22 August 2005 00:01  [Source: ICB]

11-17 JULY 2005.

Profile last published 15 September 2003; Chemical Profile is published fortnightly.


Acetone’s main use is in the production of acetone cyanohydrin, a feedstock for methyl methacrylate (MMA). The other major outlet is bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in the manufacture of epoxy and polycarbonate resins.?It is used directly as a solvent as well as to make other solvents such as methyl isobutyl ketone and methyl isobutyl carbinol. Other applications include in higher molecular weight glycols and alcohols, and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and antioxidants.


Consumption of acetone into MMA and BPA has been very healthy in Europe this year, but solvents demand is weaker than predicted. The market had a good first quarter but softened in quarter two as Europe felt the impact of nearly 400 000 tonne/year of new capacity, which started up in Asia in March/April. The combination of extra supplies and slowing Chinese demand sent prices plummeting and severely reduced exports, which lengthened availability in Europe. Some enquiries from Asia are now reported and a 1000 tonne European cargo sold at $650/tonne CFR China for August loading

The slower Asian market also resulted in increased imports into Europe during quarter two. However, players say imports have now virtually disappeared and shutdowns in France and Finland have brought the market more into balance.

Western Europe saw of 6% growth in 2004 over 2003, and growth has been 3-4% in the first half of 2005, said a major supplier.

BP will close its 71 000 tonne/year plant at Hull, UK by the end of 2006. Operations at the 30 000 tonne/year DF3 line stopped at the end of April. The DF2 unit will close in late 2006/early 2007. German trader Helm is now handling all BP’s sales and marketing. Domo Caproleuna is up for sale.


European contracts for MMA customers have slipped in August by €7/tonne to €700-740/tonne FD NWE. This follows a drop of €88/tonne in July as contract prices followed spot’s downward spiral. Spot values are put notionally at €560-600/tonne in a thinly traded market, but ideas of up to €650/tonne are also heard, with some producers unwilling to sell below €600/tonne.


Almost 90% of acetone production is via cumene where acetone is coproduced with phenol. The main process involves the reaction of propylene and benzene in the presence of phosphoric acid-based or zeolite catalysts. Cumene is oxidised in the liquid phase to cumene hydroperoxide which is then cleaved, in the presence of sulphuric acid, to phenol and acetone. About 0.62 tonne of acetone is produced with each tonne of phenol.

The isopropyl alcohol (IPA) route, where the alcohol is dehydrogenated to acetone over a metal, metal oxide or salt catalyst is declining. Shell closed its IPA and acetone units in Stanlow, UK, at the end of 2003. Some players believe that on-purpose acetone production will have disappeared in Europe by 2010. Small quantities of acetone are also produced in the manufacture of propylene oxide (Lyondell), acetic acid (Eastman Chemical) and hydroquinone (Goodyear).


Acetone is a clear, colourless liquid with a fragrant odour. It is highly flammable and reacts explosively with strong oxidants. High concentrations can irritate the eyes, nose and throat and aspiration into the lungs can cause severe damage.


Future demand growth in Europe is put at about 2-3%/year. The key drivers remain MMA and BPA where demand for acetone is tipped to grow at 5%/year. Demand into solvents will remain weak at about 1%/year.

Looser supply in Europe is expected in 2006/2007 as new capacity starts up. Ineos’ 130 000 tonne/year expansion at Antwerp, Belgium is due to complete in June 2006, while Ertisa’s 150 000 tonne/year hike at Huelva, Spain, is planned for end 2006.

Rhodia is restarting half of its number three line in Roussillon, France this month, adding about 20 000 tonne/year. The restart of the second half of the line, mothballed in mid-2000, may be postponed beyond its previously planned date of 2007. Borealis still has plans to expand but a decision to proceed remains pending.

Most investment is focused on Asia, and China in particular. Ineos has a 250 000 tonne/year project near Shanghai with hopes for completion before 2010. Projects are also planned in Iran and Saudi Arabia.


Company Location Capacity
Borealis Porvoo, Finland 85
BP Chemicals Hull, UK* 70
Domo Caproleuna Leuna, Germany 90
Ertisa Huelva, Spain 220
Ineos Phenol Antwerp, Belgium 310
Gladbeck, Germany 395
Theodore, Alabama, US 250
Kazanaorgsintez Kazan, Russia n/a
Novapex Roussillon, France** 77
Petrobrazi Brazi, Romania 15
Polimeri Europa Mantova, Italy 185
Porto Torres, Italy 136
PKN Plock, Poland 21
Shell Chimie Berre, France*** 75
Pernis, Netherlands*** 80
Ufaorgsintez Ufa, Russia 45
* from acetic acid, to close by end 2006; ** expansion to ?100 000 tonne/year due end August 2005; *** from isopropyl alcohol; n/a = not available
Source: ICIS


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