This week's world news

10 January 2011 00:00  [Source: ICB]

DOW CONFIRMS LOUISIANA CRACKER OUTAGE
US-based Dow Chemical said its St. Charles cracker in Louisiana, US, had experienced a power interruption, confirming talk earlier in the day about a possible disruption at the site. Dow has 610,000 tonnes/year of ethylene capacity in St. Charles. The unit lost power on Monday night, a spokesperson said. The company declined to provide details on the length of the outage, which was cited as a factor behind a rally in ethylene spot prices.

ARKEMA DECLARES FORCE MAJEURE ON ACRYLATES
French chemical major Arkema declared force majeure on European acrylate esters and acrylic acid last Wednesday, following issues with upstream propylene, a company source said. It was unclear when the supply troubles would abate or how long the force majeure would last, the source said. The company's plants in Carling, France, have a nameplate capacity of 120,000 tonnes/year for butyl acrylate (butyl-A) and 275,000 tonnes/year for acrylic acid, according to the ICIS plants and projects database.

PERSTORP BUYS ASHLAND'S PENTA UNIT
Swedish chemical firm Perstorp has acquired US producer Ashland's pentaerythritol (penta) business as part of a wider strategy to increase its polyol capacity. The deal does not include Ashland's manufacturing plant in Louisiana, Missouri, US, any real estate or employees. The deal is expected to be completed within 60 days. Penta, a polyalcohol, is used in applications such as alkyd resins, PVC stabilizers, synthetic lubricants and varnishes.

CEPSA QUIMICA ACQUIRES ARTENIUS SAN ROQUE
Spanish industrial group CEPSA has bought polyethylene terephthalate (PET) producer Artenius San Roque from compatriot PET packaging company La Seda de Barcelona in a deal worth €34m ($45m). CEPSA subsidiary CEPSA Quimica will take over and restart the 175,000 tonne/year idled PET plant at San Roque, Spain, as part of the deal. CEPSA Quimica becomes one of only two global producers of purified terephthalic acid (PTA), PET and purified isophthalic acid, CEPSA said. Artenius San Roque will be renamed CEPSA Quimica PET and the firm will restart the PET plant, idled since September 2008, in the first quarter.

BIOAMBER TARGETS 25% ACID COST REDUCTION
US renewable chemicals company BioAmber is developing a microorganism, licenced from agribusiness firm Cargill, which can reduce the production cost of bio-based succinic acid by 25%, said BioAmber CEO Jean-François Huc. "We have been working on this project since last spring, and hope to have the strain in commercial production in three years," he told ICIS. "We wanted to operate in stealth mode for a time and advance the project." BioAmber plans to use the new strain in all of its commercial plants. BioAmber is in talks to build commercial-scale plants in North America and Asia, each of which could have initial capacities ranging from 25,000-30,000 tonnes/year. Huc said the goal was to double these plants' capacities with the use of the Cargill strain.

TRELLEBORG COMPLETES BUY OF PPL POLYURETHANE
Swedish polymer technology firm Trelleborg has completed its acquisition of polyurethane-(PU)based solutions and products maker PPL Polyurethane Products. UK-based PPL Polyurethane Products has annual sales of around Swedish kronor (SKr) 90m ($13.1m) and about 90 employees. The company has offices and production facilities in Retford and Coventry, in the UK.

MING DIH PLANS EPS PLANT TURNAROUND IN MARCH
Taiwanese chemical firm Ming Dih Group plans to shut its expandable polystyrene (EPS) lines in Kaohsiung for maintenance in March, a company source said. The plant has a capacity of 166,000 tonnes/year. The facility has two lines, and each will undergo maintenance while the other operates, so the plant will not be completely shut down. The maintenance is set to last for a month.

SINOPEC AND REPSOL TO EXPLORE NEW VENTURES
Spanish oil major Repsol is planning to explore new joint ventures globally with Sinopec, following the Chinese state-owned energy and chemical major's $7.1bn (€5.33bn) investment in a 40% stake in Repsol Brazil last year. "There are significant synergies between Repsol and Sinopec, and the relationship between both companies is ideal to continue reinforcing our alliance worldwide in new business areas," Repsol chairman Antonio Brufau said.

AROMATICS MALAYSIA OPTIMISTIC FOR A RESTART
Aromatics Malaysia remains optimistic for a mid-January restart of its 550,000 tonne/year paraxylene (PX) unit in Kertih, Terengganu, after an outage on December 24. "We expect repairs to the naphtha hydrotreating unit to be completed over the next 10 days and we are not expecting to issue any notice for reduction in contractual obligations to our customers," a company source said last Wednesday. A fire broke out at the naphtha hydrotreating unit on Christmas eve, forcing the firm to shut the facility as a precaution. But some market sources were doubtful whether it would meet its target of restarting the unit by the middle of January.

SABIC RUNS PP LINE AT REDUCED RATES
Saudi Arabia-based polymer producer SABIC is running one of its two polypropylene (PP) copolymer lines at Geleen, the Netherlands, at reduced rates following technical problems at the end of last month that affected output, a company source said. "We will only be able to resume normal sales volumes by February," said the source. The second line is running normally, the source added. Both lines have a combined capacity of 550,000 tonnes/year.

ARKEMA TO EXPAND PVDF CAPACITY IN CHINA
France-based chemical firm Arkema is to invest in additional capacity at its polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) fluorinated polymer plant currently being built in Changshu, China, to meet strong demand growth in the region. The new plant, scheduled to come on stream in March 2011, will have its production capacity increased by 50% from mid-2012. However, capacity details were not disclosed. The additional production capacity will help meet requirements for its PVDF resins from new emerging applications in Asia, said Arkema. Applications for its PVDF polymers include polymer membranes for drinking water filtration, electrodes for lithium ion batteries and protective films for the back sheet of photovoltaic panels.

PACIFIC ETHANOL RESUMES PRODUCTION IN CALIFORNIA
US-based Pacific Ethanol has resumed production at its Stockton plant in California, citing the start of California's new low-carbon fuel standard this month. The 60m gal/year unit is running near capacity, it said, adding that the plant began to process feedstock on December 9. The facility was idled in February 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis, which drove several US ethanol companies into bankruptcy, including Pacific Ethanol. The firm emerged from bankruptcy last June.

THAILAND TO REPLACE B3 WITH B5 BLEND
Thailand is expected to soon replace its use of B3 biodiesel with a B5 blend that has a higher percentage of palm-based biofuel to combat against rising crude oil prices, sources said. Thailand, the world's third-largest producer of palm oil, was scheduled to make B5 biodiesel mandatory on January 1, but recent shortages of the commodity and price hikes have delayed its adoption, according to a trader. The implementation of B5 biodiesel, which contains 5% palm-based biofuel, is now expected to be delayed to June as officials await the next harvest period in March and April that would determine palm oil prices in the second and third quarters of the year, sources said.

JIANGSU SOPO TO START UP ACETIC ACID, ETAC
China's Jiangsu Sopo is on track to start up its new 900,000 tonne/year acetic acid and expanded 500,000 tonne/year ethyl acetate (etac) plants in Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province, at around the mid-April. Its new combined acetic acid capacity, at 1.5m tonnes/year will make Jiangsu Sopo the largest producer in the country. It is operating an existing 600,000 tonne/year acetic acid plant at the same site, at full capacity, said a company official. However, its 270,000 tonne/year etac line is operating at a reduced rate of 30% because of the an ethanol shortage.

US COURT APPROVES $70M DUPONT SETTLEMENT
A state court approved a settlement agreement in which US chemical company DuPont will pay $70m (€53m) to resolve a class-action lawsuit involving its former zinc-smelter site in Spelter, West Virginia, US. People living near the site had argued they were exposed to lead, cadmium and arsenic. Under the settlement, DuPont has agreed to pay for clean-up costs and other costs and expenses associated with the litigation.

CHEMICALS TO CONTINUE OUTPERFORMING MARKET
The chemical sector is poised to continue outperforming broader financial markets in 2011 after a strong 2010, as fears about earnings and margin deterioration are overblown, a US analyst said last week. "We expect this sector outperformance to continue in the near to medium term as global utilization rates tighten in the 2011 through 2014 timeframe," said Hassan Ahmed, partner and head of research at US-based investment research firm Alembic Global Advisors. "Our analysis suggests commodity chemical share prices could essentially double from current levels to attain prior peak levels," he added. The analyst is particularly bullish on Brazil's Braskem, Celanese and Dow Chemical, both US, Netherlands-based LyondellBasell Industries and Canada's Methanex.

US EPA ORDERS TESTING OF 19 HIGH-VOLUME CHEMS
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to require US manufacturers of 19 chemicals to conduct health and environmental testing of those substances, an action generally welcomed by industry officials. The 19 substances for which the EPA is ordering testing are those known as "orphan chemicals" among industry officials. Under the 11-year-old voluntary testing program for high-production volume chemicals, US companies have provided health and environmental test data on more than 2,200 substances. But some substances, known as "orphans," have remained untested.

ODFJELL TO BUILD $37M TANK TERMINAL FACILITY
Norwegian shipping company Odfjell will build a $37m (€28m) tank terminal in Charleston, South Carolina, US. Construction of the tank terminal will start this month, and operations should start by early 2013. The terminal will create 12-20 jobs and will have 40 tanks with access to deep-draft marine, rail and truck. "This will be a great supplement to our existing terminal in Houston [Texas, US] and our worldwide tank terminal network," said Dave Ellis, president of Odfjell Terminals in Houston.

RPM FISCAL Q2 NET FALLS ON HIGHER RAW MATERIALS
US-based coatings and sealants company RPM International's net income fell by 12.7% to $48.8m (€37.1m) during its fiscal second quarter (ended November) from $55.9m in the same period last year as results continued to be affected by high raw material costs. Q2 net sales of $826m were down by 3.8% from the year-ago period. "Both [the industrial and consumer] segments remain challenged by higher raw material costs, mainly due to capacity reductions by suppliers, which has exerted downward pressure on our gross margins," said CEO Richard Sullivan.

BASF COMPLETES CRI/CRITERION STYRENE DEAL
Germany's BASF has completed its acquisition of catalyst firm CRI/Criterion's global styrene catalyst business. Bought from global energy firm Shell for an undisclosed sum, the business makes catalysts used to dehydrogenate ethylbenzene (EB) to form styrene. The deal was signed on November 29 and gives BASF CRI/Criterion's customer list, contracts and exclusive and non-exclusive licenses for intellectual property. This includes applicable patents and know-how in the field of styrene catalysts, as well as CRI/Criterion's styrene catalysts inventory.

SHELL, COSAN GET NOD FOR FOR $12BN BRAZIL VENTURE
Anglo-Dutch major Shell and Brazil-based ethanol group Cosan have received unconditional merger clearance from the EU for a $12bn (€9bn) joint venture in Brazil. The joint venture should be launched in the first half of 2011. It will produce ethanol, sugar and power, as well as manage the supply, distribution and retail sales of transportation fuels in Brazil. Shell had said that the venture would be one of the world's largest ethanol producers, with a production capacity of more than 2bn liters/year. With EU clearance, the companies are turning their focus to detailing integration work, Cosan said. The companies signed binding agreements for the venture in August 2010.

ZAP EXPECTS TO EXPORT HALF ITS CAPRO TO ASIA
Polish chemical company Zaklady Azotowe Pulawy (ZAP) has signed new contracts that should see about half of its 2011 output of caprolactam (capro) exported to Asian markets. The signing of the agreements was a result of the company's commercial strategy to extend its Asian geographical coverage beyond China, ZAP said. Its spectrum of sales now also includes South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and India. The deals mean that this year ZAP will target utilizing 100% of its 70,000 tonne/year capro capacity, said Marek Kaplucha, a company board member responsible for trade, logistics and marketing.

SICHUAN VINYL ON TO TRIAL RUN NEW VAM, PVOH UNITS
China's Sichuan Vinylon Works, a Sinopec subsidiary, plans to start trial operations at its new vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) plant and polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH) facility in late February. "We are scheduled to carry the test runs in late February, and are now doing the preparation work," a company source said. The two-year construction of the plants - a 300,000 tonne/year VAM unit and a 100,000 tonne/year PVOH plant - was completed on December 30. A 730,000 tonne/year methanol unit is expected to start up in the first half of this year.

US POLYONE BUYS BRAZIL'S UNIPLEN FOR $21M
US-based PolyOne has acquired Brazilian specialty engineered material producer and thermoplastics distributor Uniplen Industria de Polimeros (Uniplen) for $21m (€16m). "The combination of Uniplen and our previously announced acquisition of Polimaster firmly establishes our specialty product offering and overall customer service capabilities in Brazil," said PolyOne CEO Stephen Newlin. PolyOne made a cash payment of $21m for the company and could make further payments during the next three years "based on achieving certain performance metrics." Uniplen had revenues of $34m in 2010.

AIRGAS COMPLETES ACQUISITION OF CONLEY
US-based packaged gases firm Airgas has completed its acquisition of pure gases supplier Conley Gas. The La Porte, Texas, US-based company purifies, repackages and distributes high-purity hydrocarbons such as methane and ethylene. Conley has additional operations in Stryker, Ohio, US, and generates annual revenues of about $9m (€6.8m). Airgas has consolidated and integrated the Conley business into its specialty gases business unit.

US PRODUCTION GAINS, BUT SLOWER THAN EARLY 2010
The US manufacturing sector experienced continued growth in December, with chemicals and plastics among the expansion sectors, but the pace of improvement remained below the rate seen early last year, a key survey said last week. The Institute of Supply Management said its closely watched purchasing managers index (PMI) rose slightly in December to 57% from November's reading of 56.6%. November had seen a slight decline from October's measure of 56.9%. A PMI reading above 50% indicates that the nation's manufacturing sector is expanding, while an index measure below 50% means that production is contracting.

US AUTOMOBILE SALES JUMP BY 11% IN 2010
US sales of passenger cars and light trucks in 2010 rose by 11.1% from the slump of 2009, according to sales reports released last week. US auto sales finished 2010 at 11,588,783 units, up from 10,430,752 in 2009. For 2011, US automobile sales are expected to reach 12.8m units, according to US consultancy IHS Global Insight. Improved US auto sales typically increase chemical demand, with $2,700 (€2,025) worth of chemicals used in every US-made vehicle, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The largest total year-on-year sales increases came from Ford (19.5%), Nissan (18%) and Chrysler (16.5%).

US ENERGY LEADER WARNS AGAINST OBAMA POLICIES
A leading US energy industry official has warned that President Barack Obama's policies will make the nation more dependent on foreign sources, reduce energy industry tax revenues and kill jobs. Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said that decisions to be made by the White House and Congress this year "could have a profound impact on our country's energy future and with it, our economic prosperity." Gerard was critical of recent decisions by the Department of the Interior to close most US offshore areas to oil and gas exploration and development.

CEREPLAST OPENS EUROPEAN HEADQUARTERS
US-based bioplastics firm Cereplast has opened a European headquarters facility in Bonen, Germany, to support the expansion of its European operations. The new facility will also handle logistics between its US and Germany-based offices. Cereplast cited a number of agreements it made in 2010 with European manufacturers and distributors, adding that it planned to open a manufacturing plant in Europe in 2012. As planned, the European plant will have a production capacity of 200m lb/year (90,700 tonnes/year), roughly double the capacity of Cereplast's US factory.

TURKEY'S PETKIM HITS ANNUAL RECORD IN 2010
Turkey's Petkim achieved an annual production record in 2010, with output climbing above 3m tonnes for the first time in its 45-year history, the petrochemical company said. Production amounted to approximately 3.2m tonnes, compared with 2.9m tonnes in 2009, with the company last year achieving a plant utilization capacity of 98%. The figures were in line with Petkim's initial progress in creating a $5bn (€3.75bn) petrochemical "super site" by 2015 at Aliaga, near Izmir, on an Aegean coast peninsula, said Petkim CEO Kenan Yavuz. "[Under Petkim majority shareholder] Socar & Turcas, we remain focused on a refinery-petrochemical integration on the 'Petkim peninsula'," Yavuz said.

DUPONT COMPLETES DEAL FOR ACID FIRM MECS
US-based chemical major DuPont has completed its acquisition of MECS, a provider of process and clean air technologies to the sulfuric acid industry. MECS became DuPont's wholly owned subsidiary and a part of its sustainable solutions business effective December 31, DuPont said. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. MECS's technologies are used worldwide by sulfuric acid producers in the chemicals, fertilizer and refining industries to capture sulfur, reducing air pollution.

WESTLAKE NAMES JOHANNESEN AS VP
US-based olefins, polyolefins and vinyls producer Westlake Chemical has named Andrew Johannesen as vice president and treasurer. Johannesen has more than 19 years of treasury, capital markets, corporate development, accounting and auditing experience. He will be responsible for managing Westlake's corporate finance, credit, investor relations and risk management programs. Johannesen previously worked as vice president and treasurer for RRI Energy, formerly Reliant Energy.

QUAKER ACQUIRES SUMMIT LUBRICANTS FOR $30M
US metal-finishing chemicals producer Quaker Chemical has acquired specialty grease manufacturer Summit Lubricants for $30m (€23m), as of December 31, with the price representing Summit's anticipated 2011 net sales. The acquisition should be accretive to earnings in 2011, Quaker said.

UNIVAR COMPLETES QUARON BENELUX BUY
US-based distributor Univar has completed the acquisition of distributor Quaron's operations in Belgium and the Netherlands and was due to start trading as a combined entity on January 10. The merger reflects Univar's commitment to growth in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) region, as well as strengthening its position, reach, service, technical expertise and product portfolio, the company said. "There is a strong strategic and cultural fit between the two companies," said John van Osch, president of Univar for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

SK ENERGY RESTRUCTURES
South Korea's SK Energy has completed the spin-off of its petroleum and chemical businesses, and renamed itself SK Innovation. It has set up three units: SK Global Chemical, SK Energy and SK lubricants, as part of its restructuring completed on January 1.


By: Joseph Chang
+1 713 525 2653



AddThis Social Bookmark Button

For the latest chemical news, data and analysis that directly impacts your business sign up for a free trial to ICIS news - the breaking online news service for the global chemical industry.

Get the facts and analysis behind the headlines from our market leading weekly magazine: sign up to a free trial to ICIS Chemical Business.

Printer Friendly