22 February 2013 10:19 [Source: ICB]
Benzene is a colourless, refractive liquid with a characteristic aromatic odour. Its vapour is toxic and highly flammable. In cold weather, benzene solidifies to a white crystalline mass. It is slightly soluble in water, miscible with ethyl alcohol, ether, acetone, carbon tetrachloride, carbon disulphide, and glacial acetic acid (GAA).
Benzene is the largest volume aromatic petrochemical used to produce a number of petrochemical intermediates.
Ethylbenzene (EB) is the largest chemical outlet for benzene, and nearly all is consumed in the production of styrene.
The fourth main derivative of benzene is nitrobenzene, which can be used to produce aniline.
Benzene is used to make a number of other chemical intermediates, such as alkylbenzene used in detergents, maleic anhydride (unsaturated polyester resins) and chlorobenzenes (engineering polymers).
US fourth-quarter 2012 benzene production and inventories were down compared with a year earlier, according to data released by the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. Fourth-quarter benzene production was at 398m gal, down by 8.8% from 437m gal in the fourth quarter of 2011.
On the year, 2012 year-to-date benzene production totalled 1.6bn gal, down by 7% from 1.7bn gal in 2011.
Meanwhile, fourth-quarter benzene inventories were at 101m gal, down by 8.3% from 110m gal in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Fourth-quarter inventories were up by 28% in 2012, however, from 79m gal in the previous quarter.
Market fundamentals have lent support to a series of record highs in the benzene market for 2012.
US benzene contracts settled at a record high three times in 2012, the first coming in August at $4.60/gal. The record highs continued into 2013 with the January benzene contract settled up at $5.16/gal
Lower spot prices in January eventually led the February benzene contract to settle lower, at $4.80/gal.
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). A growing source is the selective disproportionation of toluene. Benzene is co-produced during the manufacture of a paraxylene-rich xylenes stream.
Another increasing source is the gasoline pool, where stricter regulations limit the benzene/aromatics content of gasoline.
Many aromatics market participants have said that they believe the US benzene market will remain strong in 2013 citing the tight supply availability and the continued global financial situation.
The tight supplies have been attributed to reduced output of pyrolysis gasoline (pygas), including more ethanol displacing reformate in the US gasoline pool, and US shale oil production yielding less benzene.
In other market developments, Marathon Petroleum will acquire benzene production from BP's 475,000 bbl/day Texas City refinery in Texas on 1 March.
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