Chemical profile: Benzene

16 February 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

By Mark Kirschner


2007: 2.76bn gals (10.45bn liters) 2008: 2.775bn gals 2012: 2.91bn gals, projected. Demand equals production plus imports (2007: 1.121bn gals 2008: 1.023bn gals) less exports (2007: 7m gals 2008: 11m gals). Sources: ICIS Chemical Business United States Census Bureau (USCB) United States International Trade Commission (USITC)


Historical (2003-2008): 1.5%/year. Future: 1.2%/year through 2012.


Historical (2003-2008): Contract - High, $4.44/gal, US Gulf, FOB (free on board) low, $1.07/gal, same basis. Current, $1.34/gal, same basis. Spot - High, $4.58/gal, barge low, $0.66/gal, same basis. Current, $1.35-1.40/gal, same basis. Source: ICIS pricing


Ethylbenzene (EB - for styrene), 52% cumene (for phenol), 22% cyclohexane, 15%, nitrobenzene (for aniline), 7% alkylbenzene, 2% chlorobenzene, 1% miscellaneous, 1%. Source: ICIS Chemical Business


EB production is the largest chemical outlet for benzene in the US. In 2008, it accounted for 52% of total benzene demand. Most EB is consumed in styrene, which in turn is used in polystyrene (PS), styrene copolymers, such as acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) and styrene-acrylonitrile resins and styrene-butadiene copolymer latexes, styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) and unsaturated polyester resins.

Historically, growth in PS had been good but it was hit hard by rise in benzene pricing, beginning in 2004, and then by the economic slowdown. The second-largest outlet for benzene, accounting for 22% of demand, is cumene, which is nearly all consumed in phenol production with acetone formed as a coproduct. Historically, demand for phenol was driven by phenolic resins, but this market has matured and been overtaken by bisphenol A (BPA).

The strong demand for polycarbonates (PCs), historically at 10%/year and above, has driven BPA production. The rising popularity of DVDs and CDs accounted for much of the growth of PCs, but this is now slowing to around 4%/year.

The third-largest outlet for benzene, accounting for 15% of demand, is cyclohexane which finds its way primarily into the nylon chain via caprolactam (capro) and adipic acid. Cyclohexane demand is growing only slowly as nylon-based products are sensitive to the general economy.

The fourth main derivative of benzene is nitrobenzene, which is used in aniline. This is one of the faster-growing derivatives of benzene, at 3.5%/year, driven by polyurethanes (PUs). Benzene is used to make a number of other chemical intermediates such as alkylbenzene used in detergents, maleic anhydride (MA) in unsaturated polyester resins and chlorobenzenes, in engineering polymers.

In the past few months, benzene fell from a high of $4.44/gal (September 2008 contract) to $1.01/gal (January 2009 contract), following declining crude oil. More recently, pricing firmed at $1.34/gal.


Though global benzene demand has slowed, mainly due to the global economic downturn, benzene supply is increasing with new refinery capacity being built in the Middle East and Asia. This is good news as the US has been a net benzene importer for many years and will continue to be so. Another source of new benzene supply will be benzene removed from the gasoline blending pool. US regulations require that the amount of benzene in gasoline be reduced from 1.2% to 0.6% by 2011. This is equivalent to about 800m gal/year. Demand growth for the forecast period is projected to be 1.2%/year.

Company Location Capacity
ALON USA Big Spring, Texas 12
BASF FINA Port Arthur, Texas 35
BP Chemicals Texas City, Texas 230
Chalmette Refining Chalmette, Louisiana 55
Chevron Phillips Chemical Pascagoula, Mississippi Sweeny, Texas 250
ChevronTexaco Richmond, California 40
CITGO Corpus Christi, Texas; Lake Charles, Louisiana;
Lemont, Illinois
ConocoPhillips Alliance, Louisiana; Wood River, Illinois 125
Dow Chemical Freeport, Texas; Plaquemine, Louisiana 300
ExxonMobil Baton Rouge and Chalmette, Louisiana;
Baytown and Beaumont, Texas
Flint Hills Resources Corpus Christi and Port Arthur, Texas 310
Frontier El Dorado El Dorado, Kansas 15
HOVENSA St. Croix, US Virgin Islands 70
Husky Energy Lima, Ohio 30
LyondellBasell Alvin, Channelview and Corpus Christi, Texas 330
Lyondell-Citgo Houston, Texas 50
Marathon Ashland Petroleum Catlettsburg, Kentucky; Texas City, Texas 60
Shell Chemical Deer Park, Texas 180

Marcus Hook and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
Toledo, Ohio; Westville, New Jersey

Valero Energy Corpus Christi and Three Rivers, Texas;
Delaware City, Delaware
TOTAL 3,012

NOTES: Benzene produced from naphtha reforming, toluene hydrodealkylation or toluene disproportionation, and extraction from pyrolysis gasoline fractions derived from ethylene plant cracked naphthas or heavier feedstocks.

In November 2007, Flint Hills Resources, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, acquired the chemicals and polymers business of Huntsman, completing Huntsman’s exit from commodity chemicals. Included in the deal was Huntsman’s Port Arthur facility with its olefins cracker, which has a benzene production capacity of 65m gals/year.

In 2004, Premcor purchased the Delaware City refinery of  Motiva Enterprises. The following year, Valero Energy acquired Premcor with its four refineries, two of which had benzene separation units – Delaware City, Delaware's 15m gals/year, and Lima, Ohio's, 30m gals/year. In 2007, Valero Energy sold the Lima, Ohio refinery to Husky Energy (Calgary, Alberta).


Profile last published August 8, 2005

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