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Xylenes

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Xylenes prices and demand can change in an instant. As a by-product of oil refining, petrochemical production and coke fuel manufacturing, these chemicals are highly dependent on upstream markets. Likewise, xylenes demand fluctuates rapidly in downstream markets as they are used in a variety of processes.

Xylenes are split into four main components, isomer grade mixed xylenes (MX), solvent grade xylenes, para-xylenes (PX) and orthoxylenes (OX). Solvent xylenes are used as solvents in the printing, rubber and leather industries as well as cleaning agents, thinners for paints and in agricultural sprays. The primary use of mixed xylenes is as an octane booster for transportation fuels. Xylenes are also one of the precursors of the production of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polyester fibre. OX is largely used for the production of phthalic anhydride (PA) markets.

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Xylenes news

Snowpack surplus may curb Italian power and gas prices

SWE volumes flip to surplus on Italian Alps for the first time in two years – CIMA This should support Italy’s hydropower margins and pressure power, gas prices Snowmelt should lift water reservoirs above average, boost hydro and limit gas needs LONDON (ICIS)–Abundant snowfall on the Italian Alps through February and March boosted the snowpack after two years of deficit from severe drought, which has resulted in a confident outlook for hydropower generation this summer and could pressure Italian power and gas prices. For the first time in two years the Italian Alps’ snow water equivalent (SWE) volumes, a measure of the water contained in the snow, flipped above the median over the last 12 years, in particular the Po river basin, Italy’s largest river, shown by data up to 1 April published by the Italian CIMA Research Foundation’s study on 4 April. This was a significant improvement from the first part of the past winter, when CIMA’s data initially indicated a snowpack deficit. The surplus of SWE volumes brings some security of supply as most of Italy’s water reservoirs and hydropower plants are located in proximity to the Alpine region. However, CIMA warned that while the overall SWE volumes for Italy showed a slight surplus, the central and southern basins were recorded at a deficit. Although, the deficit is unlikely to cause a risk for hydropower supply, as most of the capacity is concentrated in the north. “The reason for these differences [between the Alps and the Apennines] is, as always, linked to rainfall and temperatures,” said Francesco Avanzi, hydrologist at the CIMA Foundation, in the report. Avanzi also said that March had more precipitation in the northern and central region of Italy, but on the other hand the Apennines had temperatures that were more than 2.5°C higher compared to the average of the last decade throughout winter, which led to less snowfall and early melting of the snow. The study showed that further snowfalls are very unlikely, while early snowmelt could also represent a risk in the hottest summer months if it leads to a lack of water from the mountains over the third quarter. “For [the SWE surplus] to be truly useful in the periods when we need water most, the snow must remain snow for a few more weeks” Avanzi indicated in the report. IMPACT ON POWER The snow surplus can support the refill of water reservoirs and hydropower supply margins, providing secure supply of power. Additionally, higher SWE levels can reduce heatwave-related risks for the gas-fired generation plants located along the Po river. During past summers, heatwaves and low river levels caused gas plants to curb their power output due to difficulties in cooling their systems. Italy has 22.1GW of hydropower generation capacity, mainly from run-of-river and poundage and pumped hydro storage, according to ENTSO-E data. In 2023 hydropower generation totalled 39.3TWh, accounting for more than 15% of the total generation and representing the country’s top renewable generation source and the second power supply source behind gas, according to grid operator Terna. Wider hydropower supply margins means that cheaper electricity could be available this summer, therefore pressuring Italian power products and narrowing their premium to key European neighbours. IMPACT ON GAS Stronger hydropower output could also reduce the need for gas-fired generation this summer and result in lower gas consumption for producing electricity, which is potentially a bearish factor for PSV prices with delivery this summer. Combined-cycle gas turbines are Italy’s main source of power supply, with a 45.1GW-strong fleet and a total output of almost 134TWh in 2023, accounting for more than 52% of the total power supply mix over the same year. In 2023, Italy consumed 21 billion cubic metres of natural gas for electricity generation, or 35% of the total gas consumption according to gas grid operator SNAM. Improving hydro margins could further pressure Italian gas demand, continuing the declining trend seen in 2023. Note: Snow water volume graphs published with the permission of CIMA Research Foundation

05-Apr-2024

China petrochemical futures track crude gains on upbeat March factory data

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China’s petrochemical futures markets were tracking gains in crude prices on Monday, with Brent trading at above $87/bbl, on bullish sentiment following a return of the world’s second-biggest economy into manufacturing expansion mode. Official, Caixin March manufacturing PMIs at above 50 China methanol, SM futures prices lead gains External demand picking up for selected goods At the close of morning trade, futures prices of major petrochemicals in Chinese commodity exchanges were up by 0.2% to 1.7%. China petrochemical futures markets Prices as of 03:30 GMT (CNY/tonne) % change vs 29 March Linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) 8,279 0.60% Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) 5,803 0.20% Ethylene glycol (EG) 4,499 0.50% Polypropylene (PP) 7,542 0.80% Styrene monomer (SM) 9,451 1.40% Paraxylene* 8,534 0.70% Purified terephthalic acid (PTA) * 6,016 1.30% Methanol* 2,518 1.70% Sources: Dalian Commodity Exchange, *Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange At midday, Brent crude was up 30 cents at $87.30/bbl, while US crude gained 31 cents at $83.48/bbl. Crude futures were also supported by expectations of tighter supply amid output cuts by OPEC and its allies, which include Russia. Manufacturing activity in China expanded for the first time in six months, based on official data in March, generating a purchasing managers’ index (PMI) reading of 50.8, as companies accelerated production following the Lunar New Year holiday in the previous month. A separate reading by Chinese media group Caixin was more upbeat, with a higher March PMI reading of 51.1, the highest recorded since February 2023. In Caixin’s data, factory output continued to expand for the fifth straight month. The Caixin PMI surveys small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and export-oriented enterprises located in eastern coastal regions, while the official PMI is tilted toward larger state-owned enterprises. A reading above 50 indicates expansion, while a reading below denotes contraction. “Both supply and demand expanded at a faster pace amid the market upturn. In March, growth in manufacturers’ output and total new orders accelerated, with the former hitting a 10-month high,” Caixin Insight Group senior economist Wang Zhe said. “External demand also picked up pace thanks to the recovery in the global economy, pushing the gauge for new export orders to its highest level since February 2023,” the economist added. “Overall, the manufacturing sector continued to improve in March, with expansion in supply and demand accelerating, and overseas demand picking up,” Wang said. “Manufacturers increased purchases and raw material inventories amid continued improvement in business optimism. However, employment remained in contraction and a depressed price level worsened,” Wang added Besides the seasonal effect, firming overseas demand also helped to push up Chinese factory activities, local brokerage Haitong Securities wrote in a note, citing that furniture, transportation equipment and electronics were enjoying strong demand. China is projected to post around a 5% GDP growth this year, slower than the 5.2% pace recorded in 2023, with a slumping property sector posing a major drag on overall economic prospects. Property and other related sectors account for about a fifth of China’s GDP. While the property slump may persist, other sectors such as electric vehicles, new energy and digital economy are posting healthy growth, said Zhang Junfeng, senior analyst at Shenzhen-based brokerage China Merchant Securities. Focus article by Fanny Zhang ($1 = CNY7.23) Additional reporting by Nurluqman Suratman Thumbnail image: At Lianyungang Port in east China's Jiangsu Province, 26 March 2024. (Shutterstock)

01-Apr-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 28 March 2024. Asia PX supply to decrease; demand outlook uncertain By Samuel Wong 28-Mar-24 13:08 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Supply for paraxylene (PX) in Asia is expected to gradually decrease heading into the second quarter of 2024 as a result of several planned maintenance shutdowns. INSIGHT: GCC signs deal with Turkey to start FTA talks as part of diversification plans By Nurluqman Suratman 28-Mar-24 00:54 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–The Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) recent deal with Turkey to launch negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) further signals the bloc's commitment to diversify away from oil revenues. PODCAST: A tale of two olefins – diverging trends in Asia's olefins markets By Julia Tan 27-Mar-24 19:11 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia's ethylene (C2) market will see northeast Asia supply in Q2 remain ample on the back of relatively high run rates at northeast Asian crackers. Saudi Aramco eyes further chemical investments in China with local partners By Nurluqman Suratman 26-Mar-24 12:03 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China has a "vitally important" place in Saudi Aramco's global investment strategy, with the energy giant actively developing additional investment opportunities with its Chinese partners in the chemicals sector, Aramco president and CEO Amin Nasser said. China’s Sinopec 2023 profit falls 13% as chemicals incur loss for second year By Fanny Zhang 25-Mar-24 15:14 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Chinese producer Sinopec posted a 12.9% decrease in full-year 2023 net profit as product prices fell across the board, dragged down by operating losses in chemicals. Asia PC makers grapple with poor Chinese demand By Li Peng Seng 25-Mar-24 10:57 SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Asia’s polycarbonate (PC) makers have been struggling to raise prices in China recently due to slow demand, while production costs continue to rise.

01-Apr-2024

LOGISTICS: No impact yet on shipping rates after Baltimore bridge collapse; Asia-US container rates fall further

HOUSTON (ICIS)–The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore is wreaking havoc on logistics and freight movements in the immediate region, but the incident has yet to have any impact on shipping rates, and costs for shipping containers from Asia to the US continue to fall, highlighting this week’s logistics roundup. PORT OF BALTIMORE The Port of Baltimore remains closed to all vessel traffic following the bridge collapse early Tuesday morning. The unified command (UC) said on-scene crews continue to assess and monitor for spilled oils and hazardous substances to prevent further discharge or release into the marine environment as 14 containers on the Dali that were holding hazardous materials were impacted during the collision. The chemical components assessed were soap products, perfume products, or not otherwise specified resins, the UC said. Salvage efforts have begun but will take some time and according to the local US Coast Guard authorities the port is officially closed for the near future. Some of the chemical products most likely impacted are caustic soda, veg oil, base oils, ethanol, biodiesel and a variety of others. South African producer Sasol told ICIS that a terminal inside the port with the company’s name has not been used by the company since it opened its major facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Specialty chemical producer WR Grace has a terminal in the port, according to a map of the port on the Maryland state government’s website. The company did not immediately respond on Friday to questions about the terminal. The port is one of the largest in the US for auto imports and exports. Global shipping major MSC is advising customers that passage to and from the port will not be established “for weeks if not months”. Containers already on the water will be rerouted and discharged at an alternate port where they will be made available for pick-up upon completion of the usual import documentary procedure, MSC said. Customers with containers at the origin, whether gated in or booked but not yet gated, need to contact the origin booking office immediately to decide whether they wish for the cargo to be carried to the alternate ports in the US. Judah Levine, head of research at online freight shipping marketplace and platform provider Freightos, said more vessels arriving at alternative ports, or longer port calls as vessels offload more containers, could cause some congestion at those ports, meaning delays for shippers. “But ocean freight is now in its slow season between Lunar New Year and peak season that typically starts in June or July,” Levine said. “And at the moment there is no significant congestion at any of the major East Coast ports.” CONTAINER RATES FALL FURTHER Average global rates for shipping containers continue to fall after surging in December when Houthi rebels began attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Shippers began to divert away from the Suez Canal because of the attacks, which added days and sometimes weeks to traditional trade routes and tightened available capacity. Shippers brought all floating capacity online, increased sailing speeds and brought into service newbuilds to help alleviate the situation. Softer overall demand also helped ease stressed supply chains. Average rates and rates from Shanghai to the US and Europe have fallen steadily since the first of the year according to supply chain advisors Drewry and as shown in the following charts. Levine said the Baltimore closure could put some upward pressure on rates but that he expects it would be temporary. 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), which are shipped in pellets. They also transport liquid chemicals in isotanks. LIQUID TANKER RATES STEADY While many tanker shipping routes from the Americas remained subdued with no significant price changes, the Transatlantic eastbound route remains firm as there continues to be a lot of interest seen in the market this week, although space remains tight. On the bunker side, fuel prices have been steadily decreasing as well on the back of softer energy prices; however, week over week remain relatively mixed. PANAMA CANAL Wait times for non-booked vessels ready for transit edged higher this week, according to the PCA's vessel tracker and as shown in the following image. Wait times last week were 1.2 days for northbound traffic and 1.4 days for southbound traffic. Additional reporting by Kevin Callahan Thumbnail image shows the Dali and the collapsed Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore, Maryland, from www.keybridgeresponse2024.com

29-Mar-2024

Saudi Aramco eyes further chemical investments in China with local partners

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–China has a "vitally important" place in Saudi Aramco's global investment strategy, with the energy giant actively developing additional investment opportunities with its Chinese partners in the chemicals sector, Aramco president and CEO Amin Nasser said. The global oil major’s strategic goals in chemicals are “well-aligned” with China’s, he said in a keynote speech at the China Development Forum in Beijing on 25 March, noting that the country “is already a powerhouse representing 40% of global [chemical] sales”. Aramco, through its chemicals arm SABIC, is planning to increase its liquids-to-chemicals throughput to 4m barrels per day by 2030, Nasser said. Saudi Aramco accelerated its push into China’s refining and petrochemical sector last year with strategic investments that are aligned with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 diversification goals. This includes the 10% stake acquisition in Rongsheng Petrochemical Co for $3.4bn last year. Saudi Aramco, together with Chinese partners Norinco Group and Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group (PXIG), is also building a 300,000 bbl/day refining and ethylene-based steam cracking complex in Panjin City, in northeast China's Liaoning province at a cost of around $12bn. The Liaoning project is expected to come online in 2026. “We are also pleased that SABIC’s partnership in Fujian is on-track to commence construction of a major chemicals facility at an estimated cost of $6.4 billion,” Nasser said. The Fujian complex will include a mixed-feed steam cracker with up to 1.8m tonne/year ethylene (C2) capacity and various downstream units producing ethylene glycols (EG), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP) and polycarbonate (PC), among other products. SABIC’s other major investments in China include three compounding plants in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chongqing; a joint venture with Sinopec in Tianjin; a technology centre in Shanghai and a customer centre office in Guangzhou. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT Demand for lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) materials – especially advanced composites and non-metallics in general – is growing rapidly, Nasser noted. Aramco’s research efforts in developing GHG materials are consistent with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s stance that sustainable development is the “golden key” for future success, he said. “We agree with China’s pragmatic and prudent approach to energy transition…I believe there are wide-ranging opportunities to jointly develop advanced GHG emission reduction technologies.” China has distinct strengths in renewables and critical materials, while Aramco and Saudi Arabia have a clear interest in solar, wind, hydrogen, and electro fuels, Nasser said. “These areas have great long-term potential, and combining our strengths could match our ambitions,” he added. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman

26-Mar-2024

INSIGHT: Controversial EU Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation approaches adoption

LONDON (ICIS)–Details of the provisional agreement on the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation (PPWR) have been published, containing a number of wide-ranging elements which will reshape the packaging sector across the next two decades. The regulation is now reaching its final stages but has faced a fraught journey through the various legislative chambers of the EU and has remained divisive among both legislators and the markets. Under the provisional agreement the regulation will introduce: Mandated packaging recyclability Minimum recycled content and reuse targets across packaging – albeit with potential derogations based on availability of recycled material Mandatory deposit return schemes (DRS) and separate packaging collection targets New reporting and labelling obligations The extension of extended producer responsibility (EPR) schemes A restriction on the placing on the market of food contact packaging containing per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) above certain thresholds A restriction on plastic collation films except for transportation purposes The possibility of bio-based plastic contributing to recycling targets The allowance of imports to count towards recycling targets provided they are of similar quality as domestic material and have been separately collected The Committee of the Permanent representatives of the Governments of the Member States to the European Union (Coreper) endorsed the Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation on 15 March following amendments to the provisional agreement reached by the EU Parliament and EU Council (but not endorsed by the EU Commission) during the trilogue negotiations. The European Parliament Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) endorsed the provisional agreement on 19 March. NEW RE-USE TARGETSBy 1 January 2030, 40% of most transport packaging used within the EU – including e-commerce – will need to be reusable and ‘within a system of reuse’. This includes pallets, foldable-plastic boxes, boxes, trays, plastic crates, intermediate bulk containers, pails, drums and canisters of all sizes and materials, including flexible formats or pallet wrappings or straps for stabilisation and protection of products put on pallets during transport. From 2040 this will increase to 70%.  Some players said that this amounted to a defacto ban on flexible plastic transport packaging because of the difficulty in reaching the reuse target. By 2030, 10% of grouped packaging boxes for stock keeping or distribution will need to be re-usable. Controversially, cardboard boxes will be exempt from these reuse targets, which could see an increased shift to the material. Dangerous goods transport packaging, large scale equipment transport packaging, and flexibles in direct contact with food and feed as defined in Regulation (EC) No 178/2002, and food ingredients as defined in Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011 will also be exempted. By 2030, distributors of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage sales packaging will need to meet a 10% reuse target, which will increase to 40% by 2040. Some classes of alcoholic beverage, including highly perishable alcoholic beverages will be exempted. RECYCLABILITY AND REUSEBy 2030 all packaging must be recyclable or reusable. To be classed as recyclable, packaging must be: Designed for recycling Separately collected Sorted in to defined waste streams without affecting the recyclability of other waste streams Possible to be recycled so that the resulting secondary raw materials are of sufficient quality to substitute the primary raw materials Packaging recyclability performance grades are to be established by packaging category and classified as grades A, B or C. After 1 January 2030 any packaging that falls below grade C will be restricted from sale in the market. After 1 January 2038 packaging classified below grade B will be banned from sale in the market. Under the legislation, along with design for recycling assessments from 2035 an additional assessment will be added based on the weight of material effectively recycled from each packaging category – with the packaging categories under the design for recycling assessment established in Article 6 paragraph 6 of the provisional agreement. The EU Commission will be given power to adopt delegated acts to establish the detailed criteria for the design for recycling criteria under the packaging categories, with criteria to be set-out by 1 January 2028. Also from 2035, a requirement that material be ‘recycled at scale’ will be added to the recyclability assessment, with the EU Commission able to amend the thresholds. The definition of packaging waste recycled at scale requires separate collection sorting and recycling of material across the EU as a whole (including of waste exports) in installed infrastructure for each of the packaging categories of at least 55% for all materials except for wood which requires at least 30%. Assessments of recyclability will include the impact on recycling systems of the inclusion of things such as barriers, inks and labels. By the end of 2026 the EU Commission will be required to prepare a report on ‘substances of concern’ that might negatively affect recycling or reusability, with additional restrictions added for those substances under recyclability assessments. Member states will be able to request the EU Commission consider restricting substances they consider detrimental to recycling. Within 7 years from the date of application of the regulation, the Commission will be required to evaluate whether the design for recycling requirements have contributed to minimising substances of concern. A five-year exemption on meeting recyclability targets will be given for innovative packaging, along with an exemption for medical goods and medical goods packaging, dangerous goods and packaging for food-contact material specifically made for infants. Sales packaging made from lightweight wood, cork, textile, rubber, ceramic or porcelain is also expected to be exempted from most of the recyclability requirements. MINIMUM RECYCLING TARGETS FOR THE PACKAGING CHAINUnder the provisional agreement, from 1 January 2030, or three years after the introduction of the related implementing act (whichever is later) all plastic packaging placed on the market in the EU must include a minimum percentage of recycled content from post-consumer waste – by weight – of: 30% for contact sensitive packaging (this is generally packaging that comes into contact with food or medical supplies), excluding single-use bottles made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) as the major component 10% for contact sensitive packaging made from plastic materials other than PET, except single use plastic beverage bottles 30% for single use plastic beverage bottle 35% for all other packaging By 2040, this will increase to: 50% for contact sensitive plastic packaging made primarily from PET, except for single use plastic beverage bottles 25% for non-PET contact sensitive plastics, with the exception of single use beverage bottles 65% for single use beverage bottles and all other plastic packaging The recycled content targets will allow the use of material from ‘third countries’ – those outside of the EU – the allowance of which has been one of the most contentious and heavily lobbied parts of the bill on either side of the argument. Material from outside of the EU will need to have been separately collected, and have equivalent specification to the requirements listed in the PPWR, the Waste Framework Directive (2008/98/EC), and the Directive on the reduction of the impact of certain plastic products on the environment ((EU) 2019/904). Medical packaging, transportation of dangerous goods, compostable plastic packaging and food packaging for infants and young children will be exempt from the recycled targets. The Commission is obliged to adopt implementing acts establishing a methodology for the calculation and verification of these recycled percentages by 31 December 2026. The Commission will be able to amend the targets based on "excessive prices of specific recycled plastics" and on the grounds that the amount of recycled content would pose a threat to human health or result in non-compliance with Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 – or to any plastic part representing less than 5% of the total weight of the whole packaging, which would typically include things such as functional barriers. By 1 January 2028 the Commission will be required to assess the need for further exemptions from recycled content targets for specific plastic packaging based on a lack of suitable recycling technologies. It will have the power to introduce implementing acts to amend the recycled content targets based on those assessments. Member states will also be able to exempt economic operators from reuse targets for 5 years as long as: that Member State has reached 5 percentage points above the 2025 recycled targets for recycling of packaging waste per material It is expected to reach 5 percentage points above the 2030 target (as assessed by the EU Commission) It is on track to meet waste prevention targets under the PPWR It has reached a 3% waste prevention by 2028 compared with a 2018 baseline The economic operators have adopted a corporate waste prevention and recycling plan that contributes to achieving the waste prevention and recycling objective The five year exemption can be renewed by Member States provided the conditions remain filled. This would appear to lead to the prospect of uneven trading conditions across the EU. The targets will be calculated by year and manufacturing plant. The 2030 targets under the PPWR will replace the targets set out in the Single Use Plastics Directive (SUPD) from 2030, but the pre-2030 targets in the SUPD will remain. EPR schemes will be extended under the legislation and must be set-up to ensure that fees to producers (or those with producer responsibility in the case of imports) are sufficient to cover the ‘full waste management’ cost of packaging waste, but actual fees are not stipulated in the legislation. The provisional agreement states that players contributing to EPR schemes should be given priority access at market prices to recycled material corresponding to the amount of packaging placed in a Member State by each individual economic operator. SINGLE-USE PLASTICS, PACKAGING WASTE TO LANDFILL, AND PFAS BANSThere will be further bans on single-use plastics introduced by the PPWR, which remain broadly inline with those proposed in the EU Council’s bargaining position. Significantly, for the recycled low density polyethylene (R-LDPE) flexible market this includes a ban on plastic film wrap grouping bottles, cans, tins, pots, tubs, or packets together in multi-packs at point of sale, but will not include wrap used for business-to-business distribution. This could also impact on pyrolysis-based chemical recyclers because post-consumer flexibles have been identified by the sector as a potential key feedstock source. The agreement also includes a ban on food-contact packaging containing PFAS above certain thresholds. There will also be a restriction on sending packaging waste that can be recycled to landfill or incineration, which could result in a higher sorting requirements and costs for waste managers. BIO-BASED MATERIALBy three years from the entrance in to force of the PPWR the EU Commission will be obliged to review the state of technological development and environmental performance of bio-based plastic packaging. Following this, the Commission will be required to bring forth legislative proposals for targets to increase the use of bio-based plastics in packaging, this will include the possibility of bio-based material contributing to recycling targets for food-contact material where recycled material is not available. This is likely to impact most heavily on the polyolefins and polystyrene sectors. CHEMICAL RECYCLINGThe original commission draft appeared to clarify and support the use of chemical recycling as counting towards the targets as long as its end use is not for fuel or backfill. In a blow for chemical recyclers, however, the wording around definition of recycling has been removed, and now refers back to Directive 2008/98/EC which forms the basis of the majority of EU recycling legislation definitions. Directive 2008/98/EC defined recycling as “any recovery operation by which waste materials are reprocessed into products, materials or substances whether for the original or other purposes. It includes the reprocessing of organic material but does not include energy recovery and the reprocessing into materials that are to be used as fuels or for backfilling operations." This has left the legal status of chemical recycling uncertain, particularly for pyrolysis – the dominant form of chemical recycling in Europe – where mixed plastic waste is commonly converted to pyrolysis oil – a naphtha substitute – before being reprocessed into recycled plastics. MEMBER STATE TARGETS AND DEPOSIT RETURN SCHEMES (DRSs)Member state targets and obligations to implement DRSs remain broadly the same as in the EU Council’s bargaining position paper. The exception is that the figure on the collection figure for member states to exempt themselves from a DRS scheme has been increased to 80% by weight of applicable packaging placed on the market for the first time in 2026, up from 78% in the EU Council's bargaining position. The legislation's passage through the EU has been fraught, with the EU Commission objecting to the provisional agreement between the Parliament and the Council, and with widespread talk circulating in the run up to the vote that the members would not support it at Coreper. These factors are understood to be behind the last minute amendments. The regulation now faces a final approval vote in the EU Parliament’s April plenary session, if it passes that vote it will be adopted in to law. Insight by Mark VictoryAdditional reporting by Matt Tudball Clarification: recasts detail in 51st paragraph

25-Mar-2024

AFPM '24: INSIGHT: New US auto emission rule to boost plastic demand, squeeze refiners

HOUSTON (ICIS)–The new greenhouse gas restrictions that the US imposed on automobiles will speed up the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs), which will have several knock-on effects on plastics, lubricants and chemicals produced by refineries. Under the new greenhouse gas standards, EVs and plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) will make up a growing share of the nation's light automobile fleet at the expense of internal combustion engines (ICEs). EVs and PHEVs consume larger amounts of plastics on a per-capita basis than autos powered by ICEs. If the prevalence of ICE-powered vehicles declines as forecast by the US, then that would lower demand for fuel, discouraging refiners from expanding or making expensive investments on their units. That could lower production of aromatics and other refined products. DETAILS OF NEW EPA TAILPIPE RULEThe new rule requires the US light vehicle fleet to emit progressively smaller amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), as shown in the following table. Figures are listed in grams of CO2 emitted per mile driven. 2026 2027 2028 2029 2030 2031 2032 Cars 131 139 125 112 99 86 73 Trucks 184 184 165 146 128 109 90 Total Fleet 168 170 153 136 119 102 85 Source: EPA The US will have to greatly increase its reliance on EVs to meet such standards, according to the EPA. The regulator forecasts what its new rule will entail for the makeup of the US light vehicle fleet. It presented three scenarios that make different assumptions about the share of EVs, PHEVs, hybrids and autos powered by ICEs. Hybrid vehicles rely predominantly on ICEs, while PHEVs rely predominantly on batteries, which is why they need to be plugged in to recharge. The following charts show the three scenarios. Scenario A 2027 2028 2029 2030 2031 2032 ICE 64% 58% 49% 43% 35% 29% Hybrid 4% 5% 5% 4% 3% 3% PHEV 6% 6% 8% 9% 11% 13% EV 26% 31% 39% 44% 51% 56% Source: EPA Scenario B 2027 2028 2029 2030 2031 2032 ICE 62% 56% 49% 39% 28% 21% Hybrid 4% 4% 3% 6% 7% 6% PHEV 10% 12% 15% 18% 24% 29% EV 24% 29% 33% 37% 41% 43% Source: EPA Scenario C 2027 2028 2029 2030 2031 2032 ICE 61% 41% 35% 27% 19% 17% Hybrid 4% 15% 13% 16% 15% 13% PHEV 10% 17% 22% 27% 32% 36% EV 24% 26% 30% 31% 34% 35% Source: EPA IMPACT ON PLASTICSEVs and hybrids typically consume more plastics than ICEs, according to Kevin Swift, ICIS senior economist for global chemicals. Swift compared two automobile models that their manufacturers offered in ICE, hybrid and EV versions. The following chart shows how plastics consumption fared across the three versions. Not only do EVs tend to consume more plastics, they impose different challenges on the materials. Because EVs need to be recharged, their systems are running even when the vehicles are stationary. Materials must have the durability to maintain their properties after several thousands of additional hours of use. The wires and cables within EVs generate heat through electrical resistance, so materials need to manage heat. Materials used in battery packs and the charging equipment need to have flame retardancy to prevent thermal runaway. Some materials must withstand high voltages from fast charging times, while others need to shield sensors and other electrical components from electro-magnetic interference (EMI) and radio frequency interference (RFI). As EV production grows, demand for these materials will increase. IMPACT ON BASE OILSIf the EPA's forecasts come true, then demand for base oils used in engine lubricants will decline. EVs lack ICEs so they do not use motor oil. However, EVs still have moving parts so they will require greases and lubricants. A more lucrative opportunity may lie in thermal management fluids. Petroleum-based thermal management fluids avoid the problems that come with using water-based cooling fluids like glycols in electric vehicles. In time, EVs could manage heat by relying on direct immersion cooling. Here the battery, the inverter and the motor are submerged in a bath of thermal management fluids. The base stocks that would be used in thermal management fluids will be a combination of polyalphaolefins (PAOs), esters and polyaklylene glycols (PAGS). IMPACT ON AROMATICSA faster adoption of EVs could speed up the arrival of peak oil demand. Figures from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that gasoline demand in the country peaked in 2018. That peak was barely higher than the previous record set in 2007. Refiners are not going to add new capacity or make expensive investments if demand for their primary products have stagnated. As their units age or suffer damage from fires and other accidents, refiners could choose to shut operations or convert their complexes to produce renewable fuels or other sustainable products. The consequences would cause production to stagnate or even decline for benzene, toluene and xylenes (BTX), chemical building blocks that are primarily produced in refineries in the US. Downstream consumers of these chemicals will have to consider imports if they wish to maintain their operations. US COULD LAVISH MORE POLICIES ON EVSUS EVs could get more supportive policies in the months ahead. The EPA is expected to decide if California can adopt its Advanced Clean Car II (ACC II), which would phase out the sale of ICE-based vehicles to 2035. If the EPA grants California's request, that would trigger similar programs in several other states. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing stricter efficiency standards under its Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) program. The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) has raised concerns about the new EPA rule as well as the two pending policies that would provide further support for EVs at the expense of vehicles powered by ICEs. It raised more concerns on Thursday right before the group's International Petrochemical Conference (IPC), which begins on Sunday. “At a time when millions of Americans are struggling with high costs and inflation, the Biden administration has finalized a regulation that will unequivocally eliminate most new gas cars and traditional hybrids from the US market in less than a decade,” said Chet Thompson, AFPM CEO, said. “Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, Congress has to make a decision whether to protect consumer choice, US manufacturing workers and our hard-won energy security by overturning this deeply flawed regulation,” Thompson said. “Short of that, our organizations are certainly prepared to challenge it in court.” Insight article by Al Greenwood Thumbnail image shows an electric vehicle (EV) charging station in Takoma Park, Maryland. Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

21-Mar-2024

INSIGHT: SAF catalyst technology could also boost biochemicals production

LONDON and BARCELONA (ICIS)–Catalyst technology used to power the first transatlantic flight conducted by a commercial airline which used 100% sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), could also have applications in chemicals production if a market can be developed to allow for commercial scale up. The SAF used on the voyage, dubbed Flight100, was a SAF blend containing 88% HEFA hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) supplied by AirBP, the specialised aviation division of BP, and 12% SAK synthetic aromatic kerosene (SAK) supplied by Virent, a subsidiary of Marathon Petroleum Corporation. Virent developed the SAK in conjunction with Johnson Matthey, using the latter’s proprietary BioForming sugars to aromatic process. Feedstocks such as sugar beet, sugar cane, and corn are currently used in the process, which is also capable of utilising cellulosic sugars as feedstock. Current forms of SAF linked to HEFA and Fischer Tropsch Synthetic Paraffinic Kerosene (FT-SPK) require conventional jet fuel blending to enable an 8-25% aromatics presence to enable optimum fuel burning. Fossil-based conventional jet kerosene is blended with HEFA and FT-SPK based SAF to create a balance between the paraffins and aromatics required to ensure proper fuel system operations. The BioForming sugars to aromatics process results in bio-based aromatics in the SAK, which enables up to a 100% drop in form of SAF, and can be compatible as a jet kerosene replacement. The SAK can also be blended with other types of SAF to boost the overall SAF content in the fuel mix. The BioForming process could potentially play a vital role in helping scale up the much-needed global SAF capacity expansion required to meet the aviation sectors’ aim to reduce emissions. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) adopted a global framework in November 2023, in which member states committed to strive towards reducing carbon emissions in international aviation by 5% by 2030 using SAF, low carbon aviation fuels, and other clean energy sources. The EU is implementing a minimum SAF blend of 2% starting from 2025. Mandated SAF blending rates in airports across the bloc will increase to 6% by 2030, 20% by 2035, and 34% by 2040, eventually reaching 70% by 2050. The US Department of Energy (DOE) published a plan that sees the country potentially meeting 100% of its projected jet fuel demand with SAF by 2050. A 10% blending target by 2030 has also been set by the OneWorld airline alliance, which includes British Airways, American Airlines, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Malaysian Airlines, and others as members. Currently, SAF makes up just over 0.1% in the global aviation fuel mix, which continues to be dominated by fossil-based jet kerosene. Johnson Matthey must overcome any possible financial hurdles that may arise before it can scale up its BioForming technology. Clariant was forced to shutdown its bioethanol plant in Podari, Romania, which also used cellulosic biomass as a feedstock. The company struggled to license out its Sunliquid technology while grappling to ramp up capacity of its bioethanol plant amid challenging operating economics. Johnson Matthey and other companies spearheading technological developments in biofuels and bio-chemicals will have to consider lessons incurred from other projects and integrate such learnings into future plans. BIOCHEMICAL FEEDSTOCK POTENTIAL According to David Kettner, president and general counsel at Virent, this technology has huge potential as a feedstock for chemicals production because it can use a variety of feedstocks to produce the sugars required for the process. This includes lignocellulosic sugars from woody biomass or agricultural residues. One third of the output of the process can be used for biochemical production and the company has already cooperated with companies such as Coca Cola where it produced bio-polyethylene terephthalate (PET) packaging. Virent also cooperated with Japan’s Toray Industries to produce polymers which were used by the Patagonia clothing brand to produce a 100% bio-based polyester product. The chemical feedstock produced by the process most closely resembles mixed xylenes. “The stream itself looks very much similar to what you would see coming out of a reforming unit," Kettner said. "You would take your mixed xylenes cut and be able to put it directly into existing processes for the production of benzene, toluene and xylenes, all of which have strong uses in polymer applications.” He said a demonstration plant currently produces around one barrel/day of bio-reformate with the potential to scale up to commercial levels “very comfortably”. Iain Gilmore, senior manager of Catalyst Technologies at Johnson Matthey added: “We are working at the moment with Virent and Marathon at commercializing the technology and we're pretty confident we can get the size of plants up in the region of 300,000-400,000 tonnes/year of bio-reformate. The project is going through the engineering and design phase, but is not yet at the stage where a formal announcement will be made. Johnson Matthey and Virent have also developed a joint licensing model which is currently being taken to market, led by Johnson Matthey. Insight by Nazif Nazmul and Will Beacham Thumbnail photo: A 100% SAF-fuelled Virgin Atlantic flight (Source: Justin Lane/EPA/EFE/Shutterstock)

20-Mar-2024

EU may see 'tidal change' on climate deadlines – German gas lobby group chair

EU may see readjustment of climate deadlines Policy changes anticipated after EU elections could support coal to gas switch Building importing LNG capacity needed for security of supply LONDON (ICIS)–Europe’s long-term energy strategy could witness a tidal change in 2024 as a new administration might readjust climate targets, Timm Kehler, the chair of German gas advocacy group Zukunft Gas said. Speaking to ICIS, Kehler said the EU’s parliamentary elections in June may usher in parties with a more conservative approach including on energy policies. “In broad brushes, I expect a more realistic approach and a readjustment of targets. “We will not see a rollback in reaching climate neutrality. There is broad consensus [on this] in different camps but we may see a more effective approach to energy policies with regards to carbon reduction, which will create tailwind for coal to gas switching,” he said. Nevertheless, Kehler said Europe’s goal for climate neutrality will remain although the deadlines for achieving these may be pushed back. “My personal expectation is that we will not see an adjustment in targets but in intermediate deadlines,” he added. MORE CAPACITY Kehler pointed out there was a pressing need to get more clarity on Germany’s natural and green gases strategy to inform the direction the country will take in the longer term. Germany faces the phaseout of its coal capacity, which means it should replace it with 20GW of baseload capacity to back up its renewable sources of generation. Right now, discussions focus on building some 10GW of gas-fired power plants, which might switch to hydrogen by the end of the decade. Kehler said Germany should be agnostic about the ‘colour’ of hydrogen and consider all options on the table including electrolysed hydrogen or hydrogen produced from natural gas. Germany is currently in talks with Norway to create two pipelines – one for hydrogen and another for carbon – which could be stored in dedicated carbon capture systems developed in the Scandinavian country. A similar debate is also taking place with regards to the fuel in Germany’s residential heating mix, as 50% of it is now covered from natural gas and another 20% from oil. Decisions related to the fuel mix in electricity and heating capacity will largely determine the extent to which Germany will need natural gas in the mid to long-term. STRANDED ASSETS Right now, the outlook covers a broad range, with some expecting demand to increase by 20% on current levels while others insisting it would shrink 30% below Germany’s annual demand of 70billion cubic meters. German industrial consumption has been fallen more than than 20% in the last two years compared to the 2017-2021 average, raising fears that new LNG regasification capacity that is being developed would be stranded within a few years. The country has already brought online 18bcm/year of regasification capacity and plans to reach 55bcm in coming years. Nevertheless, Kehler is adamant the capacity, including Germany’s land-based terminals, would have to be built regardless of the demand outlook. He said the utilisation rate of the terminals which have been commissioned was already higher than the average of 20-30%, which is the benchmark for mature terminal markets such as Japan or South Korea. Kehler said Europe should take a similar approach, focusing on the importance of security of supply rather than remaining concerned about stranded assets. NEUTRALITY CHARGE He also insisted EU member states should work closer together and remain mindful of the principle of solidarity. Zukunft Gas has aligned with European gas advocacy group, Eurogas, in expressing disagreement with a decision by the German government to impose a neutrality charge to recoup the cost of expensive gas for storage injections in 2022. “[…] we are not happy with the situation that we see market fragmentation about this. This behaviour could spread out to other EU countries and stop the further integration of gas markets.” The tax, currently at €1.86/MWh, has made exports from Germany to neighbouring EU countries expensive, hampering landlocked countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic from securing volumes from the west and diversifying away from Russian imports. Kehler said there were other options that could be considered but insisted the question was how much would politicians accept to see German voters pay for the gas.

20-Mar-2024

INSIGHT: Altair Chemical drives for sustainability/performance with focus on renewables

GALLARATE, Italy (ICIS)–The global chlor-alkali market has faced significant change through recent years of economic underperformance, including fluctuations in demand, price volatility, supply chain disruptions, cost reduction measures, market consolidation, and a greater focus on efficiency and innovation. Adapting to these changes has been vitally important for producers to navigate the continued challenging economic environment and to sustain operations. A shift to renewable power for chlor-alkali production is gathering pace as producers seek a more environmentally friendly means of producing chlorine and caustic soda while keeping an eye on costs. Electricity is the main cost element for chlor-alkali producers and can be seen as the major feedstock for plants in which a salt solution is split electrochemically into its component elements. In Italy, Esseco Industrial completed a merger within its industrial group at the start of this year that consolidates its chlor-alkali, caustic potash and hydrochloric acid operations giving it the prospect of capitalising on production, management, logistics and storage synergies. It has merged the activities of Hydrochem, a chlor-alkali production facility in Pieve Vergonte, in the Piemonte region, with Altair Chimica, a caustic potash (KOH) production location in Tuscany. The Hydrochem venture now operates as part of a globally strengthened Esseco Industrial, Roberto Vagheggi, general director of Esseco Industrial and CEO of the company’s chlor-alkali division told ICIS in an interview. Esseco Industrial produces organic and inorganic chemicals and has a turnover of some €700m. It is part of the Esseco Group, a family-run holding with over a century of history, which offers products and services for the organic and inorganic chemistry industry, specializing in sulfur derivatives and chlor-alkali. The corporate merger represents a step in a process started some time ago within Esseco Industrial and an investment of more than €50m. The Pieve Vergonte plant was hit hard by an economic crisis that began in 2019 and has had to be re-launched onto the chlor-alkali market. It faced the significant challenge of moving to membrane production and the elimination of mercury. Previously, in 2011 Esseco Group purchased Saline di Volterra, in Tuscany, its main Italian customer for caustic potash (KOH), the acquisition being an important milestone for the company. The Pieve Vergonte and Saline di Volterra sites have chlorine capacities of 45,000 tonnes/year and 80,000 tonnes thousand tonnes/year respectively. Altair Chimica was one of the first European companies to move to membrane technology and abandon mercury cell production. It signed an agreement with Italy’s Ministry of the Environment and the EU for the redevelopment and modernisation of the Saline di Voltera plant, to eliminate mercury and to reduce electricity consumption and the use of water from a nearby river. A new caustic potash plant, the first of its type, was built from scratch at the site. Vagheggi said that the merger with Hyrdochem has made it possible to streamline all processes for Altair Chemical from production to sales and through to post-sales thanks to new synergies and a renewed dialogue between the two plants. “The objective is to maximize production capacity, strengthen industrial activity under a single organisation, strengthen synergies between plants by sharing both storage management and logistics planning so that processes can be made as efficient as possible sales, offering customers high quality standards,” Vagheggi said. Esseco Industrial is environmentally sustainable, as it mainly uses renewable energy. Two proprietary hydroelectric power plants are operational in the Pieve Vergonte plant, which has allowed the company to exceed 75% use of renewable energy in internal consumption, making the site among the few that can be considered environmentally sustainable of their kind. Esseco Industrial says that it strongly believes in the energy transition. Thanks to a mix that also includes photovoltaic and process steam, the division consumes over 50% green energy and more than 55% energy with zero CO2 emissions. Another significant energy element is the hydrogen produced in Esseco Industrial by electrolysis (using, as mentioned, 50% renewable energy). This in turn, contributes to the decarbonisation of the thermal energy necessary for chemical reactions. Hydrogen is combined with chlorine to produce hydrochloric acid. “Today the company is working on future projects for the production of renewable hydrogen which will complement the hydrogen already produced by the chlorine/soda and chlorine/potash plants” Vagheggi said. Insight by Valentina Cherubin

19-Mar-2024

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