Product profile: Ethanolamines

07 April 2003 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Demand has kicked off strongly this year and will be boosted further by the CCA ban in the US. However, global markets still have excess capacity and demand is unlikely to catch up with supply before 2010

The most important ethanolamine is monoethanolamine (MEA), which accounts for about half of total production, followed by diethanolamine(DEA) with 30-35% and then triethanolamine (TEA). When combined with fatty acids, ethanolamines yield soaps used extensively as detergents and emulsifiers. Other uses include solvents, plasticising agents, corrosion inhibitors, humectants and conditioning agents. They are also used in various chemical synthesis processes. MEA is used widely to purify refinery and natural gases and for the production of ethylenediamine and ethylenimine.


Demand in Europe is reported to be very strong in early 2003, particularly for TEA. MEA is also doing well although DEA is quieter having suffered from reduced demand into glyphosate herbicide. However, sources say DEA is improving and coming back into balance. TEA demand is being driven by the fabric softener sector and MEA is being boosted by substitution for chromated copper arsenate (CCA) in wood treatment and captive consumption in ethylene amines.

European production is being impacted by the short supply of ethylene oxide (EO) feedstock. Unscheduled outages and force majeure at two EO plants in February tightened supply and this is likely to be exacerbated by a series of maintenance turnarounds at five plants until July. In addition, EO producers are gaining better returns from monoethylene glycol (MEG) than ethanolamines.

Normal import volumes continue to arrive from the US, but sources report smaller amounts from Bulgaria and Iran because of shutdowns. Parpinelli Tecnon says imports from the US into Europe in 2001 reached 45 000 tonne, with just 9000 tonne from eastern Europe and 5000 tonne from Iran.

European production and consumption will rise in 2003 to 383 000 tonne and 389 000 tonne respectively, predicts Parpinelli Tecnon. However, operating rates will drop from 85% last year to 77% this year as a result of Ineos's new 80 000 tonne/year plant in Antwerp, Belgium, which started up in 2002. This has been partly offset, however, by the closure of Ineos Oxide's (ex-Dow Chemical) 25 000 tonne/year unit in Wilton, UK, last April. Parpinelli Tecnon says operating rates will recover in 2004 and 2005 to 79% and 82% respectively.


European producers are targeting a E100/tonne increase for second quarter contract prices for MEA, DEA and TEA and a major producer says this has been achieved on some major accounts. First quarter contract prices are reported between E850-920/tonne for MEA and DEA, with TEA at E950-1000/tonne, although lower numbers are also heard. Margins are very low and continue to suffer from high raw material and energy costs.


EO is reacted with ammonia in the liquid phase. Exothermic ammonolysis takes place in a tubular reactor. The product stream is then cooled before passing the first distillation column where any excess ammonia is removed overhead and recycled. In the second column, ammonia and water are removed and the ethanolamines are separated in a series of vacuum distillation columns.

All plants produce a mixed stream and the ratio of end products depends on the molar excess of ammonia present in the reaction.

Health and safety

MEA and TEA are clear, viscous liquids with a mild ammonia-like odour. DEA is crystalline or a viscous liquid. Ethanolamines are hygroscopic and are soluble in water and ethanol. They are corrosive and a moderate fire hazard. Vapour is irritating to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract and can cause depression of the central nervous system. High concentrations can be harmful.


World demand growth is forecast by Parpinellli Tecnon at 3-4%/year. Growth in Asia is strongest at 5-6%/year with European demand growth put at just over 3%/year.

Players say it will take several years for demand to catch up with global surplus capacity. Akzo Nobel will raise capacity at Stenungsund, Sweden, 'slightly' to supply additional feedstock for its 10 000 tonne/year ethylene amines expansion in quarter three. Project Management & Development has plans for an EO and derivatives complex to include 100 000 tonne/year ethanolamines in Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to start up in 2006.

The phase out of CCA in wood treatment in the US by the end of 2003 will boost demand for MEA and will reduce US exports to Europe by 'several thousand tonne'.

Global ethanolamines capacity, '000 tonne/year
Company Location Capacity

Western Europe

Akzo Nobel

Stenungsund, Sweden 65


Antwerp, Belgium 85
Ludwigshafen, Germany 90


Lav'ra, France 53


Marl, Germany 30


Dow Chemical

Seadrift, Texas 190
Taft, Louisiana 90


Bayport, Texas 20


Port Neches, Texas 160

Ineos Oxide

Plaquemine, Louisiana 135

Other regions

Eastern Europe 47
Latin America 65
Middle East (Iran) 30
Asia 275
Source: Parpinelli Tecnon
Regional ethanolamines production and consumption, '000 tonne
2002 2005



461 469


378 410

Middle East

30 30


134 197


1003 1106



386 424


377 417

Middle East/Africa

30 35


196 229


989 1105

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