04 September 2006 00:00  [Source: ICB]


Paraxylene (PX) is the largest volume isomer of the mixed xylenes. About 98% of demand comes from the polyester chain via one of its intermediates, purified terephthalic acid (PTA) or dimethyl terephthalate. A small amount of PX is used as a solvent, and to produce di-paraxylene and herbicides.


This year started with low inventories globally, although demand was initially sluggish. But markets have strengthened in recent months from soaring US mixed xylene values, a pick-up in Asian polyester markets and strong demand in Europe from polyethylene terephthalate bottle sales this summer.

PX supply is tight globally. However, European supply is expected to improve in the fourth quarter, while in the US falling mixed xylenes values may prompt additional PX output, which would ease availability.

With new PTA capacity outstripping PX additions, world PX markets look set to remain tight to 2008. More than 5m tonne/year of extra PTA capacity is due onstream in Asia by the end of 2006, with just over 3m tonne/year more PX being added. PCI predicts that operating rates could stay at 86-88% over the next two years.


European contracts for September settled at €1,120/tonne FD NWE, €100/tonne up on August. This followed the Asian contract price of $1,400/tonne CFR Asia. European spot levels have eased from their recent highs with a deal in late August trading at $1,420/tonne fob Rotterdam. Asian numbers hover around $1,480-1,500/tonne CFR.

In the US, August contracts were agreed at 64.50 cent/lb, up 4.75 cent/lb on July. Spot numbers weakened in late August from 71 cent/lb to around 68.50 cent/lb.


Conventional technology is based on the isomerisation of mixed xylenes from refinery reformate streams or from pyrolysis gasoline. High purity product can be obtained using crystallisation or selective adsorptive separation, such as UOP's Parex and IFP's Eluxyl processes.

Toluene disproportionation offers an alternative route with the latest catalysts able to produce a PX-rich stream, but this route co-produces benzene. Processes have also been developed using a zeolite catalyst for the alkylation of toluene with methanol to produce PX without the benzene coproduct.

In UOP/BP's Cyclar process, propane and butane are converted to PX and benzene. Ibn Rushd's 385,000 tonne/year plant in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, is the only one using the process to date.

Health and Safety

PX is a clear, flammable liquid with a sweet odour. Flashback can occur as the vapour is heavier than air. It can irritate the eyes, skin and mucous membranes. Over-exposure can lead to central nervous system depression, headaches, dizziness, nausea and even unconsciousness.


Asia will continue to be net short of PX until 2008, when PTA capacity will reach saturation and allow PX to catch up and come into balance. Nearly 2m tonne/year of PTA capacity will start up in Asia in 2007, with just over 1.5m tonne/year PX. In 2008, 2.65m tonne/year of PTA will go on line, with nearly 2.5m tonne PX due. A further 845,000 tonne/year PX is planned in China for 2009.

In Europe, several PTA projects are under way or planned. If corresponding investments in more PX output are not made, then the region will move from being fairly well balanced to a net importer by 2008.


Company Location Capacity
BP Geel, Belgium 560
Gelsenkirchen, Germany 140
Schwedt, Germany 70
Cepsa Algeciras, Spain 100
Deutsche Shell Wesseling, Germany 140
ExxonMobil Botlek, Netherlands 575
Galp Energia Oporto, Portugal 140
Huntsman Petrochemicals Wilton, UK 365
Kirishinefteorg­sintez Kirishi, Russia 66
Naftan Novopolotsk, Belarus 65
Petkim Aliaga, Turkey 120
PKN Orlen Plock, Poland 45
Polimeri Europa Priolo, Italy 200
Sarroch, Italy 80
Sibneft-Omsk Omsk, Russia 190
Total Petrochemicals Gonfreville, France 120
Ufaneftekhim Ufa, Russia 165Source: PCI Xylenes & Polyesters


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