FocusSABIC-Sinopec Tianjin project partly fills China petchems demand

04 November 2009 06:16  [Source: ICIS news]

By Pearl Bantillo

SINGAPORE (ICIS news)--China’s huge demand for petrochemicals will partly be met by a new major petrochemical complex that will come on stream in the first quarter of 2010, but this is not expected to create ripples in the regional markets, industry sources said on Wednesday.

The project in Tianjin, northern China – a joint venture between petrochemical giants SABIC and Sinopec – is expected to produce 3.2m tonnes/year of chemical products.

China is a major importer of petrochemicals in Asia and has been rapidly increasing capacity to boost its self-sufficiency.

The yuan (CNY) 18.3bn ($2.7bn) complex comprises a 1m tonne/year ethylene cracker and eight downstream units. Other products will include polyethylene (PE), ethylene glycol (EG), polypropylene (PP), butadiene (BD), phenol and butene-1.

“There should be minimal impact on ethylene imports into China as the ethylene from Tianjin will be fed to derivative units,” said a source close to Sinopec in Mandarin.

The country’s ethylene imports in the first nine months of the year, which totalled 786,880 tonnes, surpassed the full-year 2008 levels by 9.1%, according to on official data.

The butadiene plant at the new complex will feed into downstream units, namely a 200,000 tonne/year acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS) plant, a 100,000 tonne/year styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) plant and a 50,000 tonne/year styrene-butadiene-styrene (SBS) plant.

The ABS plant is scheduled to start up in March 2010, while the SBS unit is expected to come on line in the middle of next year. No details were available on when the SBR plant will begin production.

Unless the the downstream plants' start-ups get delayed, the regional BD spot market was unlikely to be affected by the new petrochemical project in Tianjin, market sources said.

The complex further includes a 40,000/360,000 tonne/year ethylene oxide (EO)/EG unit, a 300,000 tonne/year linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) plant, a 300,000 tonne/year high density polyethylene (HDPE) facility and a 450,000 tonne/year PP plant.

The facility was expected to have an estimated surplus of up to 50,000 tonnes/year of propylene, which could be channelled through a pipeline to an oxo-alcohols maker within the city, a Chinese olefins trader said.

Meanwhile, some polymers players said they expect competition in the domestic market to intensify following the start-up of the Tianjin facility.

“It will change the way we do business. We will have to focus more on the re-export segment of our customer base, and not on the converters, who are supplying the domestic market in China,” said a source from a trading company.

China’s industries and economy continued to grow at a faster rate compared with its peers abroad on the strength of its domestic demand, which has been propped up by the government’s hefty fiscal stimulus measures, while its exports have slumped.

With the recovery of the global economy, China’s exports of finished goods would pick up and demand from the re-export market for polymers would increase, according to polymer supplier.

A 600,000 tonne/year cracked gasoline hydrogenation unit, a 200,000 tonne/year BD extraction facility, a 350,000 tonne/year phenol/acetone unit and a 120,000/50,000 tonne/year methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE)/butene-1 plant also form part of the joint SABIC-Sinopec petrochemical project.

The new complex had the potential to boost Tianjin’s annual GDP growth to more than 4.0% and generate additional investments of CNY100bn in downstream and associated industries, the companies said in a joint statement.

The complex would also upgrade Tianjin’s chlor-alkali industry, they said.

SABIC had acted on a sound strategy of venturing into China, deviating from its focus in the Middle East, where ethylene capacity was expected to nearly triple to 33m tonnes/year in 2011 from the current 13m tonnes/year, said an official from the Tianjin Municipal Commission for Development and Reform.

($1 = CNY6.83)

With additional reporting by Dolly Wu, Steve Tan, Peh Soo Hwee, Helen Yan and Prema Viswanathan

To discuss issues facing the chemical industry go to ICIS connect

By: Pearl Bantillo
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