News in brief

07 February 2014 10:15 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

EUROPE

SOLVAY CLOSES SODA ASH OPERATIONS IN PORTUGAL
Solvay closed its electrolysis and soda ash facility in Povoa, Portugal, at the end of January as part of cost cutting measures, a company press officer said. Belgium-headquartered Solvay announced mid-last year it would shut down its soda ash plant in Povoa as part of restructuring measures aimed at cutting costs and improving profitability. The company had also said that the plant closure is part of plans to address structural overcapacity in the Mediterranean region.

UNION TAKES ACTION AGAINST INEOS
UK-based union Unite is to pursue legal action against INEOS over the sacking of union convenor Mark Lyon. Unite claims that Lyon, a convenor at INEOS’ Grangemouth, UK complex, was tried in his absence and told of his dismissal on 4 February for not stopping the union from commenting on reports of planned job losses at the site in The Daily Record. The union is to appeal and issue an employment tribunal claim. INEOS did not comment.

EPURE ALERTS SURGE IN PERU ETHANOL IMPORTS
The European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE) has alerted the European Commission to a surge in ethanol imports from Peru since the country entered into a free trade agreement in August 2013. “Official data reveals that exports from Peru between January and October 2013 have more than tripled to over 93m litres compared to 27m litres during the same period in 2012. This surge has occurred in just three months immediately following the removal of import duties,” ePURE said.

FIRST PRODUCTION FOR RENEWABLE 5-HMF
Commercial-scale production of the high-purity renewable platform chemical, 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (5-HMF) has started at the Biochem-1 facility operated by AVA Biochem in Muttenz, Switzerland. In the first phase the plant will produce up to 20 tonnes 5-HMF per year.

CUADRILLA TO FRACK FOR AT TWO SITES IN THE UK
Cuadrilla is to seek permission to carry out hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at two sites in northwest England, the UK-based energy company said. The company is the first to seek permission to frack in the UK since the lifting of a ban on the practice in December. Hydraulic fracturing had been suspended in the UK since mid-2011 following fears that drilling by Cuadrilla near Blackpool in northwest England had triggered a small earthquake in the area.

EU, EUROZONE PRODUCER PRICES RECOVER
EU and eurozone chemical producer prices rose in December 0.2% compared with November following three consecutive months of decline, European statistical agency Eurostat said. Chemical producer prices both in the EU and in the eurozone had not seen a month-on-month increase since August 2013. In September, prices fell in both regions by 0.1%, by 0.6% in October and by 0.4% in November. December’s increase comes as the economic recovery is gaining track.

BP’S Q4 PROFIT DOWN BY 4% ON POOR MARGINS
BP’s petrochemical business posted a 4.34% year-on-year drop in its underlying replacement cost profit before interest and tax to $44m in the fourth quarter of 2013 partly because of poorer margins. For the full year of 2013, the petrochemical business’ underlying replacement cost profit before interest and tax fell by 21.7% year on year to $130m.

TWO LA SEDA PLANTS TO BE SOLD FOR €15M
Two facilities owned by insolvent La Seda de Barcelona are expected to be sold to fellow Spain-based producer Cristian Lay for €15m, a Cristian Lay source said. The facilities include an 170,000 tonne/year polyethylene terephthalate (PET) unit in El Prat de Llobregat, and an 135,000 tonne/year ethylene oxide (EO) and 100,000 tonne/year ethylene glycol (EG) plant belonging to LSB subsidiary Industrias Quimicas Asociadas in Tarragona. Cristian Lay, a jewellery maker, promised to maintain the workforce.

CORRECTION
In the acetic acid Chemical Profile published on 6 January, 2014, the plant list omitted Lenzing’s 25,000 tonne/year renewable-based plant at Lenzing, Austria.


AMERICAS

SOLVAY TO EXPAND US SODA ASH CAPACITY
Solvay will expand its US soda ash production by 150,000 tonnes/year by early 2015 to meet growing demand for its US export markets. “This capacity expansion is an important step in Solvay’s three-year action plan to reinforce its global leadership in soda ash by addressing different regional market dynamics,” said Christophe Clemente, president of Solvay’s Soda Ash & Derivatives Global Business Group. “In line with this plan, announced last June, the Group is gradually expanding its US production capacity by about 12%.” Solvay’s plant in the Green River basin of southwestern Wyoming has a nameplate capacity of 2.54m tonnes/year. This announced production increase would amount to about a 6% increase, according to the ICIS.

W.R. GRACE EMERGES FROM BANKRUPTCY
US-based W.R. Grace has emerged from bankruptcy nearly 13 years after filing for Chapter 11 protection due to asbestos claims. The company’s Joint Plan of Reorganization established two independent trusts to compensate personal injury claimants and property owners. Funding for the trusts will be more than $4bn and will come from cash, warrants to purchase Grace common stock, deferred payment obligations, insurance proceeds and payments to former affiliates. Grace filed for bankruptcy on 2 April 2001.

CBO PROJECTS US ECONOMY TO GROW 3%
The US economy likely will see GDP growth of 3% this year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said, although the nation’s unemployment rate is projected to remain above 6% until late 2016. In its annual forecast, the CBO said that 3% GDP growth is likely to continue through 2017, but that in 2018 and later years “economic growth will diminish to a pace that is well below the average seen over the past several decades”. Since the end of World War II in 1945, US economic expansion generally has been at 3% to 3.5% annually, what economists consider “trend growth” for the nation.

BRAZIL PROCESSED PLASTICS TRADE DEFICIT UP
Brazil’s trade deficit in processed plastics stood at just under $2.45bn in 2013, an increase of about 8.9% from a deficit of $2.25bn in 2012, according to statistics released by plastics industry association Abiplast. Exports of plastics during 2013 were up by about 4.5% year over year to $1.40bn, while imports increased by about 7.0% to $3.84bn. In volume terms, the deficit increased by about 3.3% to 485,700 tonnes from 470,400 tonnes recorded in the previous year.

REG STARTS BIODIESEL PLANT EXPANSION
Renewable Energy Group (REG), a large US biodiesel producer and marketer, broke ground on a $13.2m improvement project at its Newton biodiesel refinery in Iowa. The upgrades will increase the plant’s ability to produce a higher purity biodiesel from a wider array of raw materials, REG said. “This investment shows our continuing confidence in biodiesel for the long-term,” said CEO Daniel Oh. “It furthers our efforts to enhance our lower-cost, multi-feedstock biodiesel business by continuing to broaden our customer base and provide more options for our customers to choose from.”

INDUSTRY URGES BETTER TSCA REFORM
US chemicals industry officials urged Congress to improve testing and data-collection procedures as part of a modernisation and reform of the fundamental federal law governing chemicals in commerce. In a hearing before the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, industry leaders asked Congress to give the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more flexible authority for testing chemicals already in commercial use. But they also asked that Congress require EPA to conduct a specific number of evaluations each year to speed what has been a long-delayed process.

KODA BUYS THE DEWOLF COMPANIES
US-based KODA Distribution Group (KDG) has acquired The DeWolf Companies, which serve the personal care, colour cosmetic and household, industrial and institutional (HI&I) markets in North America. The DeWolf Companies now form the operating entities within the newly created KODA Care business unit. The DeWolf companies include DeWolf Chemical, Glenn and Tempo Canada.

US MANUFACTURING PMI GROWTH SLOWS IN JAN
The Institute for Supply Management’s (ISM) US manufacturing purchasing managers index (PMI) fell to a reading of 51.3% in January versus 56.5% in December. The institute said that while the nation’s manufacturing sector continued to expand in January, the pace of growth slowed significantly. Much of the fall-off was attributed to harsh weather rather than demand economics. The January reading was the sharpest decline in the PMI in more than a year and is the lowest point since May last year when the index was 50% and the manufacturing sector was on the verge of contracting.


ASIA

UAE’S BOROGUE RESTARTS PROPYLENE UNIT
United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Borouge has restarted its olefins conversion unit (OCU) at its petrochemical complex in Abu Dhabi. The source did not give any details on when the unit was restarted but market players said production likely resumed towards the end of the week ending 31 January. Borouge has also resumed downstream polypropylene (PP) production. The OCU, which can produce 752,000 tonnes of propylene per year, was shut in mid-January due to a review of the reliability of the plant.

FPC TO SHUT MAILIAO EVA PLANTS IN 2014
Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics Corp (FPC) plans to take its ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) plants in Mailiao offline for turnarounds in end March or early April. Both plants have been producing EVA in full tilt since early October 2013. The turnaround is expected to last more than 20 days but it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the EVA market as the strong demand season is expected to taper off by then. EVA resin has applications in sports shoe soles, sandals, wire and cable coatings, hotmelt adhesives as well as in solar panels.

MITSUI CHEM TO SHUT PHENOL/ACETONE PLANTS
Japan’s Mitsui Chemicals plans to shut its three phenol/acetone plants in Japan separately for maintenance in 2014. The first plant to undergo maintenance is its phenol/acetone plant in Chiba, which has a nameplate capacity of 250,000 tonnes/year of phenol and 90,000 tonnes/year of acetone. The plant will be taken off line in late March to undergo maintenance lasting approximately 35 days. The producer operates a second phenol/acetone plant in Chiba, which can produce 190,000 tonnes/year of phenol and 114,000 tonnes/year of acetone.

SAMSUNG TOTAL EYES EVA PLANT MID-FEB START-UP
South Korea’s Samsung Total plans to start up its new 240,000 tonne/year ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)/low density polyethylene (LDPE) tubular plant in Daesan on 11 February 2014 following a slight delay. There was a slight delay in the delivery of parts from the manufacturer,” an official said. The official added that the plant will produce mainly LDPE in the beginning stage whereas EVA production will start in mid-March after production stabilises.

MITSUI CHEM SHUTS ISOCYNATES UNITS
Mitsui Chemicals’ 120,000 tonne/year toluene di-isocyanate (TDI) unit in Omuta, Fukuoka prefecture in southern Japan is currently shut for scheduled maintenance that started on 29 January. Its 60,000 tonne/year methyl di-p-phenylene isocyanate (MDI) facility has also been shut. Both units are expected to resume production by 13 February. Mitsui Chemicals’ second 120,000 tonne/year unit in Kashima will operate at full capacity.

HYUNDAI COSMO DAESAN PX UNIT OPERATING AT 75%
South Korea’s Hyundai Cosmo (HC) Petrochemical is currently operating its 800,000 tonne/year paraxylene (PX) unit in Daesan at 75% of capacity. The unit was previously operating at around 80-85% in January. HC Petrochemical further cut operating rates at the 800,000 tonne/year PX unit from 1 February because of the weak margin spread between isomer-grade xylene and PX. The spread between isomer-grade xylene and PX stood at $150/tonne on 30 January, according to ICIS data. Ahealthy spread between both products is at around $200-220/tonne, according to several market participants.

SICHUAN TIANHUA BDO PLANT BACK ON LINE
China’s Sichuan Tianhua has restarted its 60,000 tonne/year butanediol (BDO) plant after nearly two months of shutdown. The plant in Sichuan province resumed operations on 24 January. The BDO plant was taken off line on 30 November 2013. After the restart of Sichuan Tianhua’s unit, China BDO plants’ average run rate has increased to 60% from 55%.

TTPI POLENE SWINGS TO LDPE PRODUCTION
Thailand’s TPI Polene has swung production at its 158,000 tonne/year ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA)/ low density polyethylene (LDPE) swing plant at Map Ta Phut to produce LDPE at full tilt since 21 January for a duration of around two weeks. The plant can produce 75,000-78,000 tonnes/year of EVA at one of its two tubular reactors. “The plant has been producing LDPE full tilt since 21 January because of a local market shortage of the polymer,” an official said, adding that the plant may resume EVA production by early February.


MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA

SAMAPCO EYES Q2 RUNS AT NEW CHLOR-ALKALI PLANT
Sahara & Ma’aden Petrochemicals Co (SAMAPCO) is expected to start commercial operations at its chlor-alkali facility in Saudi Arabia in the second quarter of the year. The plant is designed to produce 250,0000 tonnes/year of concentrated caustic soda and 300,000 tonnes/year of ethylene dichloride (EDC). Trial production at the plant started sometime in August 2013 and is expected to be completed in the second quarter this year, after which commercial operations can begin. SAMAPCO is a 50:50 joint venture between Sahara Petrochemicals and Saudi Arabian Mining Co (Ma’aden).

EPPC PLANT RUNNING SINCE 23 DECEMBER - CEO
Egyptian Propylene and Polypropylene Company’s (EPPC) plant at Port Said has now restarted following earlier production problems, the company’s CEO said in an email seen by ICIS on 30 January. Fikry Youssef, CEO and executive chairman, said the facility had restarted on 23 December. There has been some confusion over the plant’s restart date, with a separate source suggesting earlier that it would be down until 1 February. According to ICIS data, the plant has a polypropylene capacity of 400,000 tonnes/year.

By Will Beacham