virginia,
US 77**

* from acetic acid ** from isopropyl alcoholSource: CMAI

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