Europe benzene buyers 'must evaluate sourcing strategies' - VIDEO

23 November 2010 18:15  [Source: ICIS news]

BERLIN (ICIS)--Benzene buyers in Europe will have to evaluate their sourcing strategies to cope with an increasing volatility of supply, Paul Hodges of consultancy International eChem said on Tuesday.

Hodges told delegates at the 9th European Aromatics and Derivatives Conference that benzene’s price spread over naphtha had become increasingly volatile in recent years.

The typical benzene spread versus naphtha used to range from $80-200/tonne (€58-146/tonne) up until 2003. However, between 2003 and 2008 the average spread was $341/tonne and even spiked to $700/tonne at one stage, Hodges said.

He added that refining dynamics had increasingly come to dominate benzene markets. The removal of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) in the US in 2004 led to extreme tightness as toluene was sucked into the US gasoline pool. As a result, on-purpose hydrodealkylation (HDA) units became very expensive.

HDA units were used as the main mechanism to balance benzene supply, and were run when benzene’s spread over toluene made them viable. However, plants operated by ICI and Shell had closed.

Equally, the growth of paraxylene (PX) led to more Mobil selective toluene disproportionation (MSTDP) units being built, with an increasing bias to PX output rather than benzene.

Lower refinery operating rates had also reduced benzene supply.

“Uncertainty over supply and margins is negative for business. Doing nothing is not a good option,” Hodges said.

He added that consumers and suppliers needed to address the issue, either jointly or separately.

“Reinvigoration of the benzene industry is needed, there are a lot of opportunities,” Hodges said.

Investment upstream could be an option. Hodges said HDA could make sense again as the availability of toluene feedstock is likely to be long. More MSTDP capacity could also be built in partnership with a PX consumer.

The 9th European Aromatics and Derivatives Conference takes place in Berlin, Germany, on 23-24 November 2010.

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By: Elaine Burridge
+44 20 8652 3214

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