Unscheduled cracker outages back to historical levels

C2 Mar10.pngThe above chart is a real labour of love by ICIS’ Sue Royse. It comes from the indispensable monthly ICIS Worldwide Ethylene Plant Report. This tracks global operating capacity (except Russia/CIS), and details both planned and unplanned shutdowns. It highlights a number of key issues:

• Total nameplate capacity was basically flat during 2008 at c10500kt/month. It began to rise sharply at the end of 2009, and is now at 12000kt/month. ICIS currently expect it to increase to 13000kt/month by the end of 2012.
• This is a c25% capacity increase. Yet demand historically increases in line with global GDP. So even if we return to Boom period growth of c4% (most unlikely in the blog’s view), operating rates will remain well below those 2003-7 levels.

The chart also further explodes the myth that new Middle East/Asian plants have had major delays in starting-up. It is unclear where this myth began, but it seems to have been fed by wildly optimistic expectations in the financial community about the time taken to actually build new cracker complexes.

The chart shows scheduled maintenance as blue columns, and unscheduled as yellow column. The latter rose to historical highs in Q4 2008- Q1 2009, during the great destocking period. But since then, the combined total has reverted to its historical 7% level (left column), in line with the industry norm that maximum operating rates are c93% of nameplate capacity.

About Paul Hodges

Paul Hodges is Chairman of International eChem, trusted commercial advisers to the global chemical industry. The aim of this blog is to share ideas about the influences that may shape the chemical industry over the next 12 – 18 months. It will try to look behind today’s headlines, to understand what may happen next in important issues such oil prices, economic growth and the environment. We may also have some fun, investigating a few of the more offbeat events that take place from time to time. Please do join me and share your thoughts. Between us, we will hopefully develop useful insights into the key factors that will drive the industry's future performance.

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One Response to Unscheduled cracker outages back to historical levels

  1. Paul Ray 19 March, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    A little confused by comment on ‘explodes the myth that new Middle East/Asian plants have had major delays in starting-up’. One has to distinguish between plants starting up (which has now happened or is happening at many places and is duly factored into markets reporting) and running at high commercial rates (which has not yet been achieved for all). A clearer message may be that it definitely took longer than many earlier expectations to get this plant delivered, and we’re now at or very close to a tipping point where the new supply will be in place and impossible to ignore.

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