News in brief

25 October 2013 10:01  [Source: ICB]

AMERICAS

STEPAN TO BEGIN PA SHUTDOWN; KOPPERS UP
US-based Stepan expects to start its planned shutdown and converter recatalysation at its 90,000 tonne/year phthalic anhydride (PA) plant in Elwood, Illinois, a company official said. The plant will be shut down for one week. In the following four weeks, one of its three converters will be recatalysed while the others will remain on. Meanwhile, Koppers has restarted its 100,000 tonne/year PA plant in Stickney, Illinois, after a month-long turnaround and recatalysation that started in mid-September.

CELANESE WAITING ON METHANOL PLANT PERMIT
Celanese has obtained most of the permits needed to build a methanol plant in Texas, but the US producer is still waiting on one from the federal government. Celanese CEO Mark Rohr said the company has obtained two of three permits needed to build a methanol plant at its Clear Lake acetyls complex near Houston. The methanol plant operations are expected to begin in mid-2015.

ARGEX IN DISTRIBUTION DEAL FOR CANADA TIO2 FACILITY
Canada’s Argex has signed a letter of intent with a large chemical distributor for 25,000 tonnes/year of titanium dioxide (TiO2) from its planned TiO2 facility near Montreal. Argex said it would disclose the name of the distributor and further details once negotiations are finalised. Argex said previously that it plans to commission the facility at the end of 2014 with an initial capacity of 50,000 tonnes/year.

EASTMAN, JM DEVELOP NEW MEG TECHNOLOGY
US-based Eastman Chemical and UK petrochemicals technology firm Johnson Matthey Davy have developed advanced technology for the production of monoethylene glycol (MEG) from synthesis gas-based feedstocks. The new technology enables the production of MEG from a variety of raw materials, including coal, natural gas, or biomass.

EVONIK OPENS ARGENTINA CATALYSTS FACILITY
Germany-based Evonik Industries has started up a new 60,000 tonne/year plant in Argentina to produce catalysts used in the production of biodiesel. The facility, at Puerto General San Martin in the north eastern Rosario region, will primarily serve the Argentine and Brazilian markets. It will supply ready-to-use alkoxides for use as catalysts in biodiesel production from renewable raw materials.

NOVA SHUTS EPS PLANT FOR MAINTENANCE
NOVA Chemicals began a maintenance shutdown of its 81,500 tonnes/year expandable polystyrene (EPS) plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania, US, a company spokesman confirmed. The shutdown is expected to last for two weeks, the spokesman said. It follows the restart earlier this month of the company’s 45,000 tonne/year plant in Painesville, Ohio. That plant is now running at full capacity.

OCI BEGINS RESTARTING METHANOL UNIT
OCI has begun restarting its Texas methanol unit again after another short outage on 15 October, the company said in a filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). The company reported a week earlier that the methanol unit at the Beaumont site had to be shut down because of a water pump failure. It was the second restart of the plant this month, following a minor outage.

STEPAN Q3 NET INCOME P SLIGHTLY
US-based chemicals firm Stepan said its net profit for the third quarter of 2013 increased by 1% year on year to $20.4m (€14.9m). Net sales for the period increased by 8% year on year to $475.5m as a result of improved volumes, particularly in North America. Demand for agricultural products continued to increase globally, while sales of functional surfactants used in oilfields declined.

ALPEK Q3 NET INCOME FALLS 53%
Mexico-based polyethylene terephthalate (PET) producer Alpek posted Q3 net earnings attributable to controlling interests of $41m (€30m), down by about 53% compared with $87m in the prior-year quarter. Alpek attributed the drop to a decrease in operating income and a rise in comprehensive financing expenses. Q3 sales revenues of polyester and polyester products fell by 2% year on year. Sales in its plastics and chemicals segment, which produces expandable polystyrene (EPS), polypropylene (PP) and caprolactam, were up by 5%.

US CHLOR-ALKALI SEPT PRODUCTION FALLS
US chlor-alkali production rates fell sharply in September, the Chlorine Institute said. Chlor-alkali production was at 79%, a drop from August’s 85% mark. Chlorine production was 882,559 tons, down from 904,946 tons in August. September’s caustic soda production was at 909,593 tons, also falling from the previous month. Maintenance outages by producers Shintech and Formosa, as well as seasonal slowdown in the use of chlorine bleach for water treatment processes, were drivers for the fall in output, market sources said.


EUROPE

INEOS GRANGEMOUTH TO REMAIN OFF LINE
The Grangemouth, UK, petrochemicals complex operated by Switzerland-based INEOS is to remain closed, the company confirmed. The company told employees the site will remain offline after being shut down in preparation for anticipated industrial action. Liquidators will be appointed within a week. Petroineos, the INEOS/PetroChina joint venture that co-owns the Grangemouth oil refinery, will now decide whether to restart the facility, but UK energy minister Edward Davey said he has received assurances that it will reopen.

KEMIRA POSTS SHARP Q3 PROFIT GROWTH
Kemira’s third-quarter net profit soared to €16.3m ($22.3m) from €1.4m in the same quarter in 2012 on the back of improved margins across its core business divisions. The Finland-based chemicals firm said sales rose around 10% during the year-to-date period for its polymers and sizing agents product lines. However, the year-on-year increase in third-quarter net profit is due in part to €40m of non-recurring charges booked during the same period in 2012 related to its global restructuring programme.

SUMITOMO SEIKA OPENS SAP PLANT
Japan-based Sumitomo Seika has inaugurated a new superabsorbents (SAP) plant in Carling, France, its partner in the project, France-based Arkema, said. The plant more than doubles the overall superabsorbents production capacity of the Carling facility from 20,000 tonnes/year to 47,000 tonnes/year. Plans to expand production in Carling were first announced in June 2011. The investment will enable Sumitomo Seika to meet increasing demand for SAP in Europe.

UNIPETROL Q3 HIT BY C2 SHUTDOWNS
Unipetrol’s third-quarter petrochemical operating profit declined 26% year on year to koruny (Kc) 195m ($10.4m, €7.6m) from Kc265m in the same quarter of last year, with shutdowns causing weaker sales volumes. The Czech producer said petrochemical volumes fell 21% to 366,000 tonnes year on year. Unipetrol experienced two unplanned shutdowns of its 545,000 tonne/year ethylene cracker in Litvinov within the second quarter.

PKN ORLEN SEES HIGHER Q3 PETCHEM PROFIT
Poland’s PKN Orlen saw third-quarter operating profit for its petrochemical division move up by 17.4% year on year to zloty (Zl) 250m ($82m) on wider margins. The oil refiner said sales revenue for petrochemicals rose by 6.4% to Zl4.8bn, while sales volumes fell by 5.9% to Zl1.3bn, largely because of unscheduled shutdowns at Czech subsidiary Unipetrol.

CLARIANT AIMS TO BE TOP AGCHEM SUPPLIER
Clariant wants to become the leading global supplier for crop agrochemicals by 2018, the Swiss specialty chemicals maker said. The company aims to build on its market position in inerts and adjuvants and move into “related areas of agricultural chemistry”, said Clariant’s head of Competence Center Crop Solutions Peter Baur. “We know the customers, the markets and the technologies, so this is a logical progression,” Baur said. The company has also renamed its crop protection business to Clariant Crop Solutions.

GERMANY UNION CALLS FOR 5.5% WAGE HIKE
Germany’s chemical industry labour union IG BCE called for a 5.5% wage hike in 2014. IG BCE said the demand was justified, given that the chemical industry was performing reliably at a high level and the economic recovery would continue in 2014. The union is seeking a 12-month collective bargaining deal. However, Germany’s chemical employers group BAVC said that business conditions in Germany’s chemical industry did not support a 5.5% wage hike.

SPOLCHEMIE BEGINS 2ND PERC CAMPAIGN
Czech producer Spolchemie has started its second perchloroethylene (perc) production campaign following the first one which ran from 26 September-4 October, a company source said. The source confirmed it had restarted its 15,000 tonne/year perc plant in Usti nad Labem on 21 October and the campaign will run until 3 November. Previously, the company said it will gauge demand levels at the end of October before deciding how long the production campaign will last.

NEXEN MULLS TYRE PLANT FOR CENTRAL EUROPE
South Korea’s Nexen Tire is assessing possible sites for a $1bn (€0.73bn) tyre-making plant in the Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria, a source at the company said, Nexen Tire’s investment would be rolled out over eight years and could create 1,200-2,000 jobs, it added. Synthetic rubber makers based in central Europe include major producer Synthos, which has plants in both Poland and the Czech Republic.

ENGINEERING PLASTICS FIRMS OPTIMISTIC
Several European engineering plastics producers expect demand from the sector to grow in 2014, as they have had increased enquiries for new applications, they said. Engineering plastics are a key end-use market for products such as polyacetal (POM), polybutylene terephthalate (PBT) and nylon 6 and 6,6. Engineering plastics are predominantly used in automotive manufacture, but can also be used for other downstream applications such as electronics.


ASIA

TSRC FURTHER CUTS SBR UNIT TO 50%
Taiwan Synthetic Rubber Corp (TSRC) has further cut the operating rate of its 100,000 tonne/year styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) plant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, to 50% of capacity because of eroded margins on higehr butadiene (BD) costs, and will run the plant at this rate until the end of October, a company source said. The plant was running at a reduced rate of 70% since early October.

TSRC KAOHSIUNG BR PLANT SHUT FOR TURNAROUND
Taiwan Synthetic Rubber Corp (TSRC) has shut its 60,000 tonne/year butadiene rubber (BR) plant in Kaohsiung for maintenance, a company source said. “The plant was shut on 21 October and will be down for 20 days,” the source said. The plant was originally scheduled to shut in early October but the turnaround was delayed because of a backlog of orders, the source said.

LG CHEM TO START UP NEW S-SBR PLANT
South Korea’s LG Chem will start up its new 60,000 tonne/year solution styrene butadiene rubber (S-SBR) plant at Daesan at the end of October, a company source said. In the meantime, the company will shut its 180,000 tonne/year butadiene rubber (BR) plant at the same site on 27-31 October to carry out technical works at the unit. LG Chem’s 140,000 tonne/year emulsion styrene butadiene rubber (E-SBR) plant, which is also located in Daesan, restarted on 20 October after shutting down on 15 October for technical adjustments, the source said.

PTTGC RAISES OPERATING RATES AT GAS CRACKERS
Thailand’s PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC) has increased the operating rates at its three gas crackers in Map Ta Phut to around 80% capacity following the restart of its upstream gas separation unit, a source close to the company said. The crackers had been previously running at around 70%. The gas separation unit No 5, which is operated by PTTGC’s parent firm PTT, restarted the week ended 18 October after less than three months of outage following a lightning strike, according to the source.

MITSUBISHI RAMPS UP PRODUCTION IN KASHIMA
Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical is ramping up production at its 489,000 tonne/year No 2 naphtha cracker in Kashima after restarting the facility as scheduled on 17 October, a company source said. He declined to provide further details. Mitsubishi had shut the cracker for a turnaround on 26 August. Mitsubishi also runs a 392,000 tonne/year No 1 naphtha cracker at the same site, which is operating at 90-100%. The company also has a 493,000 tonne/year naphtha cracker in Mizushima that is running at the same rate this month, he added.

SUMITOMO TO END DOMESTIC PMMA PRODUCTION
Japanese chemical producer Sumitomo Chemical plans to permanently close its 45,000 tonne/year polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) plant in December 2013 and end production of PMMA in Japan, a company spokesman said. The decision for closure was because domestic demand for PMMA is declining, while feedstock naphtha price is increasing, the spokesman said. After the PMMA unit at Niihama, Ehime prefecture, is shut, all of Sumitomo Chemical’s PMMA production will be consolidated into the 150,000 tonne/year plant in Singapore.

HANWHA TO RESTART ULSAN EVA/LDPE PLANTS
South Korea’s Hanwha Chemical plans to restart three of its Ulsan-based ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)/low density polyethylene (LDPE) swing plants on 28 October following the completion of scheduled maintenance, a company official said. The plants were taken off line on 15 October. Each of the three plants has a production capacity of 40,000 tonnes/year and they were producing EVA full swing at 90-95% capacity prior to the shutdown, according to the official.

SP CHEMICALS TO SHUT VCM UNIT IN NOVEMBER
China’s SP Chemicals plans to shut its 300,000 tonne/year vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) unit in Jiangsu province for turnaround from 8 November, a company source said. The maintenance will last 20 days, the source said. Meanwhile, the company’s other VCM unit at the site, with a 200,000 tonne/year capacity, is currently running at full capacity. Production at the smaller VCM unit will be reduced to 70-80% of capacity from 1 November. The 200,000 tonne/year unit had a 25-day turnaround that started 3 September.


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