US chemical profile: Acetone

11 January 2010 00:00  [Source: ICB]

Acetone is used in two main applications: the manufacture of methyl methacrylate (MMA) and bisphenol A (BPA). Acetone also goes into solvent applications largely used in pharmaceuticals manufacturing and is used to make a number of chemical intermediates, such as methyl isobutyl ketone, isophorone and diacetone alcohol/hexylene glycol.

Acetone demand has been weak, and although MMA global growth is expected to be 3-5%/year, much of that will not translate into future acetone demand because some of the new MMA capacity coming onto the world market is made from non-acetone processes.

For example, Germany-based Evonik Industries uses a C4 process based on isobutylene at its new MMA plant in Shanghai, China. The new plant came onstream in November 2009 and has a capacity of 100,000 tonnes/year. Also, UK-based Lucite International began production of MMA in November 2008 at its 120,000 tonne/year plant in Singapore, which uses ethylene, methanol and carbon monoxide as feedstocks.

The fast-growing BPA market, predicted to grow globally at 7-8%/year, is expected to overtake MMA as the largest acetone derivative.

The November 2009 MMA acetone contract price settled at 48.50 cents/lb in the US, according to global market intelligence service ICIS pricing. However, a major US MMA acetone buyer was said to have settled its December 2009 contract price at 51.25 cents/lb.

There was a narrowing spread between truck prices and barge prices (sold to large-volume buyers) that stalled some of the December acetone contract negotiations, ICIS pricing noted. Producers nominated increases ranging from 11-16% for December MMA acetone contracts, which could take the contract price above 56 cents/lb.

In comparison, truck prices for December had dropped slightly, with most distribution transactions taking place around 53 cents/lb delivered. However, having a 2-3 cent/lb spread between the truck and barge price is too narrow, a US buyer said. Historically, the spread ranges from 10-15 cents/lb, with truck prices being higher.

Early acetone manufacturing processes were based on the thermal decomposition of calcium acetate or the carbohydrate fermentation of corn starch or molasses. However, the cumene route, in which the acetone is coproduced with phenol, is the preferred technology. Nearly 90% of acetone is produced in this way.

Cumene is mainly manufactured by a reaction of propylene and benzene using a phosphoric acid-based catalyst or zeolite catalyst. The cumene is then oxidized in a liquid phase to cumene hydroperoxide, which is cleaved by sulfuric acid to phenol and acetone. Approximately 0.62 tonnes of acetone is produced with each tonne of phenol.

In comparison, an older isopropyl alcohol route, in which alcohol is dehydrogenated to acetone over a metal, salt catalyst or metal oxide, has been declining. A newer process involving the direct oxidation of propylene has been gaining in importance, but it is a more costly route and has ­corrosion issues.

US acetone capacity is estimated at 1.56m tonnes/year, and the domestic market should remain balanced, with utilization rates above 90%. No new major capacity is planned, although UK producer INEOS has an expansion at its Theodore, Alabama, plant under consideration for 2010. Any potential supply shortages should be met by a combination of increased imports and reduced exports.

Company Location Capacity
Blue Island Phenol Blue Island, Illinois 27
Georgia Gulf Plaquemine, Louisiana 140
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Bayport, Texas 7
INEOS Phenol Theodore, Alabama 330
SABIC Innovative Plastics Mount Vernon, ­Indiana 210
Shell Chemical Deer Park, Texas 355
Sunoco Haverhill, Ohio 165
Frankford, ­Pennsylvania 310
Dow Chemical Institute, West ­Virginia 77
Freeport, Texas 180
TOTAL 1,801
SOURCE: ICIS Plants & Projects

Europe profile last published Nov 26, 2007

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By: Feliza Mirasol
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