News in brief

04 April 2014 09:33  [Source: ICB]

Europe

Versalis Dunkirk BD project ‘frozen’
Versalis’s project to build new butadiene (BD) production at its site in Dunkirk, France, has been frozen, a company source said. Speaking on the sidelines of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers’ (AFPM) International Petrochemical Conference (IPC), the company source said the project had been frozen and “may be close to disappearing” as the possibility of importing ethane into Dunkirk as cracker feedstock instead is looked at.

Hungary’s MOL backs CEO after indictment
Hungary’s oil and gas major MOL said it remains fully satisfied with its CEO’s explanations of his innocence after anti-corruption police in Croatia announced an indictment related to the changes in the management board at refiner INA. Croatia’s police anti-graft unit USKOK said it had indicted MOL’s CEO, Zsolt Hernadi, for striking a deal with former prime minister of Croatia Ivo Sanader that would mean the latter doing “everything possible for the amount of €10m to change the shareholders’ agreement in INA”.

Bayer to divest nano technology, patents
Bayer has signed an agreement with Germany’s FutureCarbon to sell intellectual property, technology and the bulk of its patents related to its carbon nanotubes and graphenes operations, the German chemical major’s subsidiary said. The deal is being carried out by subsidiary Bayer MaterialScience following the conclusion of its research work into carbon nanotubes, the company said. Financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

Evonik sells stakes in two vehicle battery firms
Germany-based chemicals producer Evonik has sold its interests in two electric vehicle battery manufacturers to Stuttgart-headquartered automobile maker Daimler. Daimler is to acquire a 50.1% stake in Li-Tec Battery and a 10% stake in Deutsche ACCUmotive, making it the sole owner of both ventures. Evonik said that it “had been seeking new perspectives for its lithium-ion business”. Sale terms were not disclosed.

Europe chem, energy firms focus on N America
Project development activity in the European chemicals and energy sector will be low this year as companies in the region focus on North America, according to an industry legal expert. “European companies are focused on North America. I think that the [project] development activity will be low,” said Hugh Tucker, a partner at Houston-based law firm Baker Botts. Merger and acquisition (M&A) activity may be a little higher, he said, with some larger companies taking a long-term view and targeting “distressed assets”.

Solvay to double copolymer production
Solvay Polyamide & Intermediates (P&I) is set to double the copolymer production capacity at its Freiburg site in Germany, a source at the Brussels-headquartered chemicals group said. Solvay expects the expansion to go on-stream at the end of 2014 following clearance within the next few months from German regulation authorities.

Romanian govt GETS no binding bids for Oltchim
Romania-based petrochemical and plastics manufacturer Oltchim has received no binding bids in a tender for the sale of ‘Oltchim II’, a special purpose vehicle (SPV) that includes its core business and assets, according to the company’s administrators. The purchase offer submission deadline expired on 28 March. Oltchim was entered into insolvency proceedings and placed under the management of a special administrator in January last year by the economy ministry, after a previous attempt at privatising the indebted firm collapsed.

H&R’s 2013 EBITDA down 34% on falling prices
H&R AG’s full-year 2013 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell by 34% year on year to €32.6m, according to the Germany-based specialties chemicals and refined products producer, on the back of falling prices driven by international competition.

BDI BioEnergy returns to positive EBIT in 2013
BDI BioEnergy International posted an operating profit or earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) of €2.6m in 2013, compared to a loss of €6.7m in 2012, helped by a compensation payment received in the fourth quarter of the year, the Austria-based biofuels firm said. The positive EBIT result also came on the back of significant higher sales at €35.5m, up from €29.8m in 2012.

Europe producers look to propylene imports
Demand for propylene from European producers looks set to continue as they seek to fulfill contract obligations, a trader said on the sidelines of the International Petrochemical Conference (IPC). “There is still plenty of demand [for propylene] and it’s coming from producers rather than consumers,” the trader said.


Americas

Brenntag acquires Gafor Distribuidora for fee
Brenntag has acquired specialty solvents distributor Gafor Distribuidora for an undisclosed fee, the German firm said in a statement. The deal is expected to be closed over the next few weeks, the company added. “By acquiring Gafor, we [will] expand our market presence in Brazil as [it is] the most important chemical distribution market in Latin America,” Steven Holland, the CEO of Brenntag, said. This will “add critical mass” to the company’s existing operation in the country, Holland said.

Celanese considering another methanol facility
Celanese is considering building another methanol plant, this one in south Texas, the US-based chemical producer said. Celanese said in a prepared statement that it is preparing to apply for the necessary environmental construction permits for a 1.3m tonne/year plant at the company’s Bishop site near Kingsville. Earlier this year, Celanese received a permit to start construction of a methanol plant at its huge acetyls complex in Clear Lake, near Houston.

US March auto sales up 5.7% year on year
US March auto sales rose by 5.7% year on year, according to an AutoData report, halting a three-month streak of decreases.  US March sales of passenger cars and light trucks totalled 1.537m units, up from 1.454m units during the same month last year, the US-based auto research firm said. Among the major US producers, Chrysler posted a 13% year-on-year gain in March auto sales. General Motors and Ford saw sales increase by 4.1% and 3.3%, respectively.

Canada chemical prices rise 2.1% in Feb from Jan
Canadian chemical prices rose 2.1% in February from January, driven by a 7.9% increase in prices for petrochemicals, the country’s federal statistics office said in a data release. Chemical prices were up 5.2% compared to February 2013, with the year-on-year increase also driven higher prices for petrochemicals, which were up 13.6% year over year, Statistics Canada said. Meanwhile, prices for plastics and rubber products rose 0.4% in February from January, and by 1.2% year on year during the month.

Alcoa invests $40m to expand Brazil rolling mill
Alcoa plans to invest $40m to expand its rolling mill in Itapissuma near Recife in Brazil, the US-based international aluminium major said. Alcoa said that the investment will help it meet Brazil’s increasing demand for specialty foils in aseptic and flexible packages. Aseptic packages are typically a mix of thin aluminium, plastics and cardboard type paper. The company expects to commission the expansion in early 2016. The project will increase employment at the Itapissuma site by 50 people to 750.

US manufacturing sees more orders in March
US manufacturing industries saw improved orders, production and exports in March, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said, with a key measure of growth indicating further recovery from the harsh US winter season. In its monthly purchasing managers index (PMI), the institute said that the measure rose 0.5 percentage point in March from the February reading to 53.7%.

Poland’s Synthos plans synthetic rubber plant
Poland-based synthetic rubber producer Synthos is planning to open a neodymium polybutadiene rubber (Nd-PBR) plant in Brazil, the company said. The plant, based on Michelin neodymium catalyst technology, is to utilise raw materials from leading Brazilian petrochemical producer Braskem, it added. Synthos has signed a conditional 15-year agreement with Braskem, valued at Polish zloty (Zl) 4.5bn (€1.1bn) for the supply of butadiene (BD) to the synthetic rubber plant, due to be operational by 2017.

Dow Texas City VAM plant going down in April
Dow Chemical’s 365,000 tonnes/year vinyl acetate monomer (VAM) plant in Texas City will go down in April for planned maintenance, a source close to the company said. The turnaround highlights plant and supply issues that have pushed up US VAM FOB (free on board) export prices sharply in March to $1,500-1700/tonne from just over $1,000/tonne at the beginning of the year.

Executives see active year for M&A in the US
A wave of mergers and divestitures in the US could be in the offing for 2014 based on survey results released by KPMG consultancy. Of the 100 oil and gas executives surveyed for the KPMG’s 2014 outlook, 56% said that they expect their company to initiate an acquisition in 2014, while 39% expect to initiate a divestiture. Some 56% of respondents said that consolidation of core businesses would be the primary driver of merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in 2014.


Asia

Taiwan’s TSRC to shut SBR plant in late April
Taiwan Synthetic Rubber Corp (TSRC) will shut its 100,000 tonne/year styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) plant in Kaohsiung from 25 April for about three weeks for scheduled maintenance. The company will shut the unit from 25 April till mid-May for a planned maintenance. The plant was originally scheduled to shut in early April but the shutdown was pushed back by two weeks because the producer has to build up inventories.

China’s Hubei Shuanghuan resumes production
China’s Hubei Shuanghuan Science and Technology Co has resumed production at its soda ash plant at a higher operating rate of 80%, following the completion of upgrading works. The producer was running the 1m tonne/year soda ash plant in Hubei province at 20% in the week ended 26 March, because of upgrading works on the power grid. The plant can produce 700,000 tonnes/year of light-grade soda ash and 300,000 tonnes/year of dense-grade soda ash.

Japan’s JX Nippon restarts Marifu FCC on 1 April
Japan’s JX Nippon Oil & Energy restarted its fluid catalytic cracker (FCC) in Marifu on 1 April after an extended turnaround. The unit is expected to attain on-spec production for propylene the following day. The FCC, which can produce around 50,000 tonnes/year of propylene, was originally scheduled to shut for around 30 days from 20 February, but the restart date was pushed back due to mechanical issues.

China’s Jinling Petchem shuts Nanjing PX unit
China’s Jinling Petrochemical shut its 720,000 tonne/year paraxylene (PX) unit located at Nanjing on 31 March for a catalyst change. The shutdown is expected to last for 18-20 days, the source added. The impact due to the shutdown will be kept to minimal as supply remains ample within the country because of lower operating rates at downstream facilities.

Taiwan’s FPC to restart Mailiao EVA plants
Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp (FPC) is planning to restart its ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) plants in Mailiao in the latter half of April following the completion of maintenance. FPC operates a 72,000 tonne/year EVA/low density polyethylene (LDPE) swing plant as well as a 168,000 tonne/year tubular EVA plant at the same site. The plants were shut two days ago for maintenance and they would be restarted in the latter half of April.

Developing Asia economies to see growth
Developing Asian economies will likely extend their steady economic growth this year, with higher demand from recovering advanced economies to be partly dampened by moderating growth in China, according to the the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Developing Asian economies are expected to see GDP growth of 6.2% and 6.4% in 2014 and 2015, respectively, compared with the 6.1% expansion in 2013, ADB said in its Asian Development Outlook 2014 publication.

Jiangsu Weitian to achieve on-spec production
China’s Jiangsu Weitian Chemical was expected to achieve on-spec production at its new 150,000 tonne/year coke oven gas-based methanol plant at Jiangsu in east China by 6 April. The company brought its new methanol plant on stream on 21 March. Construction of the plant started in end 2012. With the new start-up, Jiangsu Weitian Chemical’s total methanol capacity has reached 300,000 tonnes/year. The company operates a separate 150,000 tonne/year coke oven gas-based methanol plant at the same site.

India’s RIL to start commercial production
India’s Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) is expected to start commercial production at its new 40,000 tonne/year butadiene rubber (BR) plant at Hazira in Gujarat in the week beginning 7 April after trial runs were completed successfully. The BR plant was previously expected to start at the end of March. The new plant will expand RIL’s total BR capacity to 120,000 tonnes/year. RIL currently runs an 80,000 tonne/year BR plant at Baroda, which is also in the Gujarat state.

Datang may restart coal-based SNG plant
China’s Datang International Power Generation is expected to restart its 1.3bn cubic metre/year (bcm/year) coal-based synthetic natural gas (SNG) plant at Hexigten Qi in Inner Mongolia autonomous region in early April. The plant is the first phase of a 4.0bcm/year coal-based SNG project at the same site. It was shut in January 2014 because of a glitch with the gasification furnace. China so far has approved over 10 coal-based SNG projects.


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