News in brief

28 June 2013 09:53  [Source: ICB]

AMERICAS

PINNACLE DECLARES FORCE MAJEURE ON PP - SOURCES
US polypropylene (PP) producer Pinnacle Polymers declared force majeure on PP because of difficulty obtaining propylene, sources said. "This situation is the result of an interruption in the normal supply of monomer to our plant from multiple sources," the company wrote in a customer letter on 24 June. It was not clear what caused the interruption of propylene supply to the facility in Garyville, Louisiana. The plant has a PP capacity of 470,000 tonnes/year, according to ICIS plants and projects.

LYONDELLBASELL SHUTS DOWN TEXAS PO PLANT
LyondellBasell shut down the company's propylene oxide (PO) plant in Pasadena, Texas, because of a loss of steam from an external supplier and a temporary loss of power from an external supplier, according to a filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). As a result, the plant emitted more than 600 lb t-butyl alcohol and nearly 300 lb of nitrogen oxide.

SO.F.TER TO BUILD PLASTICS PLANT IN TENNESSEE
The Italy-based compounder SO.F.TER plans to build a facility in the US to produce, develop and sell engineering plastics based on polyamide, polypropylene and thermoplastic elastomers. Initial capacity at its 85,000-square-metre site in Lebanon, Tennessee, will be 23,000 tonnes/year. Capacity will later be expanded to 68,000 tonnes/year. The plant will target US automotive, appliance, construction and electrical markets. SO.F.TER's initial investment will be about $11.5m (€8.7m).

CALUMET TO UP CAPACITY AT LUBRICANT PLANT
Calumet Specialty Products will invest $40m (€30m) to more than double the capacity of its synthetic lubricants plant in Louisiana, Missouri, the US-based producer said. The plant makes more than 32m lbs/year of 'synlubes' used as refrigerants and aviation lubricants. The capacity expansion should be complete by the middle of 2014.

ARGENTINA CHEMICAL PRODUCTION RISES BY 9.6%
Argentina's May chemical production was up by 9.6% year on year, compared with the same month of 2012, industry sources said. The production of basic chemical products was up by 12.3% in Maym compared with the same month the previous year, said Argentina's Statistics Institute (INDEC). May production of plastic raw materials and synthetic rubber rose by 11.5%.

US HIGH-TEMPERATURE PLASTICS DEMAND TO JUMP
US demand for high-temperature plastics is forecast to rise by 5.8% per year to reach $3.1bn (€2.4bn) in 2017, spurred by the replacement of conventional materials, research firm The Freedonia Group said. The projected advances will be propelled by the adoption of high-temperature plastics over products such as metal, glass and other polymers. An improving economic outlook and rising consumer confidence will additionally support the output of durable goods such as electrical equipment and machinery.

US NEW HOME SALES RISE TO 476,000 UNITS IN MAY
Sales of new homes in the US for May were estimated at 476,000, the largest monthly number in almost five years, and about a 2.1% increase above April's revised rate of 466,000, the Commerce Department said. The May 2013 estimate was a 29.0% increase over May 2012's 369,000. The US market for new houses had 161,000 units for sale at the end of May - a 4.1-month supply of homes at the current sales rate. .

SOLAZYME, ROQUETTE DISSOLVING JOINT VENTURE
Bioproducts companies US-based Solazyme and France-based Roquette Freres have agreed to dissolve their joint venture, Solazyme Roquette Nutritionals. Divergent views on an acceptable commercial strategy and the timeline for making and marketing joint venture products was cited as the reason for the dissolution. Solazyme plans to accelerate commercialisation of its suite of microalgal food ingredients as a result. Solazyme Roquette Nutritionals was making microalgal food ingredients, such as its Almagine algalin line.

CLARIANT OPENS A RESEARCH LAB IN BRAZIL
Switzerland-based Clariant has opened a laboratory in Brazil that will be used for R&D of catalysts used in the chemicals and oil and gas industries. Brazil's gas industry is growing, and Clariant's absorbents can be used to purify natural gas and remove contaminants before feeding it into the pipelines. There is also demand for hydrogen catalysts on tightening fuel specifications in South America and for processing more challenging feedstocks.

DUPONT OPENS IOWA INNOVATION CENTRE
US-based DuPont opened a new innovation centre for food, agriculture and energy value chains in Iowa. The centre, at Johnston, near Des Moines will help DuPont find solutions to "the world's big challenges of feeding and protecting a growing global population and reducing reliance on fossil fuels", said CEO Ellen Kullman.

CEREPLAST MOVES HEADQUARTERS TO INDIANA
US-based bioplastics firm Cereplast has moved its headquarters from California to its production facility in Seymour, Indiana. In addition, Cereplast moved its European headquarters to offices in Milan, Italy, and closed an office in Germany. The moves were effective from 1 June. They are part of a restructuring plan to cut expenses by up to $800,000/year (€608,000/year).


EUROPE

BOREALIS INVESTS €65M TO UPGRADE FINNISH PE UNIT
Borealis will invest €65m ($86m) to upgrade a polyethylene (PE) plant at its production site in Porvoo, Finland, the Austria-based producer said. The investment will serve to upgrade the technology at the firm's Borstar PE2 plant, which will offer "improved product properties, as well as a broader operating window", the company said. Capacity details of the project were not disclosed.

BASF LIFTS FORCE MAJEURE ON BUTYL ACRYLATE
Germany-based BASF has lifted force majeure on butyl acrylate (butyl-A) production from its Ludwigshafen facility, and sales control will remain in place until further notice, market sources said. There was no immediate official confirmation from the supplier. Market sources said the force majeure was lifted on 21 June. The company had announced force majeure on 13 June because of unplanned production problems.

AKZONOBEL TO DIVEST GERMAN PAINT SHOPS
AkzoNobel is planning to divest its decorative paints stores for professionals in Germany to independent wholesale distributors, the Netherlands-based coatings major said. The new set-up in Germany will allow AkzoNobel to select the most efficient distribution channels for its professional paint products, rather than operating its own stores, the company said in a statement. AkzoNobel operates 72 stores selling professional paint and third-party products in Germany. The company's decorative paints, performance coatings and specialty chemicals generated revenue of close to €1.3bn ($1.71bn) in Germany last year.

BASF TDI AT NORMAL OPS AFTER TECHNICAL ISSUES
BASF's toluene di-isocyanate (TDI) facility at Schwarzheide in Germany is running normally again following the resolution of recent technical problems, a company source said. TDI output had been restricted at the Schwarzheide site, but contracts had been sufficiently covered.

DOW MDI OUTPUT LIKELY TO REMAIN REDUCED
Reduced rates at US-based Dow Chemical's methyl di-p-phenylene isocyanate (MDI) operations at Stade, Germany, are likely to be extended until August because of ongoing upstream supply constraints, a company source said. The timeframe has been extended in line with forthcoming upstream maintenance plans. This upstream maintenance work is expected to resolve the ongoing upstream supply issues and allow for the MDI plant at Stade to return to normal operations.

GERMANY'S BUSINESS CLIMATE INDEX EDGES UP
Germany's business confidence continued to rise in June, an economics research group said. Munich-based Ifo said that its monthly business climate index for Germany edged rose to 105.9 in June from 105.7 in May and 104.4 in April. Comparing June with May, Ifo's expectations forecast for Germany rose to 102.5 from 101.6, Ifo added.

ECHA LAUNCHES SVHC CHEMICALS CONSULTATION
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has launched a public consultation on the possible inclusion of six chemicals to its substances of very high concern (SVHC) candidate list. Open until 23 September, the consultation is on the potential inclusion of N,N-dimethylformamide (DMF), diazene-1,2-dicarboxamide (C,C'-azodi(formamide) (ADCA), and aluminosilicate refractory ceramic fibres (Al-RCF). Zirconia Aluminosilicate refractory ceramic fibres (Zr-RCF), bis(pentabromo-phenyl) ether (decabromodiphenyl ether) and 4-(1,1,3,3-tetramethylbutyl)phenol ethoxylated (4-tert-Octylphenol ethoxylates) are also earmarked for addition to the list, the ECHA added.

BASF TARGETS PLASTICS AND BIOPOLYMERS GROWTH
Germany-based BASF expects its downstream plastics, large-volume monomers and commodity polymers businesses to continue growing above average market rates in the future. It said plans to prioritise the growth of its specialty polymers business include investing in the expansion of the basic chemicals production required for the manufacture of downstream chemicals.

CRACKER START-UP CONTINUES FOR SLOVNAFT
Slovakia's Slovnaft is continuing with the start-up phase of its reconstructed 210,000 tonne/year cracker, despite a small fire that affected one of the furnaces at its Bratislava site, the company said. "The fire was immediately extinguished by the fire brigade, which was present during the start-up," said Slovnaft spokesman Anton Molnar. "We are now investigating the reason behind the fire and also the extent of the damage."

EUROPE SODA ASH FIRMS MUST HEED TURKISH THREAT
Major European soda ash producers, including Belgium-based Solvay and Poland-based Ciech, are under pressure to cut their cost bases as the potential competitive threat from expanding Turkish natural soda ash producers looms ever larger, a bank said. "Cheap trona-based Turkish natural soda remains a risk in the future as new capacities should be launched," said Dominik Niszcz, an analyst at Raiffeisen Centrobank (RCB). Most of the Turkish output is sold in the Middle East and Asia.


ASIA

CHINA BUTYL-A PRICES TO RISE AFTER EXPLOSION
China's butyl acrylate (butyl-A) prices look set to continue rising as domestic supply tightened because of a prolonged shutdown of a major facility owned by Shanghai Huayi Acrylic Acid following a blast at its plant site on 23 June, industry sources said. The company was in the process of restarting its 190,000 tonne/year butyl-A plant after a scheduled turnaround when the explosion occurred on 23 June, forcing the shutdown of all its facilities in eastern China, they said.

JX NIPPON OIL RESTARTS MIZUSHIMA FCC UNIT
Japan's JX Nippon Oil has restarted its fluid catalytic cracker (FCC), which can produce around 90,000 tonnes/year of propylene, at its Mizushima B refinery complex on 25 June, following the unit's maintenance shutdown on 20 March. The company also operates a separate FCC at its Mizushima A refinery, which can produce 100,000 tonnes/year of propylene. The unit is running at full rates, but is expected to operate at a reduced rate of around 80% capacity in July because of technical issues, the source added.

LOTTE CUTS BG OUTPUT ON MECHANICAL ISSUES
South Korea's Lotte Chemical has reduced its butyl glycol (BG) plant operating rate to about 70% capacity from 95-100% capacity because of mechanical problems, a company source said. The issues prompted the producer to cut the operating rate at its 50,000 tonne/year BG plant in Daesan over the weekend of 22-23 June, the source said. Lotte Chemical plans to keep running its BG plant at the reduced rate until the following week, when the mechanical issues are expected to be resolved, the company source said, without specifying details.

XIANGLU CUTS PTA OUTPUT ON MECHANICAL ISSUES
China's Xianglu Petrochemical has reduced the operating rate of its 1.65m tonne/year purified terephthalic acid (PTA) plant at Xiamen in Fujian province, because of mechanical issues, a source close to the company said. The PTA output was lowered from 100% to 60% capacity on 25 June after the plant encountered mechanical issues, the source said, but added that the situation was not deemed critical. While the company plans to shut down over the following few days, it has not scheduled a specific date, the source said.

MITSUBISHI CHEMICAL TO RESTART MIBK UNIT
Japan's Mitsubishi Chemical plans to restart its 20,000 tonne/year methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) plant in Mizushima on 13 July after completing a turnaround. The plant was taken off line on 8 June to undergo a scheduled maintenance. Mitsubishi is one of the three MIBK makers in Japan. The other producers are Mitsui Chemicals, whose plant has a nameplate capacity of 30,000 tonnes/year, and KH Neochem, which can produce 15,000 tonnes of MIBK annually.

LCY CHEMICAL CUTS MIBK OUTPUT ON WEAK MARKETS
Taiwan's LCY Chemical has reduced the operating rate at its 20,000 tonne/year methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) plant in Linyuan in response to weak market conditions, a source close to the company said. The producer cut its MIBK output to about 70% capacity in mid-June from more than 80% capacity, the source said. Spot MIBK prices into China, the regional benchmark, have slumped by almost 15% since early December 2012 to settle at an average of $1,735/tonne (€1,319/tonne) CFR (cost & freight) China around mid-June 2013, according to data compiled by ICIS.

FPCC EXTENDS SHUTDOWN AT TWO PROPYLENE UNITS
Taiwan's Formosa Petrochemical Corp (FPCC) has extended an on-going turnaround at its propylene units to 10 July from late June because of mechanical issues, a company source said. FPCC's residue fluid catalytic cracker (RFCC) No 2 in Mailiao was shut on 19 March and was initially scheduled to restart on 21 June. The unit can produce around 375,000 tonnes/year of propylene. An olefins conversion unit (OCU) at the same site, which can produce 250,000 tonnes/year of propylene, was shut on 26 April.


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