Chemical profile: paraxylene

20 April 2009 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Paraxylene (PX) is the largest volume isomer of the mixed xylenes. Its primary demand comes from the polyester chain, with about 60% from textiles and about 30% from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging resin.

A small amount of PX is used as a solvent and to produce di-paraxylene and herbicides.

Demand in Europe has been affected by the global downturn. The market ground to a standstill in late 2008 and production was reduced. Demand remains depressed in 2009, particularly in the fibers sector. But burgeoning demand and tightening supply in Asia has reawakened interest in export business.

SABIC permanently shut its 365,000 tonne/year plant at Wilton, UK, at the end of 2008. Sources report little impact from the closure because of the lack of demand.

Global consultancy CMAI says that global markets shrunk by over 5% in 2008, driven by lower demand and heavy destocking, as well as a sharp increase in recycled PET.

European contracts are traditionally settled on the basis of the Asian Contract Price (ACP), with Asia being a major force in the production of purified terephthalic acid (PTA) and PET.

European April contracts rose €10/tonne to €705/tonne FD NWE. The April ACP increased by $50/tonne to $880/tonne CFR and two producers, ExxonMobil in the US and Japan's Idemitsu Kosan, have proposed hikes of $160/tonne and $150/tonne for May, respectively.

After hitting a high of €1,085/tonne last July, European contract prices dropped continually in the second half of 2008, finally hitting a low in January 2009 of €500/tonne.

Spot prices, which traded at a 13-year high of $1,623/tonne in July, also fell in the latter part of 2008, but started to recover in January. By mid-April numbers had lifted to $930-970/tonne.

Conventional technology is based on the isomerization of mixed xylenes from refinery reformate streams or from pyrolysis gasoline (pygas). High purity product can be obtained using crystallization or selective adsorptive separation.

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 benzene co-product.

The Cyclar process converts propane and butane to PX and benzene.

New sources of supply from the Middle East, India and China will tip global markets into surplus from late 2009, pushing average operating rates to below 80% and heavily pressurizing margins.

CMAI says that an expected slow recovery in demand post-crisis will lead to excess capacity worldwide of nearly 11.5m tonnes/year (even after closures of 1m tonnes/year) in a market of 28.8m tonnes/year in 2011, the predicted trough of the market.

But, from 2010, 500,000 tonnes/year of PX will be needed once Spain's Artenius starts up a 700,000 tonne/year PTA plant in Portugal. Demand from central Europe will also increase from around 2010 to feed increased PTA production.

European paraxylene CAPACITY, '000 TONNES/year

Company Location Capacity
BP Geel, Belgium 600
BP Refining & Petrochemicals Gelsenkirchen, Germany 190
CEPSA Algeciras, Spain 100
ExxonMobil Botlek, Netherlands 575
Galp Chemical Oporto, Portugal 140
Kirishinefteorgsintez Kirishi, Russia 65
Lukoil Neftochim Burgas Burgas, Bulgaria 15
Naftan Novopolotsk, Belarus 65
Omsk Refinery Omsk, Russia 190
PCK Raffinerie Schwedt, Germany 70
Petkim Petrokimya Holding Aliaga, Turkey 135
PKN Orlen Plock, Poland 50
Polimeri Europa Sarroch, Italy 100
Rompetrol Petrochemicals Navodari, Romania 20
Shell & DEA Oil Wesseling, Germany 140
Slovnaft Bratislava, Slovakia 50
Total Petrochemicals Gonfreville, France 135
Ufaneftekhim Ufa, Russia 180

Profile last published September 4, 2006

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By: Elaine Burridge
+44 20 8652 3214

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