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Latest news

EPCA ’22: European auto output will only recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2025 – analyst

BERLIN (ICIS)–Production from the European petrochemicals-intensive automotive sector is unlikely to recover to pre-pandemic levels until 2025 at the earliest, a chemicals analyst at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said on Tuesday. Andreas Gocke, global lead for chemicals at BCG, said the war in Ukraine and supply-chain issues have only seen a further deterioration in the outlook for the automotive sector, which was already negative in 2021. Gocke was speaking to delegates at the European Petrochemicals Association (EPCA) annual meeting at a session titled ‘Competitiveness of the European Chemical Industry’. Around 20% of European petrochemicals output is sold to the automotive sector, and a a slowdown such as the one forecast by BCG has major implications for the industry. “The number of produced cars has gone down by 28% from the beginning of 2020 and that is very important for chemicals as a key supplier to the industry. This is not the consequence of inflation or the war in Ukraine – this was driven by previous factors [already taking place in 2021],” said Gocke. “The forecasts [for automotive] continue to be corrected again and again. Planning scenarios become even more difficult for you [petrochemicals companies]. This is even more radical for Europe. The automotive industry is a major global consumer of petrochemical-based materials, which account for more than one-third of the raw material costs of an average vehicle. A typical vehicle contains a wide variety of chemicals, including polypropylene (PP), along with nylon, polystyrene (PS), styrene butadiene rubber (SBR), polyurethanes (PUs) and methyl methacrylate (MMA)/polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), among others. The EPCA annual meeting runs on 4-6 October in Berlin.


EPCA ’22: European shut ammonia production unlikely to return – analyst

BERLIN (ICIS)–The 70% of European ammonia production which has been shut down on the back of high natural gas costs is unlikely to return, an analyst at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said on Tuesday. Andreas Gocke, global lead for chemicals at BCG, said natural gas prices in Europe are also unlikely to return to levels prior to the war in Ukraine, putting a strain on ammonia producers for whom gas is the main feedstock. Gocke was speaking to delegates at the European Petrochemicals Association (EPCA) annual meeting at a session titled ‘Competitiveness of European chemical industry’. “[Before the war] The entire cash cost of ammonia production in Europe was already bad, but [with current gas prices] there is a brutal translation: there is no chance anymore for cost-competitive production of ammonia in Europe,” said Gocke. This will have an impact not only on fertilizers production, he added, but also for downstream products such as polyamide 6 (PA6) or by-products from ammonia production such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which is used in a variety of industrial sectors, not least the food and drinks sector. “We have modelled how the European natural gas price could develop [in coming years and we modelled that] we will not get back to the levels we had in 2019 – this has very strong implications,” concluded Gocke. The EPCA annual meeting runs from 4-6 October in Berlin.


EPCA '22: PODCAST: Europe petrochemicals face ‘winter of discontent’

BERLIN (ICIS)–Europe’s petrochemical sector faces a ‘winter of discontent’, battered by high energy costs, collapsing downstream demand and increased imports from Asia. Europe petrochemicals face ‘winter of discontent’ High energy prices hurt production economics Downstream demand collapsing in some sectors Demand will be down 3% for Europe polymers in H2, compared with H1 September pick-up in demand has been weak New projects due onstream in Asia will add to global oversupply Global polyethylene (PE) capacity to rise 6% in 2022 and 5% in 2023 China PE demand expected to fall in 2022 China imports less PE, re-exports more to Europe Russia H1 PE exports to Europe rose 20% compared to H2 2021 Chemical company earnings will be squeezed In this Think Tank podcast, Will Beacham interviews ICIS Insight editor Nigel Davis, ICIS senior analyst Lorenzo Meazza, and Paul Hodges, chairman of New Normal Consulting. The European Petrochemicals Association (EPCA) annual meeting runs on 4-6 October in Berlin. Editor’s note: This podcast is an opinion piece. The views expressed are those of the presenter and interviewees, and do not necessarily represent those of ICIS. ICIS is organising regular updates to help the industry understand current market trends. Register here . Read the latest issue of ICIS Chemical Business. Read Paul Hodges and John Richardson's ICIS blogs.


EPCA ’22: Europe highest cost chemicals producing region, shutdowns encourage imports – ICIS

BERLIN (ICIS)–Europe is now the highest cost region for producing many chemicals, an ICIS senior analyst said on Monday, as energy costs in the region have skyrocketed. High costs are helping drive operating rates down and making imports more attractive, added James Wilson at a seminar held before the official opening of this year’s European Petrochemical Association (EPCA) annual meeting. Europe’s steam crackers have moved from around the middle of the global ethylene cost curve, which tracks the variable cost of production of ethylene, plant by plant, worldwide, to the far right, highest cost end, Wilson showed. Plants producing more natural gas-intensive chemicals are affected even more by Europe’s energy crisis. Gas prices may have doubled in certain parts of the world but, in Europe, they have risen much higher because of supply restrictions due to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and deep market uncertainty, according to ICIS European spot gas markets editor Alice Casagni. The future is uncertain with year ahead gas prices remaining high. Producing chemicals such as methanol, ammonia, and isocyanates is clearly impacted by high natural gas costs but, for chemicals production units in general, including Europe’s steam crackers, operations are under pressure from the higher cost of feedstocks, electricity, and of raising steam. Europe has the most expensive cost base now for producing polyvinyl chloride (PVC), styrene, monoethylene glycol (MEG), and methanol, for example, said Wilson. Click on image to enlarge Green bars are individual plants in Europe. Highest costs are to the right, lowest to the left   – The chemical industry is further exposed by expected gas rationing by European nations in the coming winter, which could impact chemicals production, alongside production in other industrial sectors. Producers have the option to reduce operating rates but the technical minimum is around 60%, Wilson said, and that would not result in a linear reduction in energy requirements. “While there are some ways for producers to reduce their natural gas usage, the impact of these steps is expected to be limited,” he added. “Reductions in run rates of other industrial sectors will impact on chemicals demand,” said Wilson. "Weakening global demand, combined with recent capacity investments, primarily in the US and Asia, may mean that European producers will face competition from imported material.” The EPCA annual meeting runs on 4-6 October in Berlin. Front page picture source: Jeppe Gustafsson/Shutterstock 


Singapore Sept manufacturing shrinks for first time since 2020 as outlook dims

SINGAPORE (ICIS)–Singapore's factory activity in September contracted for the first time in more than two years, as external demand continued to be weighed down by the impact of high inflation and interest rates hikes. The Singapore purchasing managers' index (PMI) fell to 49.9 in September from 50.0 in August, falling below the 50.0 threshold for the first time since June 2020, data from the Singapore Institute of Purchasing and Materials Management (SIPMM) showed late on Monday. A reading above 50.0 indicates overall expansion while a reading below that threshold indicates overall contraction in activity. The decline in overall factory activity was weighed down by the contraction in the electronics sector PMI. The latter fell for the second straight month to 49.4 in September, after dipping into contraction in August for the first time since July 2020. Many of the sub-indices within the PMI report fell below 50.0 in September. The index of new orders came in at 49.9 from 50.1 in August, the first sub-50 print since August 2020, while the production index inched further below 50.0 with a print of 49.8. The new exports index eased to 50.0 from 50.2 in August. The other negatives came from the indices of inventory (49.8, from 49.6 in August), imports (49.6, from 49.8 in August) and notably, order backlog, which came in at 49.7 (from 50.1 in August), the first sub-50 print since June 2020, after more than two years of continuous expansion. UOB Senior Economist Alvin Liew said the latest dip in the September PMI and the back-to-back contraction in the electronics PMI "painted a consistent picture", based on the latest non-oil domestic exports (NODX) and manufacturing data. Singapore's latest NODX data rose by 11.4% year on year in August, with petrochemical shipments abroad expanding by 2.0%. Overall factory output expanded by 0.5% year on year in August, down from a 0.8% growth in July. "We see a weaker electronics performance and slowing demand from north Asian economies that could increasingly weigh on NODX momentum and manufacturing activity," Liew said. Singapore's overall economic growth would likely slow significantly next year, Liew added, as the US and European economies, which are key end-demand markets for the country, are projected to enter a recession in the next six to 12 months amid aggressive monetary policy tightening. Other external headwinds for Singapore include the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as potential new variants of COVID-19, said Liew. "China’s potential rebound from its COVID-19 challenges in 2023 could be a positive factor offsetting some of the downside drivers next year," he added. Focus article by Nurluqman Suratman Thumbnail image: A shot of the Singapore skyline. Singapore's factory activity in September contracted for the first time in more than two years, with Singapore's purchasing managers' index (PMI) falling to 49.9 in September, from 50.0 in August. (Source: Then Chih Wey/Xinhua)


Fertilizer producers Nutrien and Yara escape Hurricane Ian damages

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Fertilizer producers Nutrien and Yara said they both weathered the strike of Hurricane Ian in Florida and along the US southeast coast without sustaining damages to facilities or any harm to any of their employees. Nutrien said despite the intensity of the storm and the heavy winds and rains, that facilities and operations were not damaged or shut down in Florida or Louisiana by Hurricane Ian mid-week and that over the weekend, they were equally as fortunate to miss second landfall with their sites in Georgia and North Carolina. The company had announced on Friday it has put storm-preparedness plans in action in Georgia at their nitrogen facility in Augusta and the phosphate facility in Aurora, North Carolina, but it had not ceased operations at either. Nutrien also operates a phosphate plant at White Springs, Florida, and has operations at Geismar, Louisiana, which makes ammonia, nitric acid and urea ammonium nitrate solution (UAN), but was eventually well out of the storm‘s track. “We dodged Ian. Despite some heavy rain and winds, we had no closures or significant interruptions to production from the hurricane at White Springs, Augusta, or Aurora,” said a Nutrien spokesperson. For producer Yara, who has both fertilizer operations – including ammonia storage – and offices in Tampa, Florida, their facilities escaped undamaged and their workforce is safe. “Our terminals are back in operations now, both for liquid fertilizers and also ammonia, following the strict protocols for safety and security that we put in place last week,” said a Yara spokesperson. “Our thoughts are with our neighbours south of us and we have reached out to the local Red Cross to support.” Yara said their terminal in Savannah, Georgia, has no damage and is in operation.


Danakali Limited selling stake in Colluli SOP project in east Africa to SRBG

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Australian fertilizer developer Danakali Limited has announced it is selling its stake in the Colluli sulphate of potash (SOP) project in Eritrea, east Africa. The company said it has executed a term sheet with Sichuan Road and Bridge Group (SRBG) for $166m in upfront cash and deferred payments for its 50% of the potash project, which has been in development for a number of years. The other partner in the project is Eritrean National Mining Corporation (ENAMCO), who must give their consent to SRBG purchasing the other half. After all considerations and government taxes, Danakali said it expects to receive approximately $121m. It then plans to distribute 90% of the net proceeds to shareholders and will continue as a listed company to identify new projects and potential new alternative growth opportunities. The transaction is expected to be completed between 31 March and 31 May 2023 and is subject to the purchaser’s satisfactory completion of due diligence and the parties entering into definitive agreements. It will also need Danakali shareholder and Eritrean government approval, as well as clearance from the purchaser by Chinese regulatory authorities. SRBG is owned by parent company Shudao Investment Group, which is active in transportation infrastructure design and construction markets, but its diversified business covers other areas like minerals and new materials and clean energy investments. In commenting on its decision to move on from the project, Danakali said their board was of the view that the sale provides their shareholders with an attractive post-tax value outcome in the absence of a full equity funded solution for the project.


KBR awarded tech contract for US low-carbon blue ammonia project

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Global engineering firm KBR announced it has been awarded a technology contract by Tecnimont SpA for OCI NV's low-carbon blue ammonia project in the US. The firm said that under the terms of the contract, KBR will supply the technology licence, basic engineering design, proprietary equipment and catalyst for the 1.1m short ton per annum blue ammonia plant. At this time, the targeted completion date would be 2025. KBR said the project will be designed to transition from blue to green ammonia production as green hydrogen becomes available at larger scale in the future. “We are excited to continue to build on our strong relationship with OCI NV and Maire Tecnimont to deliver our market-leading and proven ammonia technology for this energy transition project,” said Doug Kelly, KBR President, Technology. “This award is a further testament to KBR's leadership in helping its clients implement effective decarbonisation technologies today on a path to achieving their future ESG objectives.” Since 1944, KBR said it has licensed and designed 252 grassroots ammonia plants and that around half of global licensed ammonia capacity uses their designed plants because they combine lowest capital and operating costs with the highest reliability.


Brazil Potash signs multiple agreements with soybean titan AMAGGI

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Canadian producer Brazil Potash announced it has signed binding agreements with Amaggi Exportacao e Importacao (AMAGGI), a privately held soybean producer with operations spanning farming, commodities trading, logistics operations and energy production, and its logistics subsidiary, Hermasa Navegacao da Amazonia. The producer said the agreement includes an offtake deal, with take or pay terms and conditions for 500,000 tonnes/year of potash and a marketing agreement to sell Brazil Potash’s remaining 1.9m tonnes/year of potash from the Autazes project. The agreement also includes terms for barge transportation to ship the initial planned 2.4m tonnes of production to inland ports close to major farming regions within Brazil. These contracts apply solely to Brazil Potash’s Phase One Autazes production of 2.4m tonnes/year for a 15-17 year term with a mutual option to extend. Once the project is operational, Hermasa will allocate the required assets and resources for the covered transportation of potash primarily from Brazil Potash’s port near the village of Urucurituba to Hermasa’s port located at Porto Velho. “It’s game changing for Brazil Potash to sign binding contracts with AMAGGI. It is the ideal company for Brazil Potash to contract with as they consume a large amount of potash for application on their farmed land,” said Stan Bharti, Brazil Potash chairman. “They also have an extensive distribution and logistics network through their wholly owned subsidiary, Hermasa, which operates a barge-to-ocean vessel transshipment terminal only 40 miles upstream from our Autazes project.” Despite consumption of the nutrient being a key part of crop cultivation in Brazil, the country has been previously limited in domestic production and relies on imports to cover an estimated 98% of the volumes used annually.


EPCA '22: Mitsubishi delays MMA plant in US

LONDON (ICIS)–Mitsubishi Chemical Group (Mitsubishi) has delayed the final investment decision on its new methyl methacrylate (MMA) plant in the US. The decision, which has been deferred by between 6-18 months, was made because of “current market volatility". The plant will be situated on the Mississippi River in Geismar, Louisiana. It will have a capacity of 350,000 tonnes/year and be based on Mitsubishi's ALPHA technology. The plant will be the third and the largest commercial application for ALPHA technology since its initial development and first successful deployment by affiliate Lucite International in 2008. The project, which recently completed its front end engineering design (FEED) stage, is currently in the process of applying for required wetland and air permits that are expected to be granted in 2023, with first investment decision (FID) expected in fiscal year 2023. The EPCA annual meeting runs in Berlin on 4-6 October. Thumbnail shows polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), which is made with MMA. Image by Shutterstock.


European Commission approves €134m to support German BASF in production of renewable hydrogen

LONDON(ICIS)–The European Commission has approved state aid to the German chemical company BASF in the production of renewable (low carbon) hydrogen via the EU Hydrogen Strategy and the European Green Deal targets, the commission said in a press release 3 October. Under EU State Aid rules, a support package of €134mn to BASF "in the production of renewable hydrogen, with the aims of decarbonising its chemical production processes and of promoting hydrogen use in the transport sector." The decision follows previous approvals back in July and September of the IPCEI Hy2Tech and IPCEI Hy2Use policies respectively, with BASF's project having been selected by Germany. BASF's low carbon hydrogen that the company produces will be mainly to replace fossil-based hydrogen in the company's chemical production process, with excess low carbon hydrogen produced to be delivered for emerging hydrogen mobility applications such as hydrogen-powered trucks and buses. The support, which will take the form of a direct grant, will go into the Ludwigshafen site, which is due to have an annual production capacity of 54MW and produce 5,000 tonnes/year of hydrogen and 40,000 tonnes/year of oxygen, which is expected to be operational in 2025 and be operational for a 15-year period. The EC said that "the measure facilitates the development of an economic activity, in particular the production of renewable hydrogen. At the same time, it supports the objectives of key EU policy initiatives such as the European Green Deal, the EU Hydrogen Strategy and the REPowerEU Plan."


Americas top stories: weekly summary

HOUSTON (ICIS)–Here are the top stories from ICIS News from the week ended 30 September. Europe faces supply gap in '23-25 if Russia cuts gas supplies – study Europe will face a supply gap in 2023-2025 if Russia suspends gas shipments next year – but by the second half of the decade, liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports could meet demand, according to a study from the energy research firm Rystad Energy. INSIGHT: ‘King Dollar’ poses growing threat to US chems, global economy The relentless surge in the US dollar to record or multi-decade highs against European and Asian currencies will be a greater headwind for US-based chemical company earnings going forward. Corrected: Hurricane Ian damage could top $1.6tr as more than 7.2m homes could flood – CoreLogic More than 7.2m single- and multi-family residences with a combined reconstruction value of $1.6tr are at moderate to high risk of flash flooding from Hurricane Ian, which made landfall in Florida on Wednesday afternoon. INTERVIEW: Firm advances on methanol-ammonia project in Canada Canadian company Northern Petrochemical Corp has secured land at a site in oil and gas-rich Alberta province for a planned “blue” methanol-ammonia project, CEO and president Geoff Bury told ICIS in an interview on Thursday. Urea short-term outlook weak as mixed signals lead to uncertainty Global urea prices are declining, with market activity expected to stay thin for next two to three weeks as buyers stay on the sidelines given the uncertainty surrounding future levels. US CSX limits S Carolina rail service ahead of Hurricane Ian CSX is limiting rail service in South Carolina in preparation for Hurricane Ian, which made landfall on Friday.


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