19 January 2004 01:00 [Source: ICB]
Acrylonitrile (ACN) is used to make acrylic fibres, acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and styrene-acrylonitrile (SAN). Acrylic fibres, used in carpets and clothes, accounts for just over half of global demand while ABS and SAN resins, used in pipes and fittings, automobiles, furniture and packaging, consume about 30% of global output. Smaller applications are in adiponitrile, an intermediate for nylon 6,6, and in acrylamide and nitrile rubber copolymers.
Overcapacity continues to plague world markets which saw capacity increase by about 250 000 tonne/year last year as new production started up in Asia. Despite this, extensive maintenance schedules and unplanned outages have kept utilisation rates up to an average 89%. Pemex restarted its unit in Mexico and Sterling finally managed a successful restart of its Texas, US, unit in late 2003. The impact has been muted so far with shutdowns in Europe and Asia. EniChem’s 115 000 tonne/year ACN plant in Gela, Italy, closed permanently last June and its second 85 000 tonne/year unit in Assemini, Italy remains closed. Output at several US producers is also currently reduced because of propylene shortages. Solutia’s outlook is unclear as it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month.
Acrylic fibre consumption in Europe in 2003 is expected to be more or less flat, or show a slight decline on 2002. Players say current demand for acrylic fibres in Europe is good and improving, while the ABS market remains weak but steady. Demand in Asia, and particularly China, is also strengthening. Montefibre and Acordis shut fibre plants last year and a Spanish plant will close this quarter.
European producers will seek a ‘substantial’ rise in first quarter contracts on the back of the €50/tonne hike in propylene quarter one contracts to €475/tonne and booming ammonia prices. ACN contract prices were stable in the first two quarters of 2003 at €1150-1235/tonne (gross, before discounts), but then fell €130/tonne in quarter three. Quarter four saw hikes of up to €120/tonne. Spot prices firmed at the end of 2003 to around $800/tonne cif NWE. Producers say margins deteriorated in 2003 and remain very poor.
The dominant route for the production of ACN is the one-step propylene ammoxidation process that replaces the original acetylene-based technology. Propylene, ammonia and air are reacted in a fluidised bed reactor to produce ACN with acetonitrile and hydrogen cyanide as by-products.
New technology based on propane ammoxidation has been developed by BP, Mistubishi Chemical in partnership with BOC, and Asahi Kasei and was claimed to have a 30% cost advantage to the propylene route. However, propane pricing has been extremely volatile in recent years and there are no firm plans to build a commercial scale plant.
ACN is a clear, colourless, volatile liquid with a slightly pungent odour. It is very toxic, highly flammable and unstable. It is a severe fire and explosion hazard and its heavy vapour can lead to flashback. The vapour irritates the eyes, skin and respiratory tract and inhalation or absorption of high doses can be fatal. It is classed as a carcinogen and mutagen.
World demand growth is put at about 3.5%/year. Very limited growth will be seen in Europe and the US while strong demand growth is expected in Asia and particularly China. Rising propylene values and weak derivative margins continue to be challenges for ACN producers.
Demand for acrylic fibres will continue to decline in Europe, US and Japan while Asia will see growth of 3-4%/year, according to Tecnon OrbiChem. Consumption of acrylic fibre in China will grow at about 10%/year as the country benefits from the elimination of quotas in North America and Europe at the end of 2004 and improving domestic wealth. Demand for ABS in China is forecast to see growth of at least 8%/year.
Several new capacity additions are planned in China in 2004-05 including the BP/Shanghai Petrochemical 260 000 tonne/year project in Caojing. As a result, China’s future import needs may not grow post 2005 unless more downstream plants are built.
|BASF||Seal Sands, UK||280|
|Lukoil Neftochim||Burgas, Bulgaria||28|
|PO Polymir||Novopolotsk, Belarus||72|
|Repsol YPF||Tarragona, Spain||125|
|BP||Green Lake, Texas||455|
|Cytec Industries||Fortier, Louisiana||227|
|Sterling Chemicals||Texas City, Texas||335|
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