Brazil Braskem plans to restart chlor-alkali, EDC plant in H1 '20

Author: Al Greenwood

2019/11/18

HOUSTON (ICIS)--Next year, Braskem plans to restart two plants in Alagoas state that it shut down because they could no longer receive feedstock brine from a closed salt mine, an executive said on Monday.

Braskem shut down the salt mine after regulators complained that it was causing subsidence and damage to buildings in the nearby neighbourhoods of Pinheiro, Bebedouro and Mutange in Maceio, Alagoas.

The closing of the salt mine led to the shutdowns of a nearby chlor-alkali plant and an ethylene dichloride (EDC) unit.

To meet feedstock demand for its downstream vinyl plants, Braskem imported EDC.

The company now has plans to restart the Alagoas plants by shipping salt from the nearby state of Rio Grande do Norte, said Fernando Musa, Braskem CEO. He made his comments during an earnings conference call.

Once Braskem restores salt supplies, it can resume production at the chlor-alkali plant and the downstream EDC unit, Musa said. That could take place during the first half of 2020.

That EDC unit supplies material to downstream plants in Alagoas and Bahia that make polyvinyl chloride (PVC).

The company is looking at a more permanent solution that would involve extracting salt at the existing reserve from a new site in Alagoas that is outside of Maceio, Musa said. This will take more time because Braskem needs to find the right location and build the pipeline that will ship the brine to the chlor-alkali plant.

Musa did not say when Braskem could start working on this longer term project. He also did not provide cost estimates for it or the shorter term project involving salt shipments from Rio Grande do Norte.

The shutdown caused a sharp decline in caustic-soda production as shown in the following chart. Figures are in tonnes.

The shutdown of the EDC unit in Alagoas disrupted the company's operations at its cracker in the Camacari complex in Bahia.

Recently, Braskem had upgraded the cracker to allow it to produce up to 15% of its ethylene from ethane imported from the US.

Braskem used some of that ethylene to make EDC in Alagoas. Because Braskem had shut down the EDC unit in Alagoas, it needed to produce less ethylene. Consequently, it lowered the utilisation rate at the cracker in Camacari.

The Camacari cracker was unable to take full advantage of its ethane-cracking capabilities because it still needed to produce sufficient amounts of propylene to feed Braskem's downstream units. Naphtha cracking produces more propylene than ethane cracking.

In all, Braskem had to lower the utilisation rate of its cracker in Camacari and rely on a greater share of naphtha.

Pictured above: Ethylene dichloride (EDC) is upstream of polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
Source: Hans Lippert/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock