07 November 2011 00:00 [Source: ICB]
Firm does not expect its Thai and Chinese schemes to affect Asian glycerin fundamentals
Contrary to glycerin trading reports circulating in the oleochemicals market, Belgium-based Solvay does not expect its Epicerol (glycerin-to-epichlorohydrin) projects in Thailand and China to significantly alter glycerin supply/demand fundamentals in Asia.
Thailand-based Vinythai, a Solvay affiliate, is scheduled to start up by the end of 2011 its new 100,000 tonne/year epichlorohydrin (ECH) plant in Map Ta Phut, Rayong, which will use the Epicerol technology. ECH is a chemical intermediate used to manufacture epoxy resins to make durable coatings for storage tanks, pipes, appliances and food and drinks cans.
The facility will use 110,000 tonnes/year of refined glycerin, quantities of which are already booked, Thibaud Caulier, Solvay's business development manager, said during the ICIS 8th World Oleochemicals conference held in Vienna, Austria, in mid-October.
"Our priority is given to local and regional sourcing for refined glycerin but we don't expect the Vinythai plant to greatly impact the market as we have already negotiated long-term supply contracts with mechanisms in place to avoid price volatility of glycerin," he said. Solvay also plans to build an Epicerol-based ECH facility in Taixing, China, with the same scale as the Map Ta Phut plant. Glycerin suppliers will have to wait until 2013 or 2014 for the plant's start-up, Caulier said.
For every tonne of ECH produced using the Epicerol technology, 1.1 tonnes of refined glycerin is used as feedstock and added with hydrogen chloride. Producers typically make ECH through the allyl chloride or allyl alcohol routes, which rely on feedstock propylene and chlorine. The price of propylene has multiplied by four times since 1999, Caulier said.
"Plant reinvestments using these routes are also questionable given that these standard processes also have issues with large volumes of chlorinated residues and volumes of contaminated effluents that are difficult to treat," he added.
GREEN AND COST FACTORS
The Epicerol process, according to Solvay, will reduce the company's water consumption in ECH production by a factor of ten, reduce chlorine consumption by half, and reduce chlorinated byproducts by a factor of 8.
"Aside from the environmental benefits, glycerin-to-ECH is considered as one of the most attractive valorizations of glycerin because of today's important price gap between propylene and glycerin," Caulier said.
Average Asia glycerin prices in 2011 were assessed by ICIS at the mid-to-upper 30 cents/lb range. Asia propylene prices in 2011 seesawed between the mid-50 cents/lb and low-70 cents/lb range, settling to the high-50 cents/lb range seen in October.
Solvay has been using the Epicerol technology since 2007 at a 20,000 tonne/year ECH plant in Tavaux, France. It is not easy for other companies to produce ECH from glycerin because of the expertise needed in various technologies, Caulier said, adding that Solvay intends to enforce strongly its more than 1,000 worldwide Epicerol patents.
"There have been several projects about glycerin-to-ECH that were announced in the past few years - so far most of them have not been delivered," Caulier said. He noted a current infringement suit against China-based Yangnong Chemical Group which has been producing ECH from glycerin at a 60,000 tonne/year facility in Jiangsu.
Long-term access to hydrogen chloride at affordable costs is also an issue for some companies that want to enter the market.
"Companies wanting to enter this market will need long-term availability of raw materials at affordable costs - both for glycerin and also chlor-alkali. In our case, we have secured access to raw materials either by integration or by long-term partnership with suppliers," Caulier said.
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