Corrected: INSIGHT: Odds shorten on Vietnam’s petchems plans

21 October 2009 16:44  [Source: ICIS news]

Correction: In the ICIS news story headlined "INSIGHT: Odds shorten on Vietnam's petchems plans," dated 21 October 2009, please read in the final paragraph ... too far to the right of the cost curve? ... instead of ... too far to the left of the cost curve? ... A corrected story follows.

By John Richardson

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--Vietnam is planning $11.5bn of refinery and petrochemical investments by 2014 as it attempts to break the cycle of exporting crude and importing huge volumes of downstream products.

Sceptics will immediately point to the 25 years it reportedly took to realise the country’s first refinery – at the Dung Quat Economic Zone in Quang Ngai province – as a reason why the ambitious scheduled will not be achieved.

The $3bn 140,000 bbl/day refinery, which media reports say was due to hit full production this month, was brought on-stream in February 2009.

But with Vietnam exporting an estimated 18m tonnes of crude oil in 2008 while importing 15m tonnes of refinery products and 1.2m tonnes of plastics, the national economic logic seems to be pretty strong.

And there are clear signs of a pick-up in project activity, most notably in the refinery sector, with hopes that a sustained economic recovery might be close at hand. Ridiculously long odds against success 12 months ago might have significantly shortened.

Planned investments include a $234m 150,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) plant, due on-stream in 2010, which would be downstream of the Dung Quat refinery, said Phan Minh Quoc Binh, Director of the PetoVietnam Research and Development Centre for Petroleum Processing.

Phan was speaking at last week’s Downstream Asia Round table, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The event was organised by the World Refining Association.

A 175,000 tonne/year polyester plant, based on imported purified terepthalic (PTA) and monoethylene (MEG), is due for commissioning at Hai Phong City in 2011 with an investment cost of $325m.

The following year has been set for start-up of a $900m urea plant at Cau Mau province, which would have a capacity of 800,000 tonne/year.

Next in line would be the $6.2bn Nghi Son Refinery and Petrochemical Complex, due to start-up at end-2013 in Than Hoa province, Phan added.

A 375,000 tonne/year PP plant is due to be built at the site based on feedstock from a residual fluid catalytic cracker (FCC).

Also planned downstream of the new refinery is a 226,000 tonne/year benzene facility and 656,000 tonne/year of paraxylene (PX) capacity.

Kuwait Petroleum Co (KPC), which is due to supply 8.4 tonne/year of crude to the project, has taken an equity stake in the project along with PetroVietnam – the state-owned oil, gas and refinery major.

The South Vietnam Petrochemical Complex in Vung Tau province is due to be commissioned in 2014, said Phan.

Siam Cement, the Thai petrochemicals major, was said to have put the project on hold earlier this year as a result of the economic crisis.

But recent indications are that the $3.8bn project is moving ahead.

Siam Cement has a direct 53% stake and another 18% holding through subsidiary Thai Plastics and Chemicals (TPC). PetroVietnam has an 18% share.

The project would involve the country’s first cracker with a capacity in excess of 1m tonne/year

It would be based on imported naphtha with some liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and condensates sourced locally, Phan added.

Downstream capacities comprise 800,000 tonne/year of polyethylene (PE), 450,000 tonne/year of PP and 400,000 tonne/year of vinyl chloride monomer (VCM).

Further foreign investment is being sought for a 100,000-120,000 tonne/year linear alkyl benzene (LAB) project, said Phan.

Overseas investors are also being sought for the 75,000-100,000 tonne/year n-paraffin plant that would supply feedstock to the LAB facility, a 200,000-300,000 tonne/year polyethylene terephthalate (PET) project and a 60,000 tonne/year polystyrene (PS) plant.

“Between 2001-08 petrochemical consumption grew by 10.1% per year to around 2m tonnes,” added Phan as he explained the reasons behind these big ambitions.

Vietnam’s current capacity consists of two polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plants with a combined capacity of 200,000 tonne/year, a 128,000 tonne/year PS facility, a 145,000 tonne/year PET resin plant, a 740,000 tonne/year urea plant and 40,000 tonne/year of dioctyl phalate (DOP).

Demand would grow by 9.1% per year in 2009-2020 to reach total consumption of 5.8m tonnes in 2020, he said.

If all the projects are realised on schedule, Vietnam would be able to meet 73% of its petrochemical needs by 2020.

Vietnam has become a crucial export market often mentioned by producers when China goes a little quiet – although it will never be anywhere close to China in terms of volumes.

Last year Vietnam imported 599,000 tonnes of PE, 483,000 tonnes of PP and 400,000 tonnes of PET, for instance, as against China’s multi-million tonne needs.

China is rapidly moving towards much greater self-sufficiency.

If Vietnam follows what next for the Southeast and Northeast Asian producers too far to the right of the cost curve?

Read John Richardson’s Asian Chemical Connections blog
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By: John Richardson
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