News in brief

28 March 2014 09:44  [Source: ICB]

Americas

BASF-Total JV starts up 10th furnace in Texas
The BASF-Total joint venture steam cracker in Port Arthur, Texas has started up its 10th furnace, pushing its ethylene capacity to more than 1m tonnes/year, the companies announced. The project, which was originally announced in 2011, gives the plant improved flexibility through its ability to use ethane, naphtha and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) feedstocks. The furnace’s start-up increases the plant’s nameplate ethylene capacity to 1.04m tonnes/year, said Carole Smargon, BASF’s communications manager for North America. Previous capacity was 934,000 tonnes/year, according to the ICIS Plants and Projects database.

LyondellBasell begins cracker expansion
LyondellBasell has begun the turnaround and expansion of its LaPorte cracker in Texas, US, sources said. Sources said the shutdown process began on 23 March and is expected to last for 80 days. The company is expanding its cracker at the site by 363,000 tonnes/year, giving it a new capacity of 1.152m tonnes/year of ethylene production.

USG-Asia chem freight rates drop $15-25/tonne
US Gulf to Asia chemical freight rates dropped $15-25/tonne on a continued decline in traffic, especially in aromatics shipments, brokers said. Rates on shipments of 5,000 tonnes or more fell to $70-75/tonne, from $85-90/tonne previously. Rates on 2,000-tonne shipments dropped to $85-95/tonne, from the prior $110-120/tonne. It was the third rate drop on the USG-Asia trade lane this year. A broker said the drop-off had been especially noticeable in a lack of benzene, toluene and xylene (BTX) shipments, which historically have been a staple of the route.

Eastman to expand 2-EH capacity in Texas
Eastman Chemical plans to expand 2-ethylhexanol (2-EH) capacity at its facility in Longview, Texas, US by around 20,000 tonnes/year. An Eastman spokesperson said that work on the expansion would begin in the second quarter, with completion expected in the fourth quarter of 2014. In support of the 2-EH expansion, Eastman will also be expanding its butyraldehyde capacity by 25,000 tonnes at the site. Eastman previously completed a 32,000-tonne expansion of 2-EH capacity at Longview in April 2012.

US chlor-alkali rate dips in Feb
US chlor-alkali average production rates dipped to 84% in February, down from 86% in January but equal with the rate of February 2013, according to data from The Chlorine Institute. Information from companies representing 93% of total US capacity reported that the nation’s chlorine gas production rose to 872,718 tons (791,000 tonnes) in February, down 11.8% from January’s 989,328 tons, but about even with the 867,577 tons produced in February 2013.

Cooper River seeks permit for renewable PET
US company Cooper River Partners is seeking a permit from regulators for a renewable polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plant in South Carolina. Cooper River Partners filed an application with the US Army Corps of Engineers and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Cooper River Partners owns the Bushy Park Industrial Complex, where the plant would be built.

US March CAB up 0.3% over February
The US chemical activity barometer (CAB) in March showed a 0.3% gain over February on a three-month moving average (3MMA) basis, its largest increase since October, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The 3MMA for March of 94.6 is a 2.7% increase over the CAB of 92.3 a year ago. One of four components of the CAB, strengthening chemical equity prices, was a major factor in this month’s reading, the ACC said.

Valero buys, will restart Indiana ethanol plant
Valero Renewables has purchased a corn ethanol plant in Mount Vernon, Indiana, US that has been idle for two years, according to parent company Valero. The plant, which is about the same size as the 10 other ethanol plants operated by Valero Renewables, will be restarted over the next several months. Once fully staffed, with about 60 to 65 people, the company will look at ways to increase efficiency and possibly expand production, Valero spokesman Bill Day said.

US GDP growth expected to reach 3% after slow Q1
Economists are forecasting a weak 1.9% GDP growth rate in the first three months of 2014, due to severe weather disruptions, but expect the rate to increase to 3% by year end on improving conditions in labour, consumer and housing markets, according to a National Association for Business Economics (NABE) survey. On an annual average basis, real GDP growth is expected to be 2.8% in 2014, compared with 1.9% last year. The improving markets are expected to continue through 2015, while inflation remains tame, resulting in a forecasted 3.1% GDP growth next year, NABE president Jack Kleinhenz said.


Europe

UK chem supply chain firms see improvement
The outlook for order books of chemicals supply chain companies in the UK is continuing to improve, according to a survey by trade body the Chemical Business Association (CBA). Responses to CBA’s March supply chain trends survey indicated that 45% of association member companies reported stronger order books than three months ago, compared to 24% in November 2013.

ZAP confirms melamine turnaround in Apr
Polish fertilizer producer Zaklady Azotowe Pulawy (ZAP) will enter into a month-long turnaround at its Melamine III facility from 1 April, a company source confirmed. The 30,000 tonne/year unit is in Pulawy, eastern Poland. The other two melamine plants at the facility will be running during the outage, the company previously said.

Germany business climate deteriorates
Germany’s business climate worsened slightly in March with the Crimea crisis impacting the confidence of firms, according to the country’s Ifo economics institute. Manufacturers’ expectations for the months ahead “clouded over considerably” since February. However, the majority of manufacturers nevertheless remains optimistic about the export outlook, the institute said. The business climate index in wholesaling fell, but it rose in retailing. In the building and construction sector, the index continued to fall.

Subscription period opened for Ciech bid
Shareholders in Poland-based soda ash maker Ciech can from 25 March to 25 April accept investment vehicle KI Chemistry’s zloty (Zl) 25 ($8.22, €5.94)/share bid for stock in the company, the bidder said. Polish billionaire Jan Kulczyk’s KI Chemistry is seeking to acquire 66% – amounting to 34.8m shares – of Warsaw-based Ciech.

MOL buys North Sea assets from BASF
Hungary-based oil, gas and petrochemicals producer MOL has acquired offshore North Sea assets with 14 exploration licenses from Wintershall, a subsidiary of Germany-based BASF. Signed on 12 December 2013, the share purchase agreement sees MOL take equity stakes in a portfolio of assets located on the UK Continental Shelf, as well as stakes in infrastructure assets Sullom Voe Terminal and the Brent Pipeline System. MOL has established a new office in Aberdeen, UK, on the back of the acquisition close.

Repsol to use Chevron Phillips tech for PE resins
Repsol’s chemicals division has entered an agreement to use Chevron Phillips Chemical’s technology for production of metallocene-based polyethylene (PE) resins. Repsol will be implementing this technology in its existing integrated site in Tarragona, Spain, which already uses MarTECH SL Loop Slurry Technology, according to Chevron Phillips.

Oxea to ramp up Europe DOTP capacity
Oxea is looking to increase its production capacity of dioctyl terephthalate (DOTP) by 50,000 tonnes/year in Europe by the fourth quarter of 2015, the Germany-based oxo-alcohols producer said. The company signed a memorandum of understanding with a third party to establish a joint production of the plasticizer, which is used in the construction, automotive and flooring sectors.

Eurozone’s PMI expands in March
The eurozone’s Purchasing Managers’ Index expanded in March for the ninth consecutive month at 53.2, although the total reading was slightly lower than February’s, according to flash estimates from Markit Economics. The market analytics firm also noted employment in March in the eurozone rose, although slowly, for a second month. It was the first positive sign in terms of job creation since the end of 2011. Both manufacturing output and new orders increased in March and factory employment rose for the third month.

Rexam receives $135m offer for healthcare unit
Rexam has received a $135m binding offer to acquire the remaining containers and closures division of its healthcare business from Berry Plastics Group. “The transaction requires consultation with French works council and is conditional on the necessary regulatory approval,” the UK-based packaging maker said.


Asia

Idemitsu Kosan restarts Japan cracker
Idemitsu Kosan restarted a 600,000 tonne/year naphtha cracker in Tokuyama western Japan on 23 March, a company source said. The cracker was originally shut down on 14 March as a precautionary measure following an earthquake of 6.3 magnitude which struck off Japan’s southern island of Kyushu near the city of Oita, according to the US Geological Survey. Idemitsu’s 120,000 bbl/day refinery and other petrochemical units at Tokuyama site were also shut down on 14 March.

BMS builds new HDI unit in China
Bayer MaterialScience (BMS) has begun constructing its 50,000 tonne/year precursor hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI) unit in Shanghai, China. The plant’s construction is scheduled for completion in 2016. Bayer has another HDI plant in Shanghai, which was expanded in 2013 from its original annual capacity of 30,000 tonnes/year, the company said without elaborating further on the unit’s new capacity.

Mitsui shuts Chiba phenol/acetone unit
Japan’s Mitsui Chemicals was in the process of shutting down its phenol/acetone plant in Chiba the week ended 28 March for a scheduled overhaul, a company official said. The plant, which has a nameplate capacity of 250,000 tonnes/year of phenol and 90,000 tonnes/year of acetone, will undergo around 35 days of maintenance. Furthermore, the plant will be permanently closed from September 2014, Mitsui Chemicals said in a 6 February joint statement with Idemitsu Kosan.

Daqing Refining & Chem runs PP at full capacity
China’s Daqing Refining & Chemical is running its 300,000 tonne/year polypropylene (PP) line in Heilongjiang province at full capacity, producing PP pipe grade, a source close to the company said. The line was restarted on 17 March, after being taken off line on 15 February for maintenance amid feedstock shortage. The line was producing PP injection prior to the shutdown. The restart is expected to increase the spot availability of PP pipe grade significantly given the line’s huge capacity, according to market players in northern China.

Zhejiang Tiansheng runs polyester lines at 100%
China’s Tiansheng Holding Group is currently running its polyester lines with a combined capacity of 800,000 tonnes/year at full capacity, a company source said. One of the lines was shut for almost three months because of high inventory amid poor sales, the source said. The 200,000 tonne/year line, which produces fully drawn yarn (FDY), was taken off line on 20 December 2013 and was restarted on 15 March 2014. “The inventory reached a peak of 25-30 days in January, and now it [has been] reduced to 13-15 days,” the source said.

Tosoh, Tokuyama restart plants in Japan
Japanese chemical producers Tosoh and Tokuyama have resumed operation of their facilities in western Japan following the restart of Idemitsu Kosan’s naphtha cracker. Tosoh and Tokuyama shut their plants in Shunan, Yamaguchi prefecture, when Idemitsu suspended operation of its 600,000 tonne/year cracker, also located in Shunan, after a big earthquake hit the region on the morning of 14 March. Tosoh and Tokuyama rely on feedstock supply from Idemitsu Kosan’s cracker. Tosoh restarted its 250,000 tonne/year No 1 vinyl chloride monomer (VCM) plant on 22 March, and its 400,000 tonne/year No 3 VCM on 24 March, a company spokesperson said.

Shanghai Golden Phillips restarts HDPE
China’s Shanghai Golden Phillips Petrochemical restarted its 135,000 tonne/year high density polyethylene (HDPE) on 24 March, a company source said. The HDPE plant was shut down on 3 March because of high feedstock costs, the source added. The plant’s restart will have limited impact on the market as it was off line for a short duration only, local distributors said.

India imposes ADD on acetone
India has finalised and extended anti-dumping duties (ADD) on acetone imports from the EU, Singapore, South Africa and the US for five years starting March 2014. Earlier the ADD on imports of acetone from these countries had been extended on an ad hoc basis in June 2012 to be effective until July 2013, an official from India’s Department of Central Excise and Customs (CBEC) said. Following this, the Directorate General for Anti Dumping and Allied Duties (DGAD) completed a comprehensive review of the duties in December 2013 and has now levied definitive ADD on acetone imports.

PTTGC in process of restarting I-1 cracker
Thailand’s PTT Global Chemical (PTTGC) is in the process of restarting its 460,000 tonne/year I-1 gas cracker in Map Ta Phut after around 40 days of maintenance, a company source said. Operations at the company’s 100,000 tonne/year propane dehydrogenation (PDH) unit will also resume, the source said. Both the I-1 cracker and the PDH unit were shut on 9 February.


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