By John Richardson
SOUTH Korea is set to raise its ethylene and propylene capacities by 700,000 tonne/year and 740,000 tonne/year by 2013, Seo Kyung Sun, executive director of the consulting business of Seoul-based Chemical Market Research Inc (CMRI) told the blog last week.
Downstream expansions in polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) are also due to take place.
This is further evidence of the optimism - driven by the supercycle theory - which is sweeping through the petrochemicals industry.
The blog visited Seoul last week and came across widespread support for the Morgan Stanley view that market conditions will tighten in 2012-14, leading to historically strong profitability.
Not so long ago South Korea was picked out by consultants as one of the countries which would have to further consolidate, rather than expand, in the face of a flood of new lower-cost Middle East capacity.
But that capacity has been drip-fed into markets, due to all the production and feedstock issues we have documented many times on this blog before, as demand growth has also exceeded all expectations.
South Korean companies - as we will detail later this week - are cash-rich thanks to excellent 2009 and 2010 financial results and soaring share prices, and so funding these expansions will be not be a problem.
Source of picture: noonablog.com
And we understand that in addition to the already-announced projects we are going to detail below, several more expansions - postponed as a result of the 2008 global economic crisis - are being re-evaluated.
We have also been told that one of the South Korean companies we met with last week is considering an investment in a cracker project in China with a Middle East partner that would supply imported liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) feedstock.
South Korea's current ethylene nameplate capacity stands at 7.6m tonne/year with Yeochun Naphtha Cracker Centre (YNCC) the country's biggest cracker player, added CMRI's Kyung Sun.
"YNCC, a joint venture between Daelim and Hanwha Chemicals, has expanded ethylene capacity by 50,000 tonne/year this year and will add a further 300,000 tonne/year in 2012. All the additional ethylene will be for export," she said.
Honam Petrochemical is scheduled to raise its ethylene capacity by 250,000 tonne/year in 2012 while also increasing high-density PE (HDPE) by 250,000 tonne/year, she continued.
And next year will see LG Chem expand ethylene by 100,000 tonne/year. No details were immediately available as to what these extra C2s would be use for.
The country's current propylene capacity is 5.7m tonne/year with expansions set to come via steam cracking (410,000 tonne/year) and fluid catalytic cracking (330,000 tonne/year), said Kyung Sun.
Honam will use its additional propylene output to add to 200,000 tonne/year of PP, she added.
SK Energy is set to increase its linear low-density PE (LLDPE) capacity by 20,000 tonne/year with Hanwha planning a 40,000 tonne/year EVA expansion.
Let us hope, as we've said before, that all this confidence doesn't end in tears.