17 April 2006 00:00  [Source: ICB]


1,4- Butanediol’s (BDO) largest consumer is tetrahydrofuran (THF), used to make polytetramethylene ether glycol, which goes mainly into spandex fibres, urethane elastomers and copolyester ethers. The next largest outlet is engineering plastic polybutylene terephthalate (PBT). Sizeable quantities of BDO are also used to make gamma-butyrolactone, which has outlets in electronics, pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, as well as high-performance polymers. Miscellaneous uses include solvents, coating resins and pharmaceutical intermediates.


Demand slowed last year, after a very strong 2004, and profitability deteriorated, despite price increases. Previous strong growth in China’s spandex industry reversed in 2005 because of huge overcapacity. However, players say the sector is restructuring and plant operating rates are edging up to 60%, although any effect on BDO consumption may not be felt until nearer the end of 2006. In western Europe, demand into THF and PBT is said to be going quite well.

Some restructuring and consolidation has occurred. BASF shut its 70 000 tonne/year BDO plant in Feluy, Belgium, in 2005 as well as THF capacities in Japan. ISP bought BP’s plant in Lima, Ohio, US. Gulf Advanced Chemical started up its new plant in Saudi Arabia late last year. China’s Sichuan Tianhua will start up a 25 000 tonne/year plant this year and Dairen’s new 120 000 tonne/year plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, is due next month.


Prices in Europe and the US remain well above Asian levels. European suppliers are seeking hikes of about €100/tonne in quarter two (Q2) as margins remain under pressure from high feedstock and utility costs. Early indications are that contracts are settling €70/tonne higher on Q1’s range of €1590-1690/tonne FD NWE. US producers are seeking to lift Q1’s range of 94-104 cent/lb by 7 cent/lb in Q2, but buyers are confident of a smaller increase. Asian spot prices have lifted slightly in April with offers up $10/tonne at $1690-1710/tonne CFR China. Korean April contracts are stable at $1800-1850/tonne FD.


The first commercial route was the Reppe process, where acetylene is reacted with formaldehyde and then hydrogenated. The first non-acetylene route was developed by Mitsubishi Chemical, using butadiene as feedstock, and it is tuneable to make BDO, THF or both. Lyondell’s process uses propylene oxide as feedstock, and Dairen in Taiwan uses allyl alcohol derived from propylene via allyl acetate.

Several butane-based processes were commercialised in the 1990s. Davy Process Technology’s route is based on the esterification of maleic anhydride (MA) followed by hydrogenation. The BP/Lurgi Geminox route uses a fluidised n-butane oxidation process to make MA.

Several companies have developed a biotransformation process for BDO. A US consortium has developed a fermentation route to convert glucose into succinic acid which can be converted to BDO using a suitable catalyst. It aims to commercialise the process with Applied Carbochemicals and Arkenol respectively.


BDO is a colourless, viscous liquid. It is combustible and reacts with strong oxidising agents. It can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract. Acute inhalation or ingestion can lead to unconsciousness.


Future global demand growth is put at around 6%/year, or an additional 50 000- 70 000 tonne/year. In western Europe, growth is put at around 4%/year, while in Asia growth is tipped at around 8-9%/year. Growth in China’s spandex sector is talked at a minimum 10%/year and world PBT demand is said to be growing at about 7%/year. Overcapacity remains the biggest challenge for BDO producers. Production capacities are growing faster than demand and several new projects are planned in China.

Company Location Capacity
BASF Geismar, Louisiana, US 135
Ludwigshafen, Germany 190
Ulsan, South Korea 50
BASF/Idemitsu Ichihara, Japan 25
BASF Petronas Gebeng, Malaysia 100
Dairen Chemical Kaohsiung, Taiwan 130
Gulf Advanced Chemical Industries Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia 75
Invista LaPorte, Texas, US 110
ISP Lima, Ohio 60
Marl, Germany 100
Korea PTG Ulsan, South Korea 30
Lutianhua Group Luzhou, China 25
Lyondell Botlek, Netherlands 126
Channelview, Texas, US 55
Mitsubishi Chemical Yokkaichi, Japan 100
Nan Ya Plastics Chia-yi, Taiwan 40
Shandong Shengli Oilfield Petrochemical Dongying, China 10
Shanxi Sanwei Shanxi, China 30
TCC Chemical Chang-hua, Taiwan 30
Tonen Chemical Kawasaki, Japan 30
Source: ICIS

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