Phenol

17 October 2005 00:01  [Source: ICB]

EUROPEAN PHENOL CAPACITY, ’000 TONNE/YEAR
Company Location Capacity
Borealis Porvoo, Finland 140
Deza Valasske Mezirici, Czech Republic 128
Domo Caproleuna Leuna, Germany 150
Ertisa Huelva, Spain 360
Ineos Phenol Antwerp, Belgium 500
Gladbeck,Germany 650
Kazanorgsintez Kazan, Russia na
Novapex Roussillon, France 160
Petrobrazi Brazi, Romania 25
Polimeri Europa Mantova, Italy 300
Porto Torres, Italy 200
PKN Plock, Poland 35
Saratovorgsintez Saratov, Russia 43
Ufaorgsintez Ufa, Russia 75
na = not available
Source: ICIS

Profile last published 18 August 2003; Chemical Profile is published fortnightly.


USES

Phenol’s main consumers are bisphenol-A (BPA) and phenolic resins. The dominant use of BPA is in polycarbonate (PC), accounting for nearly 40% of global demand for phenol. This is followed by its use in phenolic resins, and then the fibre intermediate caprolactam.

Other uses include polyphenylene oxide engineering plastics, alkylphenols, adipic acid, aniline, chlorinated phenols and diphenols. Phenol is also used as a slimicide, as a disinfectant, as an anaesthetic in medicinal preparations, and in pharmaceuticals.

SUPPLY/DEMAND

Demand in Europe in the first half of this year has been very healthy and plants were running flat out, say producers. BPA and caprolactam markets were doing well and resins remained steady. Overall sales growth to September is put at 3%.

However, the BPA sector has now moved into oversupply and some phenol producers have cut back operating rates. New BPA capacity, which went onstream early this year in Asia, as well as weaker demand for PC in the region, has pushed material into Europe. Russian suppliers have also switched BPA exports from Asia to Europe.

European phenol exports have been much lower this year, down about 150 000 tonne to date, according to a source. Overall phenol demand growth in Europe is expected to be 2% up this year on 2004.

Additional capacity has gone on stream in 2004-05 for Ineos and Novapex. DSM’s plant in Botlek, the Netherlands, closed permanently at the end of 2004.

PRICING

Europe shifted to monthly pricing in 2004, mirroring benzene feedstock. Benzene contract levels settled up €66/tonne in October and phenol producers say they have been successful in pushing through the full increase on formula-related accounts. The gross reported range is €1155-1195/tonne. Margins for a ‘typical’ producer are said to be lower this year compared with last as the impact from benzene and, particularly, propylene volatility is felt.

TECHNOLOGY

There are three synthetic routes to phenol with cumene-based technology being the dominant process. Here, benzene and propylene are reacted to form cumene, which is oxidised to the hydroperoxide, followed by acid-catalysed cleavage to yield phenol and acetone. It is considered to be the most economic route to phenol, supported by demand for co-product acetone.

A few producers use an older process involving the hydrolysis of chlorobenzene. A third process is based on the liquid phase oxidation of toluene in two steps, starting with the oxidation of toluene to benzoic acid, which is further oxidised to phenol.

Development work is focused on processes that avoid the co-production of acetone, but commercialisation remains elusive. Russia’s Boreskov Institute of Catalysis and Solutia have developed a one-step route directly from benzene. Mitsui Petrochemical has also developed an acetone-free benzene-based process. Benzene is partially hydrogenated to cyclohexane, followed by conversion to cyclohexanol and then phenol by dehydrogenation.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

Pure phenol occurs as colourless to yellow crystals which turn pink on exposure to light and air. It is solid at ambient temperatures and is normally sold in bulk quantities as a heated liquid. It reacts with oxidants and is a fire and explosion hazard. Vapours are corrosive to body tissues. It is rapidly absorbed through the skin, causing systemic poisoning.

OUTLOOK

Global demand is forecast to grow near 4.5%/year through to 2009 (about 350 000 tonne/year), according to CMAI. It says that with the majority of new investment focused in Asia, the region will become the world’s leading producer by 2007. As a result, Asia’s net import position will significantly decrease, to the detriment of western Europe and the US.

Most projects are slated for China, with others planned in Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore. Ineos will build a 400 000 tonne/year plant near Shanghai, China, by 2010. Plants are also planned in Iran and Saudi Arabia.

In Europe, extra capacity is due in 2006-07. Ineos will expand at Antwerp, Belgium, to 680 000 tonne/year by the second half of 2006, when Ertisa’s 200 000 tonne/year hike in Spain is also due. Finland’s Borealis is expanding to 190 000 tonne/year by spring 2007. Rhodia has delayed plans post-2007 to boost output to 200 000 tonne/year. European demand growth is put at 2.5-3%/year.


 





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