12 March 2007 00:00 [Source: ICB]
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Benzene is mainly used to make styrene, phenol, cyclohexane, aniline, maleic anhydride, alkylbenzenes and chlorobenzenes. It is an intermediate in the production of anthraquinone, hydroquinone, benzene hexachloride, benzene sulphonic acid, and other products used in drugs, dyes, insecticides and plastics.
Global markets were tight in 2006 as supply trailed rising demand. In Europe, derivative demand was strong, and several unplanned shutdowns reduced benzene availability. World supply should improve in 2007 with new capacity due in Spain, Taiwan and Iran. CEPSA started up a 230,000 tonne/year unit in Huelva, Spain, last December, and Repsol YPF's 180,000 tonne/year plant in Tarragona, Spain, is set to start up this quarter.
Industry restructuring has included SABIC's purchase of Huntsman's UK assets, and the acquisition by INEOS of Innovene's (formerly BP) olefins, polyolefins and aromatics businesses.
European prices performed strongly last year and producers' margins improved significantly. The delta over naphtha stayed very high, particularly in the second half when spot levels soared over $1,000/year and naphtha stayed low. European monthly contracts settled at €786/tonne for March, up by €64/tonne on February. Spot business was trading in early March at $1,030-1,040/tonne CIF NWE following firmer crude and higher US and Asian values.
In Europe, the main source is from pyrolysis gasoline (pygas) co-produced in the steam cracking of naphtha, gasoil or condensates to make olefins. Another source is the selective disproportionation of toluene where benzene is co-produced in the manufacture of a paraxylene-rich xylenes stream. A third process is the hydrodealkylation of toluene, but this is a high-cost route, and benzene prices need to be high enough to stimulate production.
Benzene is also co-produced in BP/UOP's Cyclar process, which converts butanes and propanes into aromatics. To date, only one plant in Saudi Arabia has been built.
Benzene is a clear, highly flammable liquid. Vapours can be absorbed through the lungs or skin, and it is a suspected carcinogen.
The majority of investment is in Asia and the Middle East. Additions in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait between 2007 and 2010 will total more than 1.5m tonnes/year, says Nexant ChemSystems. A further 1.26m tonnes/year are expected in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Qatar from 2011. But continued investment in derivatives, mainly styrene, will reduce the region's net exports from 2008.
Asian supply remains below demand, which will grow by 3-5%/year until 2010. Several plants are planned over the next few years, notably in China, to feed rising styrene and phenol production. But with excess capacity forecast, Asia will become a significant exporter and global price setter.
Western Europe and North America will remain net importers. CEPSA will expand output again in Huelva, Spain, by 130,000 tonnes/year by 2010. PKN plans 80,000 tonnes/year in Plock, Poland, for 2009.
|AP Feyzin||Feyzin, France||110|
|Arsol Aromatics||Gelsenkirchen, Germany||250|
|Dow Chemical||Bohlen, Germany||320|
|FinaAntwerp Olefins||Antwerp, Belgium||170|
|Galp Chemical||Oporto, Portugal||80|
|Holborn Europa Raffinerie||Hamburg, Germany||65|
|Ineos Olefins||Grangemouth, UK||295|
|Polimeri Europa||Porto Marghera, Italy||110|
|Repsol YPF||Puertollano, Spain||125|
|Sabic Europe||Geleen, Netherlands||350|
|Sabic UKPetrochemicals||Wilton, UK||510|
|Shell & DEA Oil||Heide, Germany||120|
|Syndial P. Europa||Porto Torres, Italy||220|
|Total Petrochemicals||Antwerp, Belgium||250|
|VFT Belgium||Zelzate, Belgium||90|
|Source: ICIS* Total/INEOS|
Profile last published 23 August 2004
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