Product Profile: Paraxylene

06 September 2004 00:01  [Source: ICB]

The future looks brighter as strong demand and little new capacity pulls up operating rates
 
Uses

Paraxylene (PX) is the largest volume isomer of the mixed xylenes. Its primary consumer, with about 98% of demand, is polyester via its intermediates purified terephthalic acid or dimethyl terephthalate. A small amount of PX is used as a solvent and to produce di-paraxylene and herbicides.

Supply/demand

Demand in Europe this year is generally good and consumers’ offtake has been at healthy levels, say players. The market is said to be balanced. Only small export volumes have been reported out of Europe to Asia this year.

Consumption in western Europe is forecast by Jacobs/PCI Xylenes & Polyesters to reach 2.34m tonne this year, with a net import requirement of 202 000 tonne. Demand in central and eastern Europe is predicted at 192 000 tonne, with net exports of 117 000 tonne.

Global capacity increases are now trailing demand growth and operating rates are recovering. Nearly 1m tonne/year of idled capacity was restarted in 2003, including 340 000 tonne/year for El Paso in Canada, 240 000 tonne/year at Pemex in Mexico, and ExxonMobil’s 400 000 tonne/year unit in Singapore.

Pricing

In Europe, monthly settlements have now taken over from the traditional quarterly system. European prices rose steadily in the first few months of 2004, mirroring price movements in Asia. Contract numbers lifted to €640/tonne in May, then softened to €635/tonne in June, and to €630/tonne in July. August saw a split market after one major supplier agreed with a large buyer a price €5/tonne above the rest of the market, which settled at a rollover of €630/tonne. September has seen a hike of €85/tonne to €715/tonne, reflecting the Asian settlement at $830/tonne CFR, which was up $90/tonne on August. Margins are ‘not bad’, but need improving with non-integrated players under more pressure.

Spot prices in Europe have been creeping up again as Asian numbers continued to soar. The European bid/offer range at the end of August was quoted at $820-840/tonne fob NWE. Asian spot levels in late August reached $900-910/tonne fob Korea, but have since slipped back to just below $900/tonne.

In the US, spot prices are talked at $830-840/tonne fob in a quiet market. Contracts for September are still under discussion, with buyers rejecting proposed increases of 6 cent/lb on August’s level of 35.75 cent/lb.

Technology

Conventional technology is based on the isomerisation of mixed xylenes from refinery reformate streams or from pyrolysis gasoline. High purity product can be obtained using crystalline or selective adsorptive separation, such as UOP’s Parex and IFP’s Eluxyl processes. Toluene disproportionation is another route with the latest catalysts able to produce a PX-rich stream, but with co-product benzene.

Processes have also been developed using a zeolite catalyst for the alkylation of toluene with methanol to produce PX without co-producing benzene. The UOP/BP Cyclar process converts propane and butane to PX and benzene and was installed for Ibn Rushd at Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. The 385 000 tonne/year plant, the only one using the process to date, became fully operational in 2002.

Health and safety

PX is a clear, flammable liquid with a sweet odour. Flashback can occur as the vapours are heavier than air. It can irritate the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Over-exposure can lead to central nervous system depression, headache, dizziness, nausea and unconsciousness.

Outlook

Jacobs/PCI forecasts growth in western Europe at 4.5%/year, with consumption climbing to just over 3.04m tonne in 2010. Demand in central and eastern Europe will grow by 2.6%/year to reach 224 000 tonne in 2010. Growth will be driven by strong performing PET bottle resin markets with fibres consumption dwindling as production shifts to lower-cost Asian countries.

Europe is unlikely to see any new investment in the short term and any moves will likely take the form of plant optimisation and debottleneckings. New projects are focused on the fast growing Asian market, and particularly China. World operating rates will continue to rise, topping 92% by 2008, as demand growth outstrips capacity additions.

European paraxylene capacity, ’000 tonne/year

Company Location Capacity
Atofina Gonfreville, France 135
BP Geel, Belgium 480
Gelsenkirchen, Germany 130
Cepsa Algeciras, Spain 100
ExxonMobil Botlek, Netherlands 500
Galp Chemical Oporto, Portugal 125
Huntsman Petrochemicals Wilton, UK 345
Kirishinefte-?orgsintez Kirishi, Russia 80
Lukoil Neftochim Burgas, Bulgaria 15
Naftan Novopolotsk, Belarus 45
Omsk Refinery Omsk, Russia 205
PCK Schwedt, Germany 60
Petkim Aliaga, Turkey 120
Petrobrazi Brazi, Romania 20
PKN Plock, Poland 48
Polimeri Europa Priolo, Italy 190
Sarroch, Italy 100
Rompetrol Navodari, Romania 20
Shell Godorf, Germany 75
Shell & DEA Oil Wesseling, Germany 130
Slovnaft Bratislava, Slovakia 50
Ufaneftekhim Ufa, Russia 180
Source: ECN/CNI







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