China eyes 'green glycol' to offset MEG imports

09 September 2008 19:17  [Source: ICIS news]

HONG KONG (ICIS news)--China was encouraging the development of "green glycol" using feedstocks derived from alcohol, as oil prices rose and the country faced a shortage of monoethylene glycol (MEG), an industry executive said on Tuesday.

"The sky-high crude oil prices we see this year make it even more imperative that we develop such an alternative feedstock for the downstream polyester and PET [polyethylene terephthalate] industries," said Chen Jianwen, the general manager of Changchun Dacheng Bio-chemical Technology Group.

"Our country depends a lot on imported feedstocks for the manufacturing of polyesters, and for MEG alone, the dependence is as much as 78% of total volumes consumed," Chen told the ICIS/CBI International Fibres and Feedstocks conference in Hong Kong.

The Chinese polyester sector has been in a "sorry plight" this year, Chen said, as producers were not able to pass along sharp increases in oil prices and the cost of production.

That squeeze has prompted a search for alternative ways of producing glycols, which can be made using alcohol derived mainly from corn or sugar cane, Chen said.

"The bio-alcohol route is actually just one alternative way," he said. "There are other ways such as using carbon monoxide and hydrogen from natural gas, or using the coal-based oxalic acid hydration process."

Changchun Dacheng had opted for the “green route” by not using fossil feedstock, Chen said.

"We succeeded in 2005 in making dextrose from the zymotechnics process, making sugar, alcohol and then glycols eventually," he said.

The company had been experimenting since then with the new and environmentally friendly process in a 20,000 tonne/year pilot project in northeastern China, where corn is abundant, Chen added.

"We started plans for a 200,000 tonne/year unit in 2007 and that should be fully commercially viable soon," Chen said.

The unit also produces polyols, glycerol and butanediols, he said.

Chen added that as the Chinese government encourages the development of such "green chemicals" through legislation and tax incentives, "there is a bright future for such an enterprise".

The two-day conference ends on Wednesday.

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