Oleochemicals: Solvay's Epicerol plant will not impact Asia glycerine demand

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.

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.

By: Doris de Guzman
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