Product Profile: Cyclohexane

26 April 2004 00:01  [Source: ICB]

Hydrogen availability continues to be the main concern for producers as they will have to compete for supplies with refineries. New capacity will also be restrained
 
Uses

Cyclohexane’s major use is in the production of nylon intermediates such as adipic acid, caprolactam and hexamethylene diamine. Adipic acid, used to make nylon 6,6 fibre, accounts for about 60% of cyclohexane consumption. Over 70% of global capro­lactam, used to make nylon 6, is made from cyclohexane via cyclohexanone.

Cyclohexane is also used as a solvent, a reaction diluent and in chemical synthesis. It is also a starting material for the production of cyclohexanol-cyclohexanone, ‘KA oil’.

Supply/demand

European markets are currently well balanced with contract volumes running at good levels. Spot business is minimal. Demand into nylon is said to be quite healthy and cyclohexane plants are said to be operating at quite high levels. Hydrogen limitations have restrained output at some producers and Fina Antwerp Olefins declared force majeure in early April as its plant in Antwerp, Belgium, has been badly affected by outages at the site’s two crackers.

Atofina closed its 80 000 tonne/year plant in Carling, France, in 2003. The loss of this capacity has been partly compensated by a new 63 000 tonne/year unit for Holborn Refinery in Hamburg, Germany, which started production in August last year. Production in Europe in 2003 amounted to 1.1m tonne, compared to 1.08m tonne in 2002, according to DeWitt consultancy

Pricing

The European contract price is a direct reflection of benzene feedstock costs, and is settled on a delta to benzene, although supply and demand also exert some influence. The first quarter contract number rolled over at a delta of €98/tonne on the benzene contract price of €416/tonne FD.

However, in quarter one players started to shift from quarterly to monthly agreements, in line with benzene. The delta will still be agreed on a quarterly basis and will be added to the monthly benzene contract price. In quarter two the delta rose by €17/tonne to €115/tonne, taking the cyclo­hexane contract price for April to €681/tonne ex-works. Benzene prices have been very volatile in recent weeks hitting highs of over $900/tonne, with April contracts rising by €116/tonne.

Technology

Most commercial production is based on the catalytic hydrogenation of benzene. The reaction can be carried out using liquid or vapour-phase methods in the presence of a highly dispersed catalyst or in a catalytic fixed bed. Processes differ mainly in the means of removing the heat of re­action. Minimum reactor temperatures are preferred for maximum benzene conversion and minimum cyclohexane cracking.

Most cyclohexane plants use reformer offgas which yields benzene and large amounts of hydrogen by-product. Hydrogen and benzene costs are critical for cyclo­hexane manufacturing economics with plants often located near large refineries where low cost raw materials are available.

Health and safety

Cyclohexane is a colourless liquid with a mild odour. It is highly flammable and readily forms explosive mixtures with air and flashback is a hazard. It can irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory tract and high concentrations can lead to unconsciousness.

Outlook

A growing issue for cyclohexane producers is the future availability of low-cost hydrogen. Regulations in Europe and the US calling for a lower content in gasoline and diesel will increase demand for local hydrogen availability. Cyclohexane producers will have to compete with refinery demand and will have to pay a higher price to secure supply.

Hydrogen constraints will have an impact on future capacity growth but on-purpose hydrogen can be generated by the construction of steam reformers, says CMAI. New cyclohexane capacity in Europe is doubtful with the Middle East more likely to host newbuilds because of its low cost feedstock advantages and growing hydrogen availability from the many steam crackers planned in the region.

The majority of new and growing demand is in Asia, and China in particular, and the region will have the greatest need for new capacity, says CMAI.

Current supplies are sufficient, but Asia could face a regional supply shortage in the 2005-06 timeframe. No new projects have been formally announced, although investment has been mooted in Thailand and Venezuela.

EUROPEAN CYCLOHEXANE CAPACITY, ’000 TONNE/YEAR

Company Location Capacity
Azot Cherkassy Cherkassy, Ukraine 60
BP Gelsenkirchen, Germany 140
Cepsa Huelva, Spain 150
Chemko AS Strazske, Slovakia 90
Erdol-Raffinerie-Emsland Lingen, Germany 260
ExxonMobil Botlek, Netherlands 270
Fina Antwerp Olefins Antwerp, Belgium 110
Grodno Azot Grodno, Belarus 80
Holborn Refinery Hamburg, Germany 63
Huntsman Petrochemicals Wilton, UK 330
JSC Kuibyshevazot Togliatti, Russia 120
Kemerovo Azot Kemerovo, Russia 155
Lukoil Neftochim Burgas, Bulgaria 50
PKN Orlen Plock, Poland 120
Rivneazot Rivne, Ukraine 30
Shchekinoazot Shchekino, Russia 65
SSME Azot Severodonetsk, Ukraine 50
ZA Pulawy Pulawy, Poland 60
ZA Tarnowie-Moscicach Tarnow, Poland 35
Source: ECN/CNI






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