Product profile: toluene

03 March 2003 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Demand levels are stable at present but the introduction of the Auto Oil 2 directive in 2005, which will reduce the content of aromatics in gasoline, could lead to a glut of toluene and xylenes
Uses
 

Toluene is used in large quantities as an octane booster in gasoline but 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: TDI-grade with a purity of 99.9%; nitration grade at 98.5% for solvent use and as a feedstock for HDA and TDP plants; and in the US, there is a commercial grade of 95% purity for gasoline blending and HDA feedstock.

Supply/demand

DeWitt consultancy estimates that production in western Europe was just under 2.07m tonne last year. This is slightly down on 2001 when production reached 2.12m tonne, according to Cefic's figures. Production for the region this year is forecast by DeWitt to attain 2.14m tonne. Imports into western Europe are between 120-150000 tonne/year.

East European production is estimated by DeWitt at 649000 tonne in 2002, up on 2001's level of 565 000 tonne. Output in 2003 is expected to be 677000 tonne.

The west European market is currently fairly balanced with no shortage of product. Earlier production problems have been resolved and imports from the US and Canada to cover the shortfall have dried up. Strong benzene values have kept HDA units operational this year.

Pricing

Current European spot prices are around $460/tonne fob NWE. Numbers have been pulled up from $350-360/tonne in January by rising benzene prices and strengthening gasoline values. However, spot prices are notional with little buying interest. The quarter one contract price rose by E30/tonne to E355/tonne.

Technology

Most toluene is produced from the catalytic reforming of naphtha or from pyrolysis gasoline (pygas) co-produced in the steam cracking of liquid feeds. In the catalytic reforming process, a hydrocarbon mixture rich in aromatics is passed over a dehydrogenation catalyst. After removing light hydrocarbon gases by fractionation, the reformate is sent to a tower where an aromatic-rich fraction is obtained. Toluene is recovered from the middle cut by azeotropic or extractive distillation, or more usually by solvent extraction.

BP/UOP's Cyclar process converts butanes and propanes in LPGs into aromatics. One commercial plant using the technology has been built in Saudi Arabia.

A very small amount of toluene is still produced from light oil formed by the carbonisation of coal.

Health and safety

Toluene is a clear, mobile liquid with a sweet, pungent odour. It is highly flammable and burns with a sooty flame and flashback can occur due to its heavy vapour. It is an irritant to the eyes, skin, nose and lungs and is a powerful narcotic if inhaled. It is not considered to be carcinogenic.

Outlook

Growth in western Europe is low and is expected to average only 1%/year over the next five years, says DeWitt, while east European markets are forecast to show average growth of 5%/year.

The major issue for Europe is the Auto Oil 2 directive which comes into force in 2005 and which could spur huge structural change in the toluene market. A recent study said that the new regulations, which cut gasoline's aromatics content to a maximum level of 35%, could see up to 5m tonne/year of extra toluene and xylenes flooding the market.

European toluene capacity, '000 tonne/year
Company Location Capacity

Western Europe

Agip

Priolo, Italy 100

Aral

Gelsenkirchen, Germany 30

Atofina

Feyzin, France 50
Gonfreville, France 40

BASF

Mannheim, Germany 130

BP

Cologne, Germany 100

Cepsa

Algeciras, Spain 200

EniChem

Porto Torres, Italy 60

ExxonMobil

Botlek, Netherlands 245

FinaAntwerpOlefins

Antwerp, Belgium 100

Huntsman

Wilton, UK 340

PCK

Schwedt, Germany 52

Petkim

Aliaga, Turkey 15

Petrogal

Oporto, Portugal 140

Polimeri Europa

Porto Marghera, Italy 50

Shell

Godorf, Germany 140
Stanlow, UK 80

Shell & DEA Oil

Heide, Germany 125
Wesseling, Germany 100

VORP

Lingen, Germany 60

Eastern Europe

Arpechim

Pitesti, Romania 60

Borzesti Petrochemical

Borzesti, Romania 50

INA

Rijeka, Croatia* 70
Sisak, Croatia* 90

Lukoil Neftochim

Burgas, Bulgaria 50

MOL

Szazhalombatta,
Hungary 110

Pavlodar Oil

Pavlodar, Kazakhstan 200

PC Blachownia

Kedzierzyn, Poland 40

Petrobrazi

Ploiesti, Romania 200

Petromidia

Constanta, Romania 50

PKN Orlen

Plock, Poland 90

Poli-Chem

Blachownia, Poland 40

Slovnaft

Bratislava, Slovakia 80

Belarus**

two plants 400

Russia**

seven plants 400

Ukraine**

five plants 280

*operational status unknown **total national output

Source: DeWitt




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