Recycled polyolefins (R-PE, R-PP)

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R-PE, R-PP news

Chile’s crusade against plastics prompting stronger sustainability push by firms – trade group

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Chile remains at the forefront of restrictive plastics regulations in Latin America as the whole political spectrum tries to capitalize in rules which resonate with public opinion, according to the CEO at the country’s trade group Asipla. Magdalena Balcells added that, however, the regulations have prompted a larger push for sustainability among companies in the plastics chain which, in turn, is making them fitter for the future. Chile was one of the first countries among a very small group in Latin America which introduced, for instance, mandates for carrier plastic bags to be charged in shops, sharply reducing their use. In countries such as Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, plastic bags are omnipresent, given for free in shops. Their presence as waste in the streets of cities like Sao Paulo is equally omnipresent. A visitor to Chile’s capital Santiago can quickly note the absence of such a waste, among many other differences with other Latin American countries. Interestingly, Balcells also concedes the plastics industry could have done better in some aspects, not least waste – she said producers knew a long time ago the plastic pollution problem was becoming a serious human and environment health issue but were either late to talk about it and alert the authorities, or, in most cases, ignored it entirely. EUROPE-LIKE REGULATIONS – IN LATAMChile’s economic and social indicators tend to be indeed better than in most Latin American countries. According to Balcells, members of parliament (MPs) from all sides get confused about this and propose plastics regulations which are not fit for the country’s reality. But despite its healthier indicators, Chile remains an emerging economy and the infrastructure for collection and recycling of plastics is far from being like those in some European countries which started setting it up in the 1990s. Chile is also debating regulations on recycling targets and bans on certain plastics, following European and other developed countries’ examples. “For example, we had three companies producing plastic bags in Chile, a relatively small country with 30 million residents. Soon after the bags regulation was introduced in a hurry, two of those companies went down. That may not have been significant in the big scheme of things, but it was relevant and painful for some parts of the plastics chain,” she said. “Moreover, in the best Chilean way, municipalities – which were given the last say in the law’s implementation – all fought to be the first in the class, especially those in the south of the country where of course our natural resources are priceless, the Patagonia.” WHAT THE INDUSTRY CAN DO – OR DID NOT DOThe story about the social benefits of plastics – as producers put it – became old as the cons outweighed the pros. The planet is full of plastic waste – several studies have already showed how humans now also contain traces of plastics, which enter their stream from already-contaminated fish, for example. Hydrocarbons have given birth to the homo plastic – quite a fate for an industry which is just a few decades old. This correspondent has interviewed many plastics trade groups and producers in the past 10 years and has heard the mantra about how useful for society plastics are several times: no matter how many times repeated, the mantra is not resonating with public opinion. On that aspect, Balcells is ahead of peers in the plastics lobby. It may be part of Asipla’s lobbying strategy, or it may be actual conviction, but her recognition the plastics sector has benefited from selling a cheap material with decent margins for decades while ignoring the end of the chain – waste – gives her a certain edge. “In fact, when I was appointed head of Asipla six years ago I was blunt and told company members: we need to change course in our strategy, or we’ll be overtaken by regulations and that will be worse of your own survival as companies. Rightly or not, plastics have become the visible enfant terrible in the sustainability debate, and we need to fight that with more than words saying how good plastics are,” she said. “Of course, there was fierce resistance to the changes at first. I implemented not only changes in terms of our marketing, but also by exploring new avenues in the plastics debate which prompted a deeper debate about sustainability, as well as the consequent and necessary investments in research and development to improve plastics’ sustainability.” Front page picture: A recycling plant, archive image Source: JC Tardivon/SIPA/Shutterstock Interview article by Jonathan Lopez


Colombia plastic industry still skeptical on single-use plastic tax – trade group

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Despite Colombia’s Supreme Court ruling correcting some aspects of the tax on single-use plastics approved by Congress, the industry is still largely skeptical about the tax’s principle or about a smooth implementation, according to the president at plastics trade group Acoplasticos. Daniel Mitchell added that the regulations put a burden on companies’ finances and may, in the medium and long run, affect their ability to invest in new technologies and processes to make the circular economy a reality. Since President Gustavo Petro took office, Colombia has passed two significant regulations affecting the plastic chain: the tax on plastics, and the progressive elimination in the market of single-use plastics. The first law, the tax on plastics came into effect at the end of 2022 but legislators left some open questions as to who would pay the tax. So much so that Colombia’s Supreme Court ruled in November correcting some aspects of the law, although it did not question the principle of the tax. In August 2023, the head of chemicals at Colombia’s industrial trade group Andi, Daniela Sotello, had already said in an interview with ICIS that the tax’s implementation had proved troublesome and explained how, at the time, many players in the chain were still uncertain of who would pay the tax. SUPREME COURT RULINGIt is good there is more clarity now, not least because the first phase of the tax on single-use plastics is coming into force on 7 July, as planned in the original regulation’s text. A second phase in the mid-2022s will start implementing recycling targets and the regulation should be fully implemented by 2030. “Thankfully, there is more clarity now on who should pay the tax, with the Supreme Court ruling it must be absorbed by producers and not users of the plastics. However, this brings yet another confusion to the table: is it the producers of plastics, the polymers producers, or the producers of the products packed in those plastics?” said Mitchell. “We lived with the initial confusion [producers paying or users paying] for 11 months, until November 2023 ruling. The first payment of the tax was done at the end of the fiscal year in February 2024, as planned.” In the end, players managed to muddle through the confusion and managed to pay the tax, although Mitchell says it did cause a slight uptick in prices which, he concedes, is obviously the purpose of the tax so consumption is reduced. But then, some particularities in the Colombian law are striking. For instance, the prices of soft drinks in plastic bottles are not included in the tax: according to the law, Coca-Cola and others are included in the so-called "basic family basket". According to Acoplasticos, prices for the final products with plastics which were included in the regulation have increased between 0.5% and 4% due to the plastic tax. “In sophisticated packaging, cosmetics and the likes, prices of the final product have risen around 4%, although in that chain the impact can go up to 6% in some cases. In most cases, the increases in prices have been between 1% and 2%,” said Mitchell. “For the consumers, the price rises have not been as noticeable as some feared. To give you an idea, the tax collected in its first year Colombian pesos (Ps) 70 billion ($17m). I imagine that amount, when divided by the 45 million Colombian consumers, was not that noticeable in their pockets, but the tax has put a burden on plastics producers and its customers, not least for the chaotic implementation.” THE PLASTIC PROBLEMClarified the first hurdles, the more meaningful debate. A trade group representing plastics producers will invariably oppose a tax on their operations, but the plastics industry remains on the eye of the storm in the debate about sustainability. Plastics producers have for decades operated with healthy profits most years. Meanwhile, plastics pollution has grown in little more than half a century into a problem which is causing most humans, according to several studies, to carry plastics in them: homo plastic so to speak. While no producer will accept direct responsibility in the pollution problem, some sources within the chain in Latin America say the industry could have at least done one thing better. According to the CEO of Chile’s plastics trade group Asipla, Magdalena Balcells, producers knew a long time ago the plastic pollution problem was becoming serious, and either were late to talk about it and alert the authorities, or ignored it completely. “Obviously, a company producing plastics has no competencies about the plastic waste, which falls on the authorities. Plastics have a big demand and are indispensable in so many applications. The debate has really taken off, rightly so, in the past 15 years – before that, the talk was mostly about how plastics were so useful and almost a win-win for all elements in the chain,” said Mitchell. “Things have changed, and I really think the circular economy is taking off. This is due to a combination of regulation, private sector initiatives, and more engagement from consumers. We need to reach a system where there is not waste, full stop.” – But in such a scenario, plastic producers of today would effectively run out of a business? If everything is recycled, there would not be a need to produce virgin material? – You will always have a small number of applications in which, at least for now, you cannot use recycled materials. Also, I think that while we may aim to recycle all plastics, the demand for plastics will always be larger than that supply of recyclable material. ($1 = Ps4,172) Interview article by Jonathan Lopez Front page picture: Plastic bottles and plastic rubbish are shredded and pressed; archive image Source Jochen Tack/imageBROKER/Shutterstock


Thai bio-ethylene plant key to growing SCG Chemicals' green plastics portfolio

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Thailand's SCG Chemicals (SCGC) has obtained government approval for its 200,000 tonne/year joint venture bio-ethylene plant in Map Ta Phut, paving the way for the company to reach its target of producing 1m tonnes/year of green polymers by 2030. SCGC, Braskem joint venture firm eyes green downstream PE output Final investment decision on bio-ethylene project likely by Q4 SCGC focusing on increasing recycled plastic production and use The Thai baht (Bt) 19.3 billion ($526 million) bio-ethylene plant will use agricultural products such as sugarcane, cassava and corn as feedstock, the Thailand Board of Investment (BOI) in a statement issued on 14 June. The project will be operated by Braskem Siam Co, a 51:49 joint venture between Brazilian producer Braskem and SCGC. The plant, which will built in Rayong province, will enable production of bio-based polyethylene (PE) in Thailand which will be the first of its kind outside Brazil. SCGC’s parent firm Siam Cement Group (SCG), in a 11 June slide presentation posted on its website, said that it will likely make a final investment decision (FID) on the bio-ethylene project by the fourth quarter of this year, the company said in presentation slides posted on 11 June. The chemicals arm of the Thai conglomerate has set a target of production 1 million tonnes/year of green polymers by 2030, by leveraging strategic partnerships and innovative technologies to drive its expansion, it said. As of end-2023, the company was producing around 218,000 tonnes/year of environment-friendly plastics. SCGC Green Polymers Growth Plans Source: SCGC As part of its green polymer expansion plans, SCG in February this year announced a Bt173 million investment to hold a 3% stake in Netherlands-based renewable chemicals technology firm Avantium. Avantium‘s proprietary technology can be used to produce a variety of sustainable chemicals, including bio-based polyethylene (PE) and bio-based polyamide (PA). SCGC and Avantium last year agreed to develop polymers based on sustainable carbon feedstocks such as those from biomass or carbon from air, and scale up a pilot plant in the next two years to produce 10 tonnes/year of the material. On the recycling front, SCGC is aiming to increase its sales volumes of green polymers from odorless post-consumer recycled resin (PCR) high density polyethylene (HDPE) via its partnership with Portugal-based recycled plastic producer Sirplaste. The Thai producer owns 70% of Sirplaste. In September 2023, SCGC achieved a fivefold increase in production capacity for odorless HDPE PCR resin to 45,000 tonnes/year following installation of new machinery at Sirplaste's plant, based on SCG’s June 11 slides. SCGC has also invested in Kras, a Dutch company that specializes in managing waste materials, to develop a comprehensive recycled plastic production system that meets global demand, especially in Europe, "where the need for environmentally friendly packaging is continuously growing". In May, SCGC and Dow signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to transform 200,00 tonnes/year plastic waste into circular products by 2030. The initial phases of the partnership will concentrate on building a robust materials ecosystem in Southeast Asia. This will involve establishing partnerships with existing suppliers for PCR and developing advanced technological solutions for waste sorting, mechanical recycling (MR), and advanced recycling (AR) in Thailand. Separately, SCGC parent firm SCG has also received approval to invest Bt6 billion in a co-generation power plant within the Map Ta Phut Industrial Estate in Rayong province. This plant will have a production capacity of 130 megawatts (MW) of power and 160 tonnes of steam per hour and will primarily supply electricity to factories within the industrial estate. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman ($1 = Bt36.72) Thumbnail image: At the Laem Chabang Port in Chonburi Province, Thailand, 24 January 2022. (Xinhua/Shutterstock)


BLOG: China’s ever-more sophisticated chemicals markets could entirely serve itself

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Asian Chemical Connections by John Richardson. China's chemicals producers are said to be focusing on being “nimble and agile” in response to weaker demand growth, ample local supply of intermediate chemicals and increasingly sophisticated end-use markets. This involves producing everything up and down the value chains only when it makes economic sense and increasing the differentiation of grades for a broader range of more sophisticated applications. Local producers are reported to be tripling their range of polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polyurethane (PU) grades as they broaden their licensing of technologies. A lot of this differentiation is aimed at supplying chemicals and polymers for higher-value downstream industries such as electric vehicles and batteries. There are said to be plenty of intermediate chemicals available locally that can compete with opportunistic imports. Local producers of intermediates are also reported to be able to make better domestic netbacks than selling overseas. Customers of the local intermediate producers increasingly value reliable suppliers who can provide a wider range of grades, technical services and local currency deals, I’ve been told. The ability of chemicals importers to compete on price alone seems to be under challenge as a sustainable business model. Future winners in China could be the Tier 1 suppliers. These suppliers would make all the grades necessary to serve ever-more sophisticated local end-use markets, which would require constantly successful R&D and good technical services. This points towards China becoming a vast continent-sized market that largely serves itself in speciality chemicals and composites, as well as commodity chemicals. I earlier discussed how self-sufficiency is increasing in commodity chemicals resulting in a pivot by “overseas-based” producers to specialities and composites. China could become just about entirely self-sufficient in commodity grades of PP, polyethylene (PE) and in paraxylene (PX) and ethylene glycols (EG) by 2030. The latter two chemicals are of course pure commodities. Note the above phrase “overseas-based” rather than overseas, as the foreign investors in China are in strong positions to take advantage of this vas and rapidly maturing market. For reasons discussed today, I don’t believe that the pivot by overseas-based producers to specialities and composites will work if it is based on exporting to China. What should the overseas-based producers do? Pretty much forget China as an opportunity as they focus on the rest of the world. And here's the link: 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.


PPG sees strong sustainability demand pull for coatings, race to adapt to new processes – exec

NEW YORK (ICIS)–US-based coatings producer PPG is seeing robust demand for sustainable products from customers, some of which rely on new, more energy efficient processes, said an executive on Monday. “Across the board there is strong pull… because when you look at [our customers’] narrative to the consumer, everybody is using sustainable advantage as a way to move market share,” said Peter Votruba-Drzal, vice president, Global Sustainability at PPG. “The challenge is to move with the speed and agility that’s required from customer industries. Large, mature industries are transforming right in front of us – the powertrain (EV) transformation in automotive, for example. The same holds when you look at how they will ultimately paint cars in the future,” he added. Votruba-Drzal spoke to ICIS at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The time to get new, more sustainable products to market varies by industry, from being relatively quick – a matter of months – on the architectural coatings side, to longer for automotive, marine, aerospace and packaging, he pointed out. MARINE COATINGSIn the marine sector, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is targeting a 20-30% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2030. “Marine coatings have a lot of sustainability benefits that are being pulled by the industry. The introduction of non-toxic anti-fouling technologies plus the benefits of fouling resistance which improves fuel efficiency over time, helps [shippers] meet their carbon emissions goals and reduces their cost of operation,” said Votruba-Drzal. On 5 June, PPG announced a collaboration with digital maritime sustainability platform RightShip to foster the development and adoption of sustainable marine solutions. PPG has a biocide-free silicone hull coating that helps vessels achieve up to 20% power savings and up to 35% lower GHG emissions versus traditional antifouling coatings, according to the company. SUSTAINABILITY + COST BENEFIT = PREMIUMIn most cases, simply introducing a more sustainable product is not enough to warrant a price premium, he pointed out. “Our customer typically requires improved performance – lower operating cost, less waste, energy efficiency – in addition to the sustainable benefit. We can partner with customers and create mutual value so that we both partake in the financial benefits,” said Votruba-Drzal. However, in other areas such as Europe’s architectural coatings market, consumers are willing to pay more for a more sustainable solution with the same performance, he added. Greener specifications, such as from builders of commercial real estate, are also driving demand for more sustainable products with lower carbon footprints, as building owners seek to achieve certain levels of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certifications, he said. “If we’re working with a coil coatings customer and can provide a low carbon footprint solution, they win market share in the building,” said Votruba-Drzal. Coil coating is a continuous, automated process for coating metals prior to fabrication. TRANSFORMATION IN COIL COATINGS“In the coil industry, a fascinating transformation has been happening”, and only in the past two years or so, the executive said. Coil coatings operations are moving from using football field-length ovens fired by natural gas, to a much more compact electron beam system of around 30 yards in length, he explained. “You eliminate all of the burning of the fossil fuel and carbon emissions, as it runs off electricity which can be renewable power,” said Votruba-Drzal. “Here is a mature industry of 50-plus years that used to be heavily focused on operational throughput costs on the technology side. Now suddenly all these formulations are changing into electron beam curing. And so it resets the opportunity for market share gains,” he added. PROGRESS ON SUSTAINABILITY GOALSPPG in May 2023 introduced 2030 sustainability goals, including a 50% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 GHG emissions (from operations and purchased energy) and a 30% reduction in Scope 3 emissions (mostly from purchased raw materials) from a 2019 base, validated by the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). Source: PPG As of its May 2024 update, it has achieved 10% reduction in Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and a 12% reduction in Scope 3 emissions. PPG has also assessed 97% of key suppliers against sustainability and social responsibility criteria. Scope 1 and 2 emissions account for only 4% of PPG’s total carbon footprint. Further reductions to Scope 1 and 2 will primarily come from replacing motors and equipment on mixers, and using more renewable power. The bulk comes from Scope 3 emissions, with the primary components being raw materials, and how paint shops use PPG’s products, said the executive. Often the location of a supplier’s facility plays a key role in the carbon footprint of the products coming out of that site, he pointed out. “You can have a material made by a manufacturer that has operations in Asia as well as in other regions, that tie into very different electrical grids. And how green that grid is, basically impacts the carbon footprint associated with that product,” explained Votruba-Drzal. With global operations, PPG can also provide the same product at different levels of carbon footprint, depending on where it makes it, and ships it from, he added. RECYCLED AND BIO-BASED RAW MATERIALSPPG also uses recycled and bio-based raw materials in certain formulations. Its Mexico coatings company Comex uses recycled tires as a filler for waterproof roof coatings. Recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET), acrylics, elastomers, polyurethanes and polyolefins can all be incorporated into coatings, he noted. “This is an emerging space of circularity where getting the scale matters,” said Votruba-Drzal, who pointed to partnerships between companies to develop new technologies and ecosystems. Interview article by Joseph Chang


Latin America stories: weekly summary

SAO PAULO (ICIS)–Here are some of the stories from ICIS Latin America for the week ended on 14 June. NEWS  INSIGHT: Brazil, Mexico currencies take a hit, energy policy under Sheinbaum remains in spotlight The Mexican peso continued sliding this week as the new President Elect Claudia Sheinbaum’s Morena party achieved the "super-majority" investors feared, which could open the door to one-party constitutional reforms, while her energy policy remains on the spotlight. Argentina’s inflation down to 276% in May, first fall in 10 months Argentina’s annual rate of inflation fell in May to 276.4%, down from April’s 289.4%, the country’s statistical office, Indec said, the first fall since July 2023 and six months after President Javier Milei took office. Higher import tariffs one leg of wider plan to save Brazil’s besieged chemicals producers – Abiquim Proposals to sharply increase chemicals import tariffs are only one of the three aspects Brazil’s chemicals producers have proposed to the government to save their "besieged” operations, according to the CEO at trade group Abiquim. Mexico’s petchems supply flowing despite Altamira disruption, but industry crisis could continue The drought affecting the Altamira petrochemicals hub in Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas is not yet affecting the supply of chemicals, but the water restrictions for industrial players could continue, sources said this week. Brazilian pulp producer Suzano to acquire 15% stake in Austria’s Lenzing Brazilian pulp producer Suzano has agreed to acquire a 15% stake in Austrian cellulosic fibres company Lenzing for €230 million, paying €39.70/share, officials said on Wednesday. Brazil fertilizers interactive trade flow map January-May 2024 The Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade for Brazil has released fertilizer trade figures for January-May 2024. Future disruption to Panama Canal will depend on El Nino intensity – expert Despite arrangements put in place to make the Panama Canal fit for a changing climate, future disruption at the Americas key shipping route will depend on a variable no-one can predict: the intensity of future El Niño weather phenomenon, according to an expert at maritime services provider CB Fenton on Tuesday. Mexico’s chemicals output up 7.2% in April, manufacturing up nearly 4.0% Mexico’s chemicals output rose by 7.2% in April, year on year, well above the 3.8% increase in overall manufacturing activity, the country’s statistical office Inegi said on Tuesday. Chemical tanker prices rise as much as 75% since 2020 on lack of liquidity – expert Chemicals tanker prices have risen globally 30-75% in the past four years on a lack of liquidity, an expert at Chile-headquartered chemicals bulk operator Ultratank said on Tuesday. Brazil’s inflation up to 3.93% in May; prices rise sharply in floods-hit state Brazil’s annual rate of inflation rose in May to 3.93%, up from 3.69% in April, with notable price rises registered in food products, especially in the floods-hit state of Rio Grande do Sul, the country’s statistical office IBGE said on Tuesday. Closures of high-cost assets to accelerate in Europe, northeast Asia – ICIS Announcements of closures for high-cost assets, especially in Europe and northeast Asia, are likely to accelerate in coming quarters as the global petrochemicals industry is forced to rationalize, according to an ICIS analyst on Tuesday. Venezuela’s Pequiven, Turkey’s Yildirim mull petchems, ammonia facilities Venezuelan state-owned petrochemicals producer Pequiven has signed an agreement with Turkey’s conglomerate Yildirim to consider building petrochemicals and ammonia facilities in the country, according to the Venezuelan Ministry of Economy. Chile’s Petroquim navigating better than peers pressure from Asian material – exec Polypropylene (PP) producer Petroquim is also facing pressure from lower-priced material sent from Asia, but the company’s “dedicated” service to customers has kept its sales spared from a larger hit, according to the commercial manager at the Chilean company. PRICINGLatAm PP international prices steady to higher on squeezed margins, higher freight rates International polypropylene (PP) prices were assessed as stable to higher across Latin American countries because of higher freight costs and squeezed margins. LatAm PE international prices steady to up on higher offers from abroad International polyethylene (PE) prices were assessed as steady to higher across the region on the back of higher offers from abroad. Plant status: Alpek Polyester’s Altamira plants ceases operations due to water scarcity in Mexico Mexico’s chemicals producer Alpek has declared force majeure for purified terephthalate acid (PTA) out of its 1 million tonnes/year facilities in Altamira, state of Tamaulipas, on the back of the severe drought which has restricted water supplies to industrial companies. Stable PET prices in Mexico prevail amid supply challenges Throughout this week, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) prices have remained stable in Mexico, as per market observations. However, industry participants believe that this stability might not last long.


Americas top stories: weekly summary

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News from the week ended 14 June. Higher import tariffs one leg of wider plan to save Brazil’s besieged chemicals producers – Abiquim Proposals to sharply increase chemicals import tariffs are only one of the three aspects Brazil’s chemicals producers have proposed to the government to save their "besieged” operations, according to the CEO at trade group Abiquim. INSIGHT: Chem M&A outlook brightens amid surge of deal announcements Chemical companies have started the first half of 2024 announcing potential sales and separations of several businesses, which could lead up to busy cycle for mergers and acquisitions (M&A). Mexico’s petchems supply flowing despite Altamira disruption, but industry crisis could continue The drought affecting the Altamira petrochemicals hub in Mexico’s state of Tamaulipas is not yet affecting the supply of chemicals, but the water restrictions for industrial players could continue, sources said this week. US Fed expects only one cut in 2024, keeps rates steady The Federal Reserve lowered its forecast for rate cuts in 2024 to just one from three as it voted on Wednesday to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at 5.25-5.5%. Canada rail labor union to hold new strike ballot Canadian rail labor union Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) will hold a new strike vote because an earlier mandate for industrial action will expire on 30 June, it said in an update. Styrolution to permanently shut Sarnia styrene plant in Canada INEOS Styrolution will close its 445,000 tonnes/year styrene production plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, by June 2026, the company announced Tuesday. IPEX: Global spot index edges down on lower values across all regions The global spot ICIS Petrochemical Index (IPEX) fell by 0.7% in the week ending 7 June on losses across all regions, not least northwest Europe. Chile’s Petroquim navigating better than peers pressure from Asian material – exec Polypropylene (PP) producer Petroquim is also facing pressure from lower-priced material sent from Asia, but the company’s “dedicated” service to customers has kept its sales spared from a larger hit, according to the commercial manager at the Chilean company.


LOGISTICS: Container rates rise on peak season surcharges, but rate of growth slowing

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Rates for shipping containers continue to surge as carriers are implementing peak season surcharges while capacity remains tight from Red Sea diversions, but some shipping analysts think there are signs that the dramatic rate of growth may be slowing, which leads off this week’s logistics roundup. CONTAINERS Shipping container rates continued to rise this week, but the rate of increase slowed, according to data from supply chain advisors Drewry and as shown in the following chart. Ocean freight rates analytics firm Xeneta said its data indicates spot rates on major trades out of Asia will increase again on 15 June, but to a less dramatic extent than witnessed in May and early June. Average spot rates from Asia to US West Coast are set to increase by 4.8% on 15 June to stand at $6,178/FEU (40-foot equivalent unit). However, on 1 June, rates on this trade increased by 20%. From Asia into the US East Coast, rates are set to increase by 3.9% on 15 June to stand at $7,114/FEU. Again, this is a far less dramatic jump than when rates increased by 15% on 1 June. Rates from north China to the US Gulf are at the highest this year but leveled off this week, as shown in the following chart. “Any sign of a slowing in the growth of spot rates will be welcomed by shippers, but this is an extremely challenging situation, and it is likely to remain so,” Xeneta chief analyst Peter Sand said. “The market is still rising, and some shippers are still facing the prospect of not being able to ship containers on existing long-term contracts and having their cargo rolled.” Container ships and costs for shipping containers are relevant to the chemical industry because while most chemicals are liquids and are shipped in tankers, container ships transport polymers, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), are shipped in pellets. They also transport liquid chemicals in isotanks. LIQUID TANKER RATESUS chemical tanker freight rates assessed by ICIS were mostly unchanged. However, rates were lower from the US Gulf (USG) to India and unchanged from the USG to the Caribbean. From the USG to Asia, the market has gone overall quiet after a few busy weeks in the month of May. The spot market faces headwinds as activity has been slow, causing spot space to pile up for July, placing downward pressure on spot rates. Recent force majeures in the USG have caused some COA vessels to look for additional cargoes, adding pressure to rates. Market participants are optimistic that freight rates for larger parcels will stabilize in the near term. US PORT OPERATIONS Operations at US ports are stable even as import volumes are at the highest since 2022, and railroad performance has improved over the past month, according to analysts at freight forwarder Flexport. Nathan Strang, director of ocean freight, US Southwest for Flexport, said that apart from the Port of Charleston, South Carolina, volumes are moving really well through the East Coast ports with rail dwell averaging about two days. Charleston is undergoing an infrastructure project on its Wando Welch Terminal to expand the docks. Dock construction at Wando Welch terminal started on 11 March, reducing berth space from three to two berths for one year, with berths given on first come, first serve basis. Strang said some vessels are discharging at the Port of Savannah, Georgia, and then moving material to Wando Welch via trucks, or using other terminals within the Port of Charleston as space becomes available. Overall port omissions from all carriers are starting to reduce the extent of the delays, with six to nine days delay expected in week 24, according to a port update from Hapag-Lloyd. RAILROADS Strang said Flexport customers are seeing lower dwell times for rail cars at ports over the past month. “I have been talking about how rail performance to and through the West Coast has been suffering a little bit,” Strang said, describing his point of view in past webinars. “I will say that we have seen real improvement.” Strang said West Coast port operations have remained stable, with local pick-up dwell at six days for Los Angeles/Long Beach, at five days in Seattle/Tacoma (SeaTac) and at four days in Oakland. For the first 23 weeks of 2024, ended 8 June, North American chemical railcar loadings rose 3.8% to 1,082,614 – with the US up 3.9% to 745,780. In the US, chemical railcar loadings represent about 20% of chemical transportation by tonnage, with trucks, barges and pipelines carrying the rest. PORT OF BALTIMORE OPENS The Fort McHenry Federal Channel – the entrance to the Port of Baltimore – is fully reopened just 11 weeks after a container ship lost power and struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge, causing its collapse and essentially shutting the port. The Unified Command (UC) said salvage crews successfully removed the final large steel truss segment blocking the 700-foot-wide Fort McHenry Federal Channel on 3-4 June. Deep-draft commercial vessels have been able to transit the port since 20 May when the UC cleared the channel to a width of 400ft and depth of 50ft. Following the removal of wreckage at the 50-foot mud-line, the UC performed a survey of the channel on 10 June, certifying the riverbed as safe for transit. The closing of the port did not have a significant impact on the chemicals industry as chemicals make up only about 4% of total tonnage that moves through the port, according to data from the American Chemistry Council (ACC). PANAMA CANAL The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) is offering an additional booking slot for the Neopanamax locks as of 11 June, increasing the total number of daily canal transits to 33, and is also raising the maximum authorized draft based on the current and projected level of Gatun Lake. The PCA will open an additional slot on 8 July, which will bring the total number of daily transits to 34. Because of the improved water levels now that the rainy season has arrived, the PCA is also increasing the maximum authorized draft for vessels to 14.02 meters (46.0 feet). This is the second increase in draft restrictions over the past few weeks. Wait times for non-booked southbound vessels ready for transit have been relatively steady at less than two days, according to the PCA vessel tracker. The tracker is only for non-booked vessels in the queue and shippers should consider two additional days as a minimum to estimate transit times for unscheduled vessels, the PCA said. Focus article by Adam Yanelli Additional reporting by Kevin Callahan


VIDEO: Europe R-PET looks for more market clarity at PRSE

LONDON (ICIS)–Matt Tudball, senior editor for Recycling, takes a look at the latest developments in the European recycled polyethylene terephthalate (R-PET) market, including: ICIS at Plastics Recycling Show Europe (PRSE) – email for a meeting Mixed views on food-grade pellet demand Better 2024 outlook to emerge at PRSE Prices stable ahead of event


BLOG: China could still become entirely petrochemicals self-sufficient despite EVs impact on refineries

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Click here to see the latest blog post on Asian Chemical Connections by John Richardson: China has set itself a target that 40% of all the vehicles on its roads will be electric by 2030. And by that year, the aim is that all new-vehicle sales will be electric vehicles (EVs). The country wants to reach peak carbon emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060. “After 2030, it is going to be pretty much impossible to get approval for a heavy industry project because of the emissions targets,” said a petrochemicals industry source. This has led to suggestions that the resulting lower availability of feedstocks from local refineries will slow China’s push towards complete petrochemicals self-sufficiency. I disagree for the following reasons. Despite a cap on local refinery capacity, I’ve been told that local supply of naphtha, etc shouldn’t be a problem until up to a least 2030, because refineries will be increasingly turned in petrochemicals feedstock centers. More naphtha and gasoil crackers are expected to be added to refineries ahead of the 2030 cut-off point. Other heavier fractions from refineries are also forecast to be increasingly used as petrochemicals feedstocks. And even if local feedstock supply does become constrained after 2030, we shouldn’t assume that this will restrict domestic production because of the weaker-tonne economics of importing raw materials. China’s closer geopolitical relationships with the Middle East, along with increased availability of natural-gas liquids in the Middle East, suggest that imports of feedstocks will be available at the right costs. My view is that China’s economic challenges will result in annual average petrochemicals consumption growth of 1-3% per year up until 2030. Beyond 2030 I see growth falling to around 1%. Weaker demand growth will of course make it easier to increase petrochemicals self-sufficiency. Because recycling is mainly a “local for local” business due to the restrictions on moving plastic waste across borders growth of recycling in China will, in my view again, increase the country’s self-sufficiency in polymers. Recycling is exactly the type of higher-value industry China needs to nurture as it attempts to escape a middle-income trap made very deep by its demographic challenges. Security of local supplies of raw materials in an ever-more uncertain geopolitical world will add further momentum to the growth of recycling in China. Local virgin polymer and petrochemical plants will run at high operating rates, supported by maximising supply of feedstocks from local refineries and by competitive imports of feedstocks from China’s geopolitical partners. This will further boost supply security. Don’t be therefore distracted by suggestions that the growth of EVs in China and the country’s emissions targets will be good news for petrochemical exporters to China. China will become a vast continent-sized market that will be just about entirely self-sufficient. As I shall explore in a later post, this will apply to specialty as well as commodity grades of petrochemicals. Overseas producers most focus on markets elsewhere. As the chart below shows using high-density polyethylene (HDPE) as an example, the opportunities in other countries and regions are big. China lifted all petrochemicals boats during the 1992-2021 Supercycle, making even the least-competitive companies successful. This is no longer the case. 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.


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