China boosts domestic MTBE output; may turn net exporter in '15

14 August 2013 05:52 Source:ICIS News

By Hedy Dong

MTBE is an additive used to boost octane levels in gasoline.SINGAPORE (ICIS)--China’s domestic production of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) has risen significantly in recent years thanks to a new technology that may see the country turn into a net exporter of the material by 2015, industry sources said on Wednesday.

By end-2015, China’s MTBE production is forecast to grow to 7.4m tonnes, up 32% from the projected 5.6m tonnes this year, according to data from C1 Energy, an ICIS service in China.

Rising domestic production has seen China becoming less reliant on imports of the material. In 2012, the share of imports to China’s overall MTBE consumption declined to 2.6%, from 11.1% in the previous year, and from 14.7% in 2010, C1 data showed.

 The country's MTBE consumption is estimated to hit 7.3m tonnes by 2015 tonnes from 5.8m tonnes this year.

A wider adoption of a new technology in deriving feedstock isobutene for MTBE production in 2010 has been key in boosting China’s domestic output of the additve that boosts the octane levels in gasoline, industry sources said.

The technology required the building of isomerisation units and isobutane dehydrogenation units that convert n-butene and isobutane contents of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) into isobutene, paving the way for larger-scale production of MTBE.

LPG yielded as by-product of gasoline and diesel at fluid catalytic crackers (FCC) in refineries, contains 30-40% of n-butene and 30% of isobutane, industry sources said.

In the old process, only the pure 12-15% isobutene content in LPG is reacted with methanol to produce MTBE.

With this new technology, a single MTBE plant can have a production capacity of as high as 740,000 tonnes/year, compared with the annual average capacity of 30,000-50,000 tonnes three years ago.

Given the rapid rate of increase in domestic production, China may become a net exporter of MTBE two years from now, industry sources said.

In July, around 10,000 tonnes of Chinese MTBE cargoes were heard sold in the export market under the general trade, and overseas traders have been continuing to make buying enquiries, according to market players.

As domestic production is growing at a rapid rate, China will have the opportunity to eventually export bigger volumes to its neighbouring countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, and even Singapore, industry sources said.

($1 = €0.75 / $1 = CNY6.12)

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By Hedy Dong