Aromatics face challenges ahead

Reichstag.pngAttendees had a fascinating two days at our annual European Aromatics & Derivatives Conference in Berlin this week. As always, it was co-organised with ICIS, and featured a strong list of speakers:

Sven Royall, VP at Shell Chemicals, put forward an optimistic outlook for benzene derivatives. He argued that substitution of PS by PP had plateaued, which should encourage styrene volumes, whilst EPS and polycarbonate should continue to do well.

Ralf Kuhlmann, formerly ExxonMobil Business Director, Hydrocarbons, argued that Europe still had a good future in petrochemicals, but needed to adapt its plants to cope with more volatility in market conditions. The ability to run profitably at lower operating rates would be a critical success factor in future.

Matt Chadwick, managing consultant with Wood Mackenzie, said the ‘golden age’ of refining had now passed, with Europe now likely to have an advantage over refineries in the USA due to its greater focus on diesel.

A number of speakers focused on the problems facing the styrene business:

Andrew Jones, Dow’s global business director for aromatics, explained how they had come to the decision to sell their styrene business, whilst Jeff Denton, VP feedstocks for Styron, highlighted the key strategies being implemented by the new company.
Piet Vermeersch, styrene business manager for TOTAL, explained that integration would be key for future styrene profitability, as current production economics were not sustainable.
Hans van der Kaaij, co-products director with LyondellBasell, argued that producers needed to take on more of an advocacy role with regulators.

In the C8 area, Gianluca Girardi, sales manager with Polimeri Europa, discussed the constraints involved in running the business in Italy. Alastair Hensman of Nexant put forward an optimistic overview of the global outlook for the polyester chain. Antonello Ciotti, commercial director of Equipolymers, outlined the issues with recycled PET and the need to work closely with the brand managers in consumer products companies.

Finally, Yu Jing of China’s National Planning Institute, discussed the major new aromatics capacities planned for the 2011-16 period, and said the government’s aim was to balance supply and demand, and to expand further into downstream derivatives. This clearly has major implications for current exporters to China.

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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