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Mixed plastic waste and pyrolysis oil news

BLOG: Petrochemicals after the Supercycle: Revised scenarios

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Asian Chemical Connections by John Richardson. The slide in today’s post is an updated version of the slide I first published late last year. Note that there is a new scenario added to the original two, A Bi-polar World. I could be wrong, of course. I might have given the wrong weightings to each of the scenarios, or more simply have chosen the wrong scenarios entirely. But today’s events point to very different outcomes than we saw during the 1992-2021 Petrochemicals Supercycle. Supermajors – 25% probabilityA small number of oil-and-gas-to-petrochemicals players dominate the business as they have increasingly turned oil and natural-gas liquids into petrochemicals at competitive costs. This is in response to the decline in crude-oil demand into transportation fuels because of the electrification of vehicles. Non-integrated petrochemical producers in Europe, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Southeast Asia consolidate. Large swathes of capacity closes-down in these countries and regions to balance markets. A Bi-Polar World – 50% probabilityThe split between China and the US, and possibly the EU as well, widens. The rest of the developed world, including major petrochemical players in countries such as South Korea, Singapore and Japan, will need to decide where they stand: With the US and its partners or with China and its partners. They are at risk of losing access to the China market. Petrochemicals trade is largely confined to between China and its partners and between the US and its partners. No one scenario will be completely right. We could end up at any of many points between each of these three extreme outcomes. This is the case with Supermajors and A Bi-polar World. It could be that the closer relationship between Saudi Arabia and China allows Saudi Arabia to supply more of China’s petrochemicals deficits, allowing the Kingdom to perhaps realise some of its crude-oil-to-chemicals ambitions. A De-globalised World – 25% probabilityMarkets are in general much more regional. Instead of just a bi-polar world, we end up with beggar-thy-neighbour trade barriers similar in scale to the ones which led to the Great Depression. Petrochemical companies become much more “local for local”. Governments put up barriers to protect jobs and to ensure refineries don’t shut down along with uncompetitive petrochemical plants, thereby by protecting local supplies of transportation fuels. While extreme outcomes help push people out their comfort zones, supporting local petrochemical companies might instead fit at some mid-way point between all the scenarios. And “local for local” shouldn’t be viewed as automatically a bad thing. One can argue that because of today’s highly uncertain geopolitical world, local supplies of at least some petrochemicals are essential. Calling all senior management teams out there: You need to prepare your teams for the world after the Petrochemicals Supercycle. Editor’s note: This blog post is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS.

19-Jul-2024

INSIGHT: OUTLOOK: US chems may see revival of programs, UN plastic treaty

HOUSTON (ICIS)–The US chemical industry could see the return of some popular trade and chemical-safety programs later this year, and customers of the major railroads could get their first chance to switch carriers if they get bad service. The year is turning out to be a busy and potentially productive one despite the presidential election Key trade and security bills for the chemical industry could pass during the lame duck session, which falls between the November 5 election day and the January 20 inauguration Globally, the final round of negotiations for the UN plastics treaty should take place near the end of the year UN PLASTICS TREATYThe concern of the chemical industry is that the ratified plastic treaty could include caps or curbs on the production of plastic. Companies such as BASF have advocated that the treaty should focus on curbing pollution instead. Chemical companies have noted a growing consensus around the industry's views, leading them to be optimistic about the upcoming negotiations. The next round of talks is scheduled for November 25 through December 1 in Busan, South Korea. Formal ratification could take place in early 2025. RECRIPROCAL SWITCHING MAY GET FIRST TRIALReciprocal switching in the US will become effective in September, which will allow chemical companies to switch rail carriers if they can demonstrate substandard service. Reciprocal switching will be limited to Class 1 railroad companies, which are the biggest carriers. Redress for bad service is not automatic, and the process will require time, effort and legal fees on the part of chemical companies. "The question is how laborious and costly will that process be when you file a complaint?" said Eric Byer, president of the Alliance for Chemical Distribution (ACD) the new name for the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD). Still, it is possible that a chemical company upset with its rail service takes the plunge and files the first request for reciprocal switching. NEW RAIL BILL AND POSSIBLE TANK CAR BANA rail safety bill that passed the Senate shortly after the Norfolk Southern train derailment in Ohio state has recently received momentum that could push it into law. That momentum is coming from HR 8996, a sister bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives by Troy Nehls (Republican-Texas) and Seth Moulton (Democrat-Massachusetts). Related to the bill is a possible ban on DOT 111 tank cars. The ban is also connected to the derailment, since it is part of a settlement agreement between the US and Norfolk Southern. The agreement proposes that Norfolk Southern stop using its own DOT-111 tank cars and that it encourages its customers to do the same. The ACD is concerned that the agreement could be the first step in an outright ban of DOT 111 tank cars. Such a ban could take place before the industry has time to replace the tank cars. Hazardous materials would then be shipped by truck, which is more dangerous. A ban would also disrupt the movement of chemicals if it happens too quickly. REVIVAL OF CHEM SECURITY PROGRAMLegislators could revive the nation's main anti-terrorism program for chemical sites, which is known as the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS). CFATS has been inactive for about a year, after a bill that would have re-authorized it was blocked by US Senator Rand Paul (Republican-Kentucky). While CFATS has lost its authorization, it has not lost funding. Were Congress to re-authorize CFATS, employees who were associated with the program could be reassigned to it. Senators could attempt to revive CFATS through an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Byer said. That could happen later in September or during the lame duck legislative session, Byers said. Another tactic would add an amendment to the appropriations bill, he said. Congress will likely consider the appropriations bill during the lame duck session. REVIVAL OF TRADE PROGRAMSTwo trade programs popular with the chemical industry could also be revived during the lame duck session. The Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) expired at the end of 2020, and it eliminated duties on thousands of products from more than a 100 developing countries. Prior to its expiration, the GSP had existed for decades. Byer said a bill could bring back the GSP program and make it retroactive to January 1, 2021. If such a bill becomes law, companies would receive rebates for the taxes they paid while the GSP program was inactive. The GSP has typically been coupled with another expired trade program, known as the Miscellaneous Tariff Bill (MTB), Byer said. The MTB temporarily reduced or suspended import tariffs on specific products, and it could be packaged with any other legislative action that would revive the GSP. ELECTION SEASON TO LIMIT NEW BILLS, POLICIESOutside of the trade and security bills, Byer does not expect a lot of new legislation because of the elections. Similarly, the pace of new policies and rulemaking at federal agencies should slow down. Any regulatory relief would be a welcomed change because the first half of 2024 was the worst regulatory climate that the chemical industry has ever seen, Byer said. The regulatory climate could change after the elections on November 5. Otherwise, the chemical industry may have to turn to the courts to challenge policies that have a questionable basis and a harmful effect on companies. Insight article by Al Greenwood Thumbnail shows plastic waste. Image by HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

18-Jul-2024

Braskem Idesa ethane supply more stable, PE prices to recover in H2 2025 – exec

MADRID (ICIS)–Supply of ethane from Pemex to polyethylene (PE) producer Braskem Idesa is now more stable after a renegotiation of the contract – but the global PE market remains in the doldrums, according to an executive at the Mexican firm. Sergio Plata, head of institutional relations and communications at Braskem Idesa, said a recovery in global PE prices could start in the second half of 2025 as the market is expected to remain oversupplied in the coming quarters. Plata explained how Braskem Idesa had to renegotiate the terms of an agreement with Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned crude oil major, for the supply of natural gas-based ethane, one of the routes to produce PE, to its facilities in Coatzacoalcos. Supply is now more stable and in the quantities agreed, he said. Braskem Idesa operates the Ethylene XXI complex in Coatzacoalcos, south of the industrial state of Veracruz, which has capacity to produce 1.05 million tonnes/year of ethylene and downstream capacities of 750,000 tonnes/year for high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and 300,000 tonnes/year for low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Braskem Idesa is a joint venture made up of Brazil’s polymers major Braskem (75%) and Mexican chemical producer Grupo Idesa (25%). ETHANE FLOWING, TERMINAL IN Q1 2025 Pemex agreed with Braskem Idesa to supply the PE producer with a minimum volume of 30,000 barrels/day of ethane until the beginning of 2025, when Braskem Idesa plans to start up an import terminal in Coatzacoalcos to allow it to tap into exports out of the US Gulf Coast. However, both parties sat to renegotiate that agreement after Pemex’s supply proved to be unstable, with credit rating agencies such as Fitch warning in 2023 of the “operational risk” such a deal with the state-owned major represented for Braskem Idesa. The outcome of the renegotiation is starting to bear fruit, explained Plata diplomatically, without providing any details. He conceded, however, that to outsiders, Pemex’s businesses could look rather odd. “We understand the positions of a public entity such as Pemex, and we understand its methods could look questionable to eyes outside our relationship,” said Plata. “However, at Braskem Idesa we were confident that if we sat down with them to renegotiate, clearly stating what we require from each other, we could reach a point in the renegotiation which worked for us as a company and for the Mexican petrochemicals sector as a whole.” Together with more stable supply from Pemex, Braskem Idesa also adopted the so-called Fast Track to import ethane while its own import terminal starts up. The terminal, known as Terminal Quimica Puerto Mexico (TQPM), closed the last financing details at the end of 2023. Plata said the terminal would start up “without a doubt” by the beginning of 2025, adding that construction was 70% complete by the beginning of July. According to Plata, with Pemex’s more stable ethane supply and the Fast Track system, Braskem Idesa is operating at 70-75% capacity utilization. PE MARKET WOES As a PE producer, Braskem Idesa remains exposed to the global downturn in polymers prices due to oversupplies. Plata said the downturn has been a “very hard” period for polymers producers, who may still face 12 more months of downturn. In its latest financial statement for the first quarter, Braskem Idesa’s sales fell by 2%, year on year, and the company posted a net loss. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) rose. Braskem Idesa (in $ million) Q1 2024 Q1 2023 Change Q4 2023 Change Q1 2024 vs Q4 2024 Sales 229 234 -2% 199 15% Net profit/loss -85 1 N/A -101 -16% EBITDA 36 26 36% 26 39% PE sales volumes (in tonnes) 205,500 195,100 5.4% 174,500 17.8% “We have had a very complex environment, with increased capacities in the US or China and with the war in Ukraine raising our production costs. We are undoubtedly in a down cycle and as a company we have tried to take care of our margins by controlling our costs and look closely at our investments,” said Plata. He said he “would not have the answer” about what to do with China’s dumping of product around the world, a fact that in Brazil, the largest Latin American economy, has prompted chemicals trade group Abiquim to lobby hard for higher import tariffs in polymers, as well as dozens of other chemicals. “Market analysts predict the current cycle may come to an end in the second half of 2025. Let’s hope so… This has been such a long crisis, aggravated by external factors such as wars and global convulsions, which undoubtedly also affect the industry, and the environment remains very uncertain.” Front page picture: Braskem Idesa’s facilities in Coatzacoalcos Source: Braskem Idesa Interview article by Jonathan Lopez Next week, ICIS will publish the second part of the interview with Plata, with his views on the challenges and opportunities for the chemicals and manufacturing sectors under the upcoming Administration led by President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum amid the nearshoring trend

18-Jul-2024

South Korea's SK Innovation to merge with energy affiliate SK E&S

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–SK Innovation, the parent company of battery maker SK On and petrochemicals producer SK Geo Centric, has agreed to merge with its energy affiliate SK E&S in an overhaul to improve its profitability. The two companies are merging in a proactive effort to navigate the challenging external business landscape, characterized by a prolonged global economic downturn, increased volatility in the energy and chemical industries, and a slowdown in the electric vehicle (EV) market, SK Innovation said in a statement on 17 July. "By integrating assets and capabilities across both energy and electrification sectors, the merged company will bolster its core competitiveness and profitability," it said. Additionally, the merger aims to secure competitiveness in future energy business areas. Upon merging, the combined entity will transform into an energy firm with assets totaling Korean won (W) 100 trillion ($72.4 billion) and revenues of W88 trillion, "positioning itself as the largest private energy company in the Asia-Pacific region", SK Innovation said. The merged firm will also increase earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) to W5.8 trillion, up from pre-merger levels of W1.9 trillion, it said. The two companies expect that by 2030, the synergies from the integration alone will add over W2.1 trillion to EBITDA, which is targeted to hit W20 trillion by the end of the decade. "Notably, the merged company will be able to mitigate the high profit volatility of the petrochemical business, which has served as a reliable cash cow, with the stable profit generation capabilities of the LNG [liquefied natural gas], power, and city gas businesses," SK Innovation said. The management boards of both SK Innovation and SK E&S approved the proposed merger on 17 July, subject to shareholders’ approval on 27 August. The merged corporation is expected to be officially launched on 1 November. "The merged company will develop a comprehensive portfolio that spans all areas, including energy sources (such as oil, chemicals, LNG, city gas, power, renewable energy, batteries, ESS [energy storage system] hydrogen, SMR, ammonia, and immersion cooling), energy carriers, and energy solutions," SK Innovation said. "Currently, global oil majors are also currently pursuing balanced portfolios across the energy sector through various mergers and acquisitions." SK Innovations' business portfolio includes petrochemicals, lubricants, and oil exploration. It is now diversifying into future energy sectors such as electric vehicle batteries, small modular reactors (SMR), ammonia, and immersion cooling. SK E&S was spun off from SK Innovation in 1999 as a city gas holding company and is transitioning into a green portfolio that organically integrates its four core businesses – city gas, low-carbon LNG value chain, renewable energy, and hydrogen and energy solutions, to create synergies. Separately, SK On's board has approved a merger with sister companies – crude oil and petroleum products trading firm SK Trading International and energy logistics firm SK Enterm to improve raw material purchasing efficiency and expand trading, helping improve SK On's profit structure. "Through the merger of these three companies, SK On will be able to further strengthen its competitiveness in securing raw materials ($1 = W1,380)

18-Jul-2024

US Cargill surpasses 50% completion at new canola facility in Saskatchewan

HOUSTON (ICIS)–US agribusiness titan Cargill announced it has surpassed the 50% completion milestone in the construction of its new canola facility located in West Regina, Saskatchewan. Cargill broke ground on the facility in July 2022 and anticipates opening in 2025 with the new facility having the capacity to process 1 million tonnes of canola per year, producing crude canola oil for food and biofuel markets and canola meal for animal feed. “The addition of the Regina facility to the Cargill network will play a critical role connecting the Canadian canola industry to the expanding domestic and global market opportunities for vegetable oil, high quality meal and biofuels,” said Jeff Vassart, Cargill Canada president. “The current construction environment is full of unique challenges and this project has faced many headwinds since we broke ground, but we are committed to becoming a best-in-class option for canola growers in the region, along with helping decarbonize the global food and fuel supply chain.” To support rail and road infrastructure around the new plant, Cargill recently completed the purchase of just over 400 acres near the facility location which it said will allow for better connection to existing rail lines. This will provide the site with additional optionality to bring canola seed to Regina when needed, providing a new destination for farmers in western Canada.

16-Jul-2024

INSIGHT: Colombia’s wide single-use plastics ban kicks off amid industry reluctance

MADRID (ICIS)–Colombia’s single-use plastic ban, which affects a wide range of products, kicks off amid some industry reluctance after a hurried implementation, and with provisions to revise the legislation after a one year trial period. The law that came into force on 7 July implemented a ban on eight plastics: carrier bags for packing supermarket purchases; bags for fruits and vegetables; plastic packing for magazines and newspapers; bags for storing clothes coming out of the laundry; plastic holders for balloons; cotton swabs; straws; and stirrers. The regulation establishes that those plastic products must be replaced by sustainable alternatives, such as biodegradable and compostable materials or recycled materials, or reusable non-plastic materials. It is a wide-ranging ban approved in parliament in 2022, although the plastics industry has criticized that details about the implementation of the law were only published at the end of June, barely two weeks before the kick-off date. Environmental groups have welcomed the measure, hoping more countries in Latin America will implement similar legislation in a region where plastics are omnipresent. MORE TO COMEApart from the eight plastic products banned from 7 July, the ban has set a transition period ranging from two to eight years, depending on the type of plastic, to allow merchants time to adapt to the new regulations. By 2030, plastics to be eliminated or transformed into reusable materials include containers, packaging, and bags for non pre-packaged liquids; disposable plates, trays, and cutlery; confetti, tablecloths, and streamers; containers, packaging, and bags for deliveries; sheets for serving or packaging foods for immediate consumption; wrappers for fruits and vegetables; stickers for fruits; handles for dental floss; and straws for containers of up to three liters. The law establishes exceptions for single-use plastics in certain cases, including exceptions for plastics used for medical purposes; packaging of biological or chemical waste; food products of animal origin; and those made with 100% recycled plastic raw material sourced from national post-consumer material. The regulation also mandates that public entities cannot acquire prohibited single-use plastics if sustainable alternatives are available, and these entities must implement reduction campaigns. Colombia’s National Environmental Licensing Authority (ANLA in its Spanish acronym) will oversee and enforce these measures. Among the measures included in the law, there is a request from distributors of plastic bags to submit reports on the rational use and recycling of bags in their inventory and must submit an Environmental Management Plan for packaging waste by 31 December. The law clearly will put an administrative burden on companies, not least distributors and the role they have been assigned as guardians of the law. In an interview with ICIS, the CEO of QuimicoPlasticos, a chemicals distributor in Colombia, said he thinks many aspects of the law will have to be reversed, not least points such as the nationally sourced recycled plastics as substitutes, given that recycling is in its infancy in the country and there will not be enough supply for years. QuimicoPlastics is a family-run distributor founded in 1982 and employs 80 people. It imports raw materials which distributes to the plastic packaging sectors (rigid and flexible) with end markets such agriculture, construction, food, and hygiene. The company was founded by the father of the current CEO, Federico Londoño, who has been on the post for 12 years. He has got low opinions about the law. “The law goes much further than a country like Colombia can afford. Moreover, globally and here in Colombia there are investments companies have made which are researching alternatives to, say, trays made of EPS [expandable polystyrene], but with laws like this the burden on companies grows and incentives for investment diminish,” said Londoño. It is a criticism shared across Latin America. In an interview with ICIS in June, the head of Chile’s plastics trade group Asipla also said parliamentarians push for sustainability was at times detached from the country’s reality. Before QuimicoPlasticos’ Londoño, the head of Colombia’s plastics trade group Acoplasticos also showed skepticism in an interview with ICIS about the law banning such wide range of single-use plastics. Before the law on single-use plastics, Colombia had already approved a tax on plastics production, which was marred with confusion in its initial stages of implementation. The moves around plastics have been welcome by environmental groups, some of them with the support of major consumer goods producers such as Washington-based Ocean Conservancy; in its website, it says some of its partners include Coca-Cola, Ikea, or Garnier, among many others. “With over 11 million tonnes of plastics entering the ocean each year, this law [banning single-use plastics] is a huge win for Colombia and the ocean,” said in a statement Edith Cecchini, director of international plastics at Ocean Conservancy. “Single-use plastic bags, straws, and stirrers are among the top ten most commonly found items polluting beaches and waterways worldwide by Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Ocean Conservancy applauds Colombia for this important step to prevent plastic pollution and protect marine life, and we hope that other countries will follow suit.” EXPANDING PUBLIC SERVICESThe push for sustainability by the left-leaning cabinet presided over by Gustavo Petro goes hand in hand with plans to increase tax receipts to finance the expansion in the welfare state Petro campaigned for. The cabinet has been under pressure to put the public accounts in order after posting fiscal deficits for most of Petro’s term. In June, the government published its fiscal plan for the coming years, hoping to quell fears among investors. Most analysts argued that the cabinet’s plans are too optimistic. For instance, it forecasts crude oil prices at around $90/barrel on average for the coming years, as a big chunk of Colombia’s income comes from its state-owned oil major Ecopetrol. To reassure investors, Finance Minister Ricardo Bonilla announced spending cuts worth Colombian pesos (Ps) 20 trillion ($5.1 billion, equivalent to 1.2% of GDP) to meet the target set out by the new fiscal plan 2024. “Even so, there’s reason for concern. For one thing, the government made clear that there would be no cuts to social spending; instead, a lot of the adjustment (around one third) will come in the form of cuts to public investment,” said Capital Economics at the time. Manufacturing, meanwhile, has been in the doldrums for much of 2023 and 2024, except for a positive spell in the first quarter. According to QuimicoPlasticos’ CEO, the government’s economic policy is deterring investments and creating uncertainty. “The economy is not going well. Industrial companies are suffering a high degree of uncertainty, because the fiscal burden on them continues to increase. This is no surprise, of course, when some public official within the cabinet have publicly said companies ‘steal from the people’ and they should be taxed more,” said Londoño. “Treating industrial companies as cash cows is wrong: these are the companies which need large sums in capital investments, and increasing taxes on them only deters that. If we add to that, for example, that the cabinet wants to reduce the role of fossil fuels in the country’s exports due to environmental reasons, you get a worrying picture for the coming years.” ($1 = Ps3,946) Insight by Jonathan Lopez

16-Jul-2024

Europe top stories: weekly summary

LONDON (ICIS)–Here are some of the top stories from ICIS Europe for the week ended 12 July. Europe ethylene spot prices turn firmer on demand, feedstock, looming cracker turnarounds European ethylene spot prices have firmed week on week on the back of better-than-expected demand amid higher feedstock values and an increasing focus on upcoming planned cracker maintenance outages. Global crude demand slows in Q2, China consumption contracts – IEA Global crude oil demand slumped to 710,000 bbl/day in Q2 2024 as China’s post-pandemic economic rebound ran its course, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said on Thursday. Storm Beryl damage, economic loss to US estimated at $28-32 billion Total damage and economic loss in the US from Storm Beryl amounted to $28-32 billion, according to meteorology firm AccuWeather. Europe chemicals players expect construction demand to remain sluggish until H1 2025 Chemicals players in Europe do not expect any substantial recovery from the building and construction industry until the first half of 2025 at least. Flooding to continue across central US as Beryl moves inland Flash flooding is expected as Storm Beryl continues to progress across the central US, with blackouts and logistic shutdowns seen in parts of Texas. ‘Life-threatening’ storm surge in Texas as Hurricane Beryl makes US landfall Hurricane Beryl has made landfall in eastern Texas and looks set to batter parts of the state’s key petrochemicals production hubs, with the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) warning of a life-threatening storm surge on Monday.

15-Jul-2024

Asia top stories – weekly summary

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News Asia and the Middle East for the week ended 12 July 2024. OUTLOOK: Asia naphtha market braces for supply uncertainties By Li Peng Seng 12-Jul-24 12:00 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s naphtha market sentiment is expected to be choppy in the short term due to a lack of clarity on arbitrage supplies against volatile demand. OUTLOOK: Asia EVA market loses shine as demand from PV sector lags By Helen Lee 11-Jul-24 11:25 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Demand for ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) from China’s photovoltaic (PV) industry is likely to remain lackluster amid an oversupply in the entire industry chain. PODCAST: China to accelerate hydrogen development via energy law By Patricia Tao 10-Jul-24 11:25 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China's recent decision to include hydrogen in its draft national energy law signals a transformative shift in the country's energy landscape. China EV giant BYD to invest $1 billion in Turkey production plant By Nurluqman Suratman 09-Jul-24 15:24 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Chinese electric vehicle (EV) giant BYD has agreed to invest $1 billion to set up a manufacturing plant in Turkey which will produce up to 150,000 vehicles per year. PODCAST: Asia recycling market sees increased interest in pyrolysis By Damini Dabholkar 09-Jul-24 11:17 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Market players in Asia are increasingly becoming more interested in the use of pyrolysis oil as fuel. OUTLOOK: SE Asia PE to see some demand recovery in H2, challenges persist By Izham Ahmad 09-Jul-24 15:07 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The southeast Asian polyethylene (PE) market is expected to face modest demand recovery in the second half (H2) of the year, but this is likely to be negated by increased supply and the threat of high freight costs affecting import shipments.

15-Jul-2024

INSIGHT: Brazil’s new gas deals with Bolivia ‘historic step’ for chemicals – Abiquim

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Earlier this week, the head of Brazil’s chemical producers’ trade group Abiquim accompanied President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during his official visit to Bolivia and returned with deals which could potentially increase and liberalize natural gas supplies to Brazil. The chemicals industry in Brazil consumes around a third of all-natural gas available, according to Abiquim. Prices in the largest Latin American economy, however, are considerably higher than in the US, the other large economy in the Americas. Therefore, natural gas supplies – how to increase them and how to make them more affordable – has been on Abiquim lobbying agenda for some time now. Nearly a year ago, Brazil’s minister for energy and mines, Alexandre Silveira, was the star guest at an Abiquim event presenting a study on how to increase supplies. At the time, Silveira thanked them for the kind invitation but he came to basically say the government had little to do and it should be the private sector leading the effort. Truth be told, Brazil’s cabinet has much to say and much it could do about energy. The rather overwhelming and dominant position of Petrobras – a ministry in all effects, with its CEO always handpicked by whoever is the president – gives the energy major a key role in what Brazil's energy landscape looks like. Its interest in natural gas has always been very limited, injecting the supplies it gets from crude oil production back into the system. However, Abiquim and Petrobras earlier this year signed an agreement to explore joint projects on natural gas supplies. In June, Abiquim said in an interview with ICIS there would be news on that front within weeks, but nothing has been announced yet. One year on since Silveira attend that event in Sao Paulo, it seems industrial trade groups come and go in Brasilia’s corridors of power as they please. The current left-leaning administration and manufacturing companies have a common goal, expressed in different wishes: the former, more and better paid manufacturing jobs to please Lula's Workers Party (PT) core constituency; the latter, higher sales and profits, and improving their competitiveness can be an important part of that. Thus, this week Lula invited to go to Bolivia with him trade groups or associations representing sectors directly affected by Brazil’s high natural gas prices. Among them, Abiquim’s director general, Andre Passos. Never shy in using strong words, Abiquim said the week’s agreements in Bolivia represented a “historic step” for Brazilian chemicals which could come to partly fix its competitiveness problem. “The visit to Bolivia is in line with the objectives of the Gas Para Empregar [Gas for Jobs] program and could represent an immense short-, medium- and long-term opportunity for the natural gas market, with the possibility of even using gas from Argentina through Gasbol [pipeline connecting Bolivia’s fields with Brazil’s south and most industrialized states],” said Abiquim. “Based on the conversations held, it will now be possible to start rounds of negotiations for the contracting of Bolivian and Argentine gas without the participation of Petrobras, which will be essential to increase competition in the gas market, enabling greater liquidity, and even helping to make natural gas from the pre-salt viable.” Abiquim added that Brazil’s Ministry of Mines and Energy was “essential in making this moment a reality” and in helping private players to make progress on being able to directly contract gas in Bolivia. In Brazil, the Ministry for Energy and Petrobras are the two decisive voices in energy policy. Abiquim’s diplomatic words thanking the ministry is just another way of saying they are pleased to see Petrobras losing the nearly full control it has had in issues related to the natural gas supply from Bolivia. This, of course, occurs as Abiquim's largest member and commanding voice is Brazilian polymers major Braskem, of which Petrobras owns 36.1%. A GIANT SEEKING GASBrazil has for several years been importing natural gas from Bolivia, via the pipeline Gasbol, which links the producer’s fields with Brazil’s southern and more industrialized states. Gasbol is the longest natural gas pipeline in South America with 3,150 kilometers (1,960 miles). According to Brazil’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, Bolivia is Brazil's main supplier of natural gas supplying two thirds of its imports. Meanwhile, natural gas represents 86% of Bolivia's exports to Brazil. Regarding natural gas, the trip this week aimed at easing access to that gas for Brazilian private sector players, until now quite constrained in what they could purchase given that natural gas bilateral trade has practically been a state-controlled affair via Petrobras. That was one of Brazil’s delegation legs, led by trade groups such Abiquim, Abrace Energia representing energy consumers, trade group for industrialists in Sao Paulo state FIESP, Abvidro representing the glass sector, and Aspacer and Anfacer, both representing the ceramics industry. Brazil’s minister for energy and mines, Alexandre Silveira, and Petrobras’ new CEO, Magda Chambriad, were also part of the delegation. While the company she now presides over may lose the upper hand in natural gas trade with Bolivia, Chambriad said – according to the Ministry of Energy and Mines’ press office – that the new natural gas production areas in Bolivia are going through the environmental licensing phase and could start up as soon as 2025. “The increase in gas supply to Brazil translates into lower prices in the country,” concluded the ministry. As it normally happens, many of the deals signed this week will be worth only the paper they are written in in some years’ time. However, they could be meaningful if just a few of them were to be implemented: the Bolivian Ministry for Hydrocarbons and Energy, in charge of all areas mentioned so far, published this week as many as 12 press releases on as many agreements. For example, and again related to Brazil’s thirst for natural gas, private companies had conversations about potential imports from Argentina but via the Bolivian Gasbol. MERCOSUR – AND MILEILula went to Bolivia after having visited Paraguay for a summit of Mercosur, the trade bloc formed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay and which this year welcomed Bolivia as a member. However, Argentina’s Javier Milei refused to participate in the summit, perhaps for the best. He has insulted Lula so many times and in so colorful manners that it may be hard to try and establish any personal relationship – the two have never met face to face. To make his preferences clear, instead of attending the Mercosur summit, Milei went to Brazil’s state of Santa Catarina for an international event of right-wing and far-right figures. “No political rift will prevent dialogue with our Argentine brothers and sisters,” said Silveira before travelling to the summit, quoted by the public news agency Agencia Brasil. But increasingly more people are wondering what Mercosur’s future will look like. Despite Lula and his Spanish counterpart Pedro Sanchez good intentions when Spain was the holder of the EU’s rotatory presidency in 2023, both leaders were unable to push their sides to conclude the free trade deal between the two blocs, which has been in the making more than 20 years. The financial weekly The Economist also wondered this week about the bloc’s importance, highlighting Milei’s absence. In an opinion-ed article – those without byline which would represent the publication’s view – it said that the host’s rebuffs to Mile for not attending may well fall in deaf ears. “It was an especially pointed snub. Skipping the twice-yearly get-together of the presidents of Mercosur, Milei chose instead to speak to the hard right at a Conservative Political Action Conference in Brazil … The reality is that Mercosur is no longer so important. Even the host, Santiago Peña of Paraguay, admitted that ‘Mercosur is clearly not going through its best moment’,” said the article. “Milei has never formally met Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, whom he slags off as ‘corrupt’ and a ‘communist’ (Brazil’s supreme court quashed Lula’s conviction – and he is a socialist). But political incompatibilities go back further: Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s former leader, and Alberto Fernández, Milei’s Peronist predecessor, similarly shunned each other.” THE FIGURES In 2023, trade flows between Brazil and Bolivia totaled $3.31 billion, with a surplus of $278 million for Brazil, according to official figures. Bolivia was the 35th main destination for exports and the 30th country of origin for Brazilian imports. Brazil was the main destination for Bolivian exports and the second country of origin for its imports. The main products exported by Brazil to Bolivia were those from the steel sector (iron and steel, bars, angles, and profiles, 6.1% of the total), and passenger cars (3.8%). The main products imported by Brazil from Bolivia were natural gas (86%) and chemical fertilizers (4.8%). Insight by Jonathan Lopez

11-Jul-2024

INSIGHT: After Beryl, US chems may see 11 more hurricanes

HOUSTON (ICIS)–The conditions that helped make Beryl become a hurricane before hitting Texas chemical plants will persist through the rest of the season, with meteorologists forecasting 11 more forming in the Atlantic basin. Conditions are already conducive for hurricanes even though the peak of the season does not happen until the late summer. Beryl still disrupted chemical operations even though it was a relatively weak hurricane when it made landfall in Texas. The next hurricane could disrupt global chemical markets if it damages terminals and ports on the Gulf Coast. BERYL'S KNOCKS OUT POWEREven though Beryl was a Category 1 hurricane – the weakest class – it still caused more than 2 million outages in Texas. Many of the disruptions that Beryl caused to the chemical industry were because of power outages. A roughly equal number of disruptions was caused by companies shutting down operations as a precaution. Other disruptions were attributed to bad weather. PORT DISRUPTIONSBeryl's other major effect was on ports. The ports of Corpus Christi, Freeport, Texas City and Houston had shut down. Beryl caused Freeport LNG Development to shut down its operations. CONDITIONS THAT MADE BERYL SO POWERFUL WILL PERSISTBeryl illustrates the destructive potential of a weak Category 1 hurricane that travels through parts of Texas that host critical powerlines and ports. The meteorology firm AccuWeather estimates that total damage and economic loss caused by Beryl was $28-32 billion. Beryl was remarkable because, prior to making landfall in Texas, it had become a Category 5 hurricane, the most powerful class under the Saffir-Simpson scale. It was the first time that such a powerful hurricane had formed so early in the year, something that US meteorologist attributed to exceptionally warm ocean temperatures. The surface temperatures at sea are already close to what is typical during the mid-September, the peak hurricane season, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). After Beryl made landfall in Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, it weakened into a tropical storm before passing over more warm water in the Gulf of Mexico. There it strengthened rapidly and became a hurricane once more before hitting Texas. The warm waters that contributed to Beryl's strength will persist and should soon be joined by La Nina, a weather phenomenon that also makes hurricanes more likely. METEOROLOGISTS RAISE HURRICANE FORECASTEarlier this week, the hurricane forecast for this year was raised by meteorologists at Colorado State University's Tropical Weather & Climate Research. The following compares the center's latest hurricane forecast to its update in June and to the average for the years 1991-2020. July June Average Named Storms 25 23 14.4 Named Storm Days 120 115 69.4 Hurricanes 12 11 7.2 Hurricane Days 50 45 27.0 Major Hurricanes 6 5 3.2 Major Hurricane Days 16 13 7.4 Source: Colorado State University Like NOAA, Colorado State University (CSU) noted that extremely warm sea surface temperatures and a possible La Nina are making it more likely for hurricanes to form and strengthen. THE NEXT HURRICANE COULD CAUSE MORE DAMAGEThe next hurricane can prove to be a bigger logistical headache for railroad companies. Beryl had caused only brief disruptions at BNSF and Union Pacific (UP). Beryl's path did not threaten US oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. The next storm could threaten those wells, causing several energy producers to shut in production. Damage to Gulf Coast oil, ethane, LPG and LNG terminals could disrupt energy markets if the outages last long enough. Texas and the neighboring state of Louisiana are home to most of the nation's LNG export capacity. Prolonged outages at LNG terminals could lead to an oversupply of natural gas in the US because producers could lose an outlet to ship out excess capacity. Prices for natural gas could consequently fall. Prices for ethane tend to follow those for natural gas, so they would also fall in the event of a supply glut. Texas ships ethane and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) to crackers all over the world. If the next hurricane damages those terminals and leads to a prolonged shutdown, it could have global repercussions by interrupting shipments of feedstock to crackers. In the US, it could cause prices for those products to plummet, especially for propane. US midstream companies are already trying to ship out as much LPG as possible because production has been so prolific. Over the years, US producers have exported increasing amounts of polyethylene (PE) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). If the next hurricane damages those plants, then it would have a direct effect on global petrochemical markets. Insight by Al Greenwood Thumbnail shows a distribution transformer of a power line knocked down by Beryl. Image by Reginald Mathalone/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

11-Jul-2024

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