Product Profile: Bisphenol A

11 October 2004 00:01  [Source: ICB]

Surging polycarbonate in Asia has boosted bisphenol A’s fortunes. Markets are tight and set to stay strong until 2005 at least

 
Uses

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used mainly to produce polycarbonate (PC), which accounts for about 65% of consumption. The second largest outlet is epoxy resins, which accounts for approximately 30% of consumption. Other uses include flame retardants (mainly tetrabromobisphenol A), unsaturated polyester resins and polyacrylate, polyetherimide and polysulphone resins.

Supply/demand

The European market is tight as high demand, plant turnarounds and reduced imports keep supply in check. Demand in Europe this year has been surprisingly strong and has exceeded expectations both into PC and epoxy resins, say sources.

Maintenance shutdowns in quarter three have also limited availability and some players say customers are still on allocation. In addition, exports to Asia have been high as the region sucks in volumes to meet soaring consumption of PC and a big increase in demand for epoxy resins. Asian imports into Europe have largely disappeared, and imports of Brazilian material have declined.

Although suppliers do not expect the present acceleration of demand in Asia to be sustained, they do expect demand to remain healthy and supply to remain snug until at least mid-2005. New consumption is also expected soon from Spolchemie’s 18 000 tonne/year epoxy resin expansion in the Czech Republic, which will complete this month. GE’s output in Spain will rise next month to feed its new PC plant.

Pricing

European prices have climbed during 2004, driven up by soaring benzene feedstock costs and tight supply. However, suppliers say margins have not improved and are still ‘not very healthy’. Most of the market has moved to monthly contracts, although there are still some quarterly agreements in place with larger end users.

Suppliers are seeking further hikes of €100-200/tonne in October in a bid to lift numbers to €1500-1600/tonne. Some buyers quote higher numbers of €1650/tonne for October, with others reporting numbers still under €1500/tonne. Quarter three contract prices are quoted by ICIS-LOR in the range €1275-1345/tonne, with quarter four contracts still being negotiated.

Technology

BPA is produced by the condensation of phenol and acetone in the presence of an acid catalyst (hydrogen chloride) and usually a promoter such as methyl mercaptan. Cationic ion exchange resins can replace the acid catalyst in newer plants. After the reaction and recovery of acid and phenol, the BPA is washed with water, neutralised with milk of lime and distilled under vacuum.

Newer processes employ distillation and extractive crystallisation under pressure to purify the BPA. Two grades are produced: one for epoxy resin production and a higher purity grade to make PC.

Health and safety

BPA is a crystalline, prilled or flake material with a slightly phenolic odour. It is a slight fire hazard, but the dust can form explosive mixtures with air. It can irritate the eyes, skin and respiratory tract.

Outlook

Global demand growth is put at just over 7%/year for the next few years, driven by new applications for PC, including automotive parts and optical media. The strongest growth is in Asia and several projects are planned in the region to feed phenol/BPA/PC plants. Most new investment is focused on China, which has the largest growth potential. Other projects, both new builds and expansions, are also planned or being built in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Saudi Arabia. In Europe, Russia’s Kazanorgsintez will build a 65 000 tonne/year BPA/70 000 tonne/year PC facility in Kazan with startup due in March 2007.

GLOBAL BISPHENOL A CAPACITY, ’000 TONNE/YEAR
Company Location Capacity
Europe
Bayer Antwerp, Belgium 200
Krefeld, Germany 270
Dow Chemical Stade, Germany 100
GE Plastics Bergen op Zoom, Netherlands 180
Cartagena, Spain* 210
Novokuibyshevsk Petrochemical Novokuiby­shevsk, Russia 20
Resolution Performance Products Pernis, Netherlands 150
Synteza Kedzierzyn-Kozle, Poland 12
US
Bayer Baytown, Texas 190
Dow Chemical Freeport, Texas 190
GE Plastics Burkville, Alabama 75
Mount Vernon, Indiana 265
Resolution Performance Products Deer Park, Texas 265
Sunoco Chemicals Haverhill, Ohio 110
Asia
Bayer Polymers Mab Ta Phut, Thailand 190
Chang Chun Petrochemical Miao-Li, Taiwan 20
Idemitsu Kosan Ichihara, Japan 70
Kesar Petroproducts Lote Parshuram, India 7.5
Kumho P&B Chemicals Yosu, South Korea 135
Mitsubishi Chemical Kashima, Japan 100
Kurosaki, Japan 100
Mitsui Bisphenol Singapore Pulau Sakra, Singapore 210
Mitsui Chemicals Ichihara, Japan 90
Nagoya, Japan 55
Takaishi, Japan 60
Nan Ya Plastics Mailiao, Taiwan 190
Nippon Steel Chemical Kita-Kyushu, Japan 95
Taiwan Prosperity Chemical Lin Yuan, Taiwan 25
Wuxi Resin Wuxi, China 12
* Increase to 280 000 tonne/year from November
Source: ECN/CNI






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