NPRA '11: Industry mulls on-purpose butadiene - US TPC Group

28 March 2011 18:45  [Source: ICIS news]

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (ICIS)--An on-purpose butadiene (BD) plant is increasingly becoming likely because demand for the monomer continues to increase while traditional feedstocks remain short, the former president of US-based TPC Group said on Monday.

"The world could actually use a couple of on-purpose butadiene plants," said Charles Shaver, who recently retired from the company as CEO. Shaver was speaking on the sidelines of the International Petrochemical Conference (IPC).

Joining Shaver was Michael McDonnell, who became president of TPC on 22 March.

Any on-purpose plants, however, would need customer involvement, Shaver said.

Much has changed in the BD industry since last year, when an on-purpose process was considered too energy intensive and costly.  

Companies typically produce BD by extracting the monomer from a blend of various four-carbon molecules, a mixture called crude C4.

Crude C4, in turn, is produced by cracking naphtha and other heavy feedstocks derived from crude oil.

Oil prices have risen sharply and may hover around $100/bbl through 2015.

Supplies of crude C4 have diminished as more US ethylene producers are cracking ethane instead of naphtha.

Meanwhile, BD demand remains strong from such derivatives as styrene butadiene rubber (SBR). Natural rubber prices are even higher, eliminating its potential as an SBR substitute.

With strong demand and tight feedstocks, BD prices have risen sharply, and April BD nominations would bring contracts to new highs.

Unlike traditional BD production methods, an on-purpose process would rely on butane as a feedstock. Like ethane, butane is a by-product of natural-gas production.

In the US, shale gas would provide a on-purpose BD plant with a steady, inexpensive supply of feedstock butane.

"We see it as readily available," Shaver said.

The combination of strong BD demand, tight crude C4 supply and inexpensive butane has made on-purpose BD a viable process.

TPC itself may begin on-purpose production, McDonnell said.

The company has an idle line that produces isobutylene by dehydrogenating isobutane.

This line could also produce BD by dehydrogenating butane, McDonnell said.

"It's very early in our thinking right now," he said. Also, TPC is considering other expansion projects in its performance business, which produces polyisobutylenes among other products.

Other sites are also possible as long as they have access to inexpensive butane feedstock.

Crucially, the producer will need cooperation with BD customers, Shaver said.

That cooperation is critical for reducing the risk of undertaking a major petrochemical project, he said.

Hosted by the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association (NPRA), the IPC continues through Tuesday.

For more on BD visit ICIS chemical intelligence


By: Al Greenwood
+1 713 525 2645



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