02 May 2005 00:01  [Source: ICB]

Prices have been high due to strong energy costs but demand remains lacklustre in a low growth market

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 phthalate plasticisers used in compounding polyvinyl chloride resins, unsaturated polyesters used in glass-reinforced thermoset engineering applications, and alkyd resins used mainly for surface coatings.

Small quantities are used in solvent applications (which are declining) and to make bactericides, soya bean herbicides and lube oil additives.

A new outlet is in the production of polyethylene naphthalate (PEN) polymer, which is a high performance polyester used in film and rigid packaging where performance needs are more rigorous than polyethylene terephthalate products. PEN is an emerging and potentially significant market that could dramatically increase the demand for OX in the future.


Total production capacity in the EU25 is assessed by DeWitt consultancy at 735 000 tonne/year with 432 000 tonne/year in the rest of eastern Europe and 120 000 tonne/year in the eastern Mediterranean area. Actual production in the EU25 countries reached 565 000 tonne in 2004 with a plant utilisation rate of 77%. Consumption in the region reached 695 000 tonne.

In eastern Europe, output reached 211 000 tonne last year with operating rates put at just 49%, while consumption totalled 119 000 tonne.

DeWitt is forecasting a slight increase in EU25 output this year to 572 000 tonne, with consumption at 698 000 tonne and plant operating rates nudging up to 78%. East European production and demand will lift to 222 000 tonne and 121 000 tonne respectively, with plant utilisation creeping to 51%.

The PA market started poorly this year with a weak first quarter although PA producers are optimistic that buying will pick up in quarter two.

Hungarian producer Nitrokemia has restarted its PA plant, following a temporary closure in January due to financial problems. BASF has cut production in Feluy, Belgium, with output meeting captive needs only.


Contract prices soared in 2004 by a total of €255/tonne as global tightness pressured numbers. First quarter contracts dropped €50/tonne to €650/tonne FD and this number has rolled over into quarter two.

Spot numbers have remained strong. Prices reached their highest level for a decade in the second half of 2004 as they hit $800-810/tonne fob. Current price ideas are still hovering around $800/tonne with little spot business done, as consumers stay committed to contract volumes.


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, lead to unconsciousness and may be fatal. Repeated exposure may damage bone marrow.


DeWitt is forecasting future demand growth in western Europe at below 1%/year and slightly higher at around 2%/year in eastern Europe. Production in both regions will grow less than 1%/year. No new projects are planned in Europe. However, new plants are being built in Iran for start-up in 2006, with more planned for 2009. Kuwait’s PIC is studying new capacity for 2008. Most major investment is targeted for China, but projects are also slated in Taiwan, South Korea, India and Thailand.

Next profile: chlorine will appear 16 May

European orthoxylene capacity, ’000 TONNE/YEAR

Company Location Capacity
BP Refining?& Petrochemicals Gelsenkirchen, Germany 65
Cepsa Algeciras, ?Spain 38
ExxonMobil Botlek, Netherlands 130
INA Rijeka, ?Croatia 18
Kirishinefteorsintez Kirishi, ?Russia 60
MOL Szazhalombatta, Hungary 50
Naftan Novopolotsk, Belarus 25
PCK Schwedt, Germany 38
Petkim Aliaga, ?Turkey 65
Petrogal Oporto, ?Portugal 50
PKN Plock, Poland 10
Polimeri Europa Priolo, Italy 70
Sarroch, Italy 90
PO Omsknefteorgsintez Omsk, ?Russia 165
Shell Heide, ?Germany 10
Wesseling, Germany 60
Slovnaft Bratislava, Slovakia 14
Total Petrochemicals Gonfreville, France 110
Ufaneftekhim Ufa, Russia 165
Source: DeWitt

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