Product profile: Orthoxylene

28 April 2003 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Supply and demand in western Europe is expected to stay relatively balanced to 2006. Future consumption growth is forecast to be low but steady

Orthoxylene (OX) is the second largest of the three commercial isomers of xylene. Almost all OX output is consumed in the manufacture of phthalic anhydride (PA), which is used to make plasticisers, alkyd and polyester resins. Small quantities are used in solvent applications and to make bactericides, soya bean herbicides and lube oil additives.


Availability in Europe tightened in the first quarter because of planned and unplanned plant shutdowns. Force majeure declarations were made in February by Polimeri Europa in Italy and Ruhr Oel in Germany, following operational difficulties. Production has returned to normal in quarter two and supply has improved with the market said to be balanced to tight.

Producers say demand in the first quarter was good, although restocking and some prebuying in anticipation of higher prices was a factor, and some players believe that demand is now slowing. BASF expects increased consumption of OX this year at its Feluy, Belgium, PA facility, following the restart of a reactor at the end of 2002.

Spot markets have seen little activity. Small parcels from Canada are a regular feature but only minimal volumes are appearing from Russia, as they are exporting to China. However, falling Chinese demand could divert product back into western Europe. Better economics for PX has led producers to optimise PX production over OX. But plunging PX prices in early April because of weak Asian polyester markets could force producers to maximise OX output in the short term.


European spot prices have softened to $540-570/tonne cif NWE after leaping to $650-700/tonne in February and early March on the back of short supply. The second quarter contract price has settled at E555/tonne, an increase of E85/tonne over quarter one, after buyers refused to accept anything higher. Some suppliers are unhappy with the number, which is below their expectations and followed a 'very low' first quarter contract price of E470/tonne, a rollover from quarter four. However, the contract level could become more agreeable by the end of the second quarter as market uncertainty and plummeting PX values could pressure OX numbers in the next few weeks.


Mixed xylenes are produced by high severity catalytic reforming of naphtha from which the C8 stream contains ortho-, meta-, and paraxylenes, and ethylbenzene. Xylenes are also obtained from the pyrolysis gas (pygas) stream in a naphtha steam cracker and by toluene disproportionation. The xylenes are passed through a splitter where the bottom stream, with a targeted amount of OX, is sent to an OX distillation column to produce high purity product.

Health and safety

OX is a clear, colourless liquid with an aromatic odour. It is soluble in ethanol, but not in water. It is toxic and flammable and, because vapours are heavier than air, flashback can occur. It reacts violently with strong oxidants causing a fire and explosion hazard. Vapours can irritate the eyes, nose and throat. High levels can cause dizziness, unconsciousness and death. Repeated exposure may damage bone marrow.


Demand growth expectations for OX in western Europe are low at 1-2%/year as its main consumer, PA and plasticisers, is a mature market. Modest growth will be seen in herbicides and lube additives, while solvent use is declining. A new outlet is in the production of 2,6-naphthalene dicarboxylic acid and dimethyl ester, which are used to make the high performance polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) polymers.

DeWitt forecasts that output in Europe will hover around 476 000 tonne/year over the next five years, corresponding to an operating rate of 71%.

Selected US Q1 financial results
Company Location Capacity


Gonfreville, France 110


Algeciras, Spain 38


Botlek, Netherlands 130


Rijeka, Croatia 18


Kirishi, Russia 60

Lukoil Neftekhim

Burgas, Bulgaria 20


Szazhalombatta, Hungary 50


Schwedt, Germany 38


Aliaga, Turkey 65

Petro Borzesti

Borzesti, Romania 8


Brazi, Romania 36


Oporto, Portugal 50


Plock, Poland 10

Polimeri Europa

Priolo, Italy 70
Sarroch, Italy 90

PO Omsknefteorgsintez

Omsk, Russia 165

Ruhr Oel

Gelsenkirchen, Germany 65

Shell & DEA Oil

Heide, Germany 15
Wesseling, Germany 60


Bratislava, Slovakia 14


Ufa, Russia 200
Source: DeWitt

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