Formosa up but not out of the woods yet

By Malini Hariharan

Operations at the Formosa group of companies in Mailiao, Taiwan, are slowly resuming but the group faces an uphill task in regaining public and government confidence in its ability to run plants safely.

There have been seven accidents in the last twelve months with two fires at the Mailiao complex in July. The latest incident was a fire at a propylene recovery unit at end-July which forced Formosa Petrochemical to shut its refinery. An accident in May led to the shutdown of its No1 cracker and an aromatics unit operated by Formosa Chemicals and Fibre Corp.

The reasons for these accidents are still being studied but there are indications that the Formosa companies slipped in maintenance of the facilities. A shortage of manpower could have been one of the reasons for this, said Jack Shieh, general manager at the Petrochemical Industry Association of Taiwan (PIAT), in an interview with ICIS news yesterday.

The Formosa group will now need to conduct monthly inspection at 70 plants, pipelines and other equipment at the Mailiao complex, a heavy burden as the exercise would require considerable money and also manpower.

In addition to this, all the plants will have to be shut within a year for maintenance. The sequence of shutdowns will be determined based on Taiwan’s domestic requirement of the various products.

Meanwhile, Formosa Petrochemical has restarted the No1 crude distillation unit and the No2 unit is due to start at end-August, reports ICIS news. The No3 unit is like to resume production in early September.

This would enable the company to quickly restart one of its two residual fluid catalytic cracker (RFCC) units which are together capable of producing 650,000 tonnes/year of propylene. The second unit is likely to remain offline until mid-September.

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