One piece at a time

By Malini Hariharan

Yesterday’s announcement by Asahi Kasei, Sabic and Mitsubishi Chemical of a joint-venture acrylonitrile (AN) project in Saudi Arabia fills up one more slot in the kingdom’s petrochemical value chain and supports the move downstream.

Sceptics might question the viability of this strategy but Saudi companies are slowly pressing ahead.

Mohammed Al-Mady, Sabic’s CEO, said the AN project’s key driver was the Saudi National Industrial Clusters Development Program which aims at growing and diversifying the kingdom’s manufacturing sector.

The plan is to build plants for 200,000 tonnes/year of acrylonitrile and 40,000 tonnes/year of sodium cyanide at Al Jubail. A start-up date has yet to be confirmed but a final investment decision is due in 2012.

“AN and NaCN are very important chemicals for downstream diversification into acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), carbon fiber, acrylic fiber and acrylamide,” noted Al-Mady.

For Asahi, completion of the project will fulfill its target of becoming the world’s largest AN producer with a total capacity of 1.4m tonnes/year. It is currently at No2 with 750,000 tonnes/year of capacity with plants in Japan, South Korea. A new 200,000 tonnes/year unit in Thailand is due to start this year and a 245,000 tonnes/year plant in South Korea due in 2013.

Interestingly, the Saudi project will be based on propylene technology and not on the new propane process that Asahi is using in the Thai project. It’s not clear why this is not being pursued, especially as Asahi had in the past talked about using the propane-based process in Saudi Arabia to boost its competitiveness.

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