US chemical profile: Benzene

07 March 2012 00:00  [Source: ICB]

US, FELIZA MIRASOL profile last published FEBRUARY 16, 2009



Benzene is the largest volume aromatic used to produce a number of petrochemical intermediates including ethylbenzene (EB) for ­styrene production, cumene for phenol and acetone, cyclohexane (CX) and nitrobenzene.

ExxonMobil had a 45-day turnaround at its Baton Rouge, Louisiana, cracker that began in early September. It is expected to start back up in the second half of October.

Shell was expected to take a 45-day ­turnaround on October 1 at its Deer Park plant in Texas. It also was reported that a reformer at BP's Texas City, Texas, site will be down in October as it was in September. BP has not confirmed any downtime, however.

Valero's refinery in Three Rivers, Texas, was expected to start a six-week turnaround beginning in October. Global benzene ­capacity in 2010 was 56m tonnes/year, ­whereas demand was 40m tonnes/year, ­according to US-based consultancy Nexant ChemSystems (Nexant).

US benzene spot prices fell in the week ended October 7 because of soft market conditions. Spot prices have been moving gradually lower since late July on weaker crude oil ­prices and overall uncertainty regarding the global economy.

Declining spot prices led to weaker ­benzene contract settlements for September and October. The October benzene contract settled at $3.33/gal ($997/tonne, €738/tonne) FOB (free on board) a week earlier, down by 68 cents/gal from the September contract.

In the week ended October 7, US benzene spot prices were at $3.153.25/gal FOB, down from the figure of $3.20-3.30/gal FOB seen on September 30. Prices gradually moved lower during the week.

The main sources of benzene are from ­catalytic reforming or steam cracking of liquid petroleum feedstocks and the hydrodealkylation (HDA) of toluene and toluene disproportionation (TDP). Catalytic reforming is a major source of benzene in the US.

A growing source is the selective ­disproportionation of toluene. Benzene is ­co-produced during the manufacture of a paraxylene-rich xylenes stream.

Another increasing sources is the gasoline pool, where stricter regulations limit the ­benzene/aromatics content of gasoline.

A newer process called Cyclar that converts butanes and propanes into aromatics has been developed by BP and Honeywell's UOP. A plant has been built in Saudi Arabia to use the new technology.

Benzene margins weakened through the first half of this year with the increasing availability from both steam crackers and aromatics complexes, according to Nexant. Nexant ­forecasts the global surplus of benzene capacity to decline over the next five years to 11m tonnes/year from 16m tonnes/year.

The highest cost benzene plants, ­particularly toluene HDA units, which buy toluene at market prices, will reduce their production rates or be mothballed.

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By: Feliza Mirasol
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