Despite the uncertainty surrounding markets prospects and the risk of another demand-led downturn, petrochemical producers are busy planning expansions and new investments.
At last week's Apic conference in Mumbai, a source close to Total Petrochemicals revealed that the company was looking to produce more petrochemicals downstream of its joint-venture refinery project in Saudi Arabia.
The 400,000 bbls/day refinery project, executed by Saudi Aramco Total Refining and Petrochemical Co (Satorp), already includes 700,000 tonnes/year of paraxylene (PX), 200,000 tonnes/year of polymer-grade propylene and 140,000 tonnes/year of benzene.
The project is progressing well and was expected to be completed in 2013.
All the PX would be exported at the beginning until derivative plants were built in Jubail, said the source.
"The propylene and benzene are destined to stay in Jubail and Satorp has been through a bidding process to find local consumers," he added.
Satrop is also expected to supply refinery feedstocks to a cracker project being developed by Saudi Aramco and Dow Chemical. The project - initially planned for Ras Tanura - is likely to be moved to Al-Jubail.
The blog had earlier reported that Total's cracker joint venture in Qatar, Ras Laffan Olefins, would also be expanding its capacity. The source clarified that the expansion would initially be based on ethane.
"The company sees a bubble of ethane availability from the Pearl gas-to-liquids (GTL) project which will be about 1m tonnes/year. They are looking to take that and expand the cracker from 1.3m tonnes/year to 1.6m tonnes/year," he said.
As the ethane would not be available to RLOC for the long term, the company was also looking at cracking propane, he added.
If the expansion is feasible, RLOC would do it by 2011-2012.
The additional ethylene would be used by Q-Chem and Qatofin to debottleneck their derivative plants, he added.
Other newly commissioned crackers are also likely to be expanded in the next couple of years.
Indian Oil Corp (IOC) plans to soon start expanding its newly commissioned cracker at Panipat by 25%.
"We will immediately take up the expansion proposal after stabilization of operations at the cracker; we have already made provision for a 25% capacity expansion," said a company executive said on the sidelines Apic.
After the expansion, the cracker would be able to produce 1.2m tones/year of ethylene and propylene. The cracker currently produces 857,000 tones/year of ethylene and about 500,000 tonnes/year of propylene.
The company would either debottleneck the exisiting deriviative plants or look at new derivatives such as low-density polyethylene or ethylene oxide.
A senior executive at ExxonMobil said in an interview with ICIS news at Apic that a study was on to expand its joint-venture cracker in Fujian, China. The Fujian complex includes a 240,000bbl/day refinery and an 800,000 tonne/year ethylene steam cracker with downstream plants.
Its downstream plants include an 800,000 tonne/year polyethylene unit, a 400,000 tonne/year polypropylene unit and a 700,000 tonne/year paraxylene unit.
And also in China, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), has issued an initial permit for a joint-venture refinery and petrochemical complex between Sinopec and Kuwait Petroleum Corp (KPC) in Guangdong province, reports ICIS news.
The $9b joint-venture project - which includes a 15m tonne/year refinery, a 1m tonne/year cracker and other chemical units - was forced to relocate to Zhanjiang from the earlier planned site in Nansha, also in the province, last year because of environmental concerns.
The project in the south of Guangdong province is expected to come on stream in late 2013. A clearer picture on the completion date is possible only after the companies get the final approval.
Earlier this week, India's Reliance Industries announced it has signed an agreement with Sibur to produce butyl rubber at Jamnagar. Reliance is planning a number of petrochemical projects in India including a huge cracker and new plants for polyethylene, monoethylene glycol, purified terephthalic acid, polyester and other synthetic rubbers such as styrene butadiene rubber and polybutadiene rubber. Details are still awaited.