Portugal's Artlant PTA starts up in lacklustre market

30 March 2012 10:51 Source:ICIS News

Sines PTA plant (Source:Artlant)LONDON (ICIS)--Artlant PTA has officially started producing purified terephthalic acid (PTA) in Sines, Portugal, according to a statement from the company on Friday.

“Artlant PTA started running last week and it is already supplying its range of clients,” said the Portugese-based PTA producer formerly known as Artenius Sines.

There are unverified reports that having started up earlier in March, the 700,000 tonne/year plant encountered technical problems which brought the unit back down again.

Market players say that Artlant PTA is still in search of customers, but this will depend on how many are already under contract with the company.

“Traders say that [Artlant PTA] is desperately looking for customers,” one source said.

The start-up comes at a time when demand for downstream polyethylene terephthalate (PET) normally increases because of the peak bottling season but, this year, March has been a particularly slow month for sales.

“Everyone is struggling with very low demand,” one buyer of PET said, echoing comments made by other players.

PET prices have begun falling following a month of slow off-take. PTA prices have been following the bullish trend of upstream paraxylene (PX).

March prices are likely to increase by around €24/tonne ($32/tonne) from February’s €983–1,008/tonne FD (free delivered) NWE (northwest Europe), following a €36/tonne hike in PX.

[Artlant PTA] could not have picked a worse time to come onstream,” a PET customer said.

With PX supply already tight, and no spare material available on the spot market, most players in the European PX industry expect availability to tighten even further as Artlant PTA comes onstream.

Notional PX prices are being talked at $1,520-1,545/tonne FOB (free on board) Rotterdam.

One trader said the Artlant PTA start-up would increase PX consumption.

“I believe that a start up of Artlant would certainly have an effect in the market, pushing it up, maybe not in one go but certainly this will start to excite demand.”

However, others said there would be no immediate effect on the PX market as the Sines plant will initially have all the feedstock it requires.

“I don’t think it’ll mean a lot,” another trader said. “For the first weeks and months they will have stock, they have contracts in place.”

The trader added that it could result in fewer volumes of PX being exported to Asia, depending on the PTA supplier’s output rate.

The PTA unit had been expected to have saleable product between the end of January and the beginning of February, but this was postponed to early March.

Artlant began testing the plant’s installed equipment in the summer of 2011. However since then, sources have said the plant has experienced difficulties starting up.

ICIS reported in February last year that the facility’s completion was originally scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2011.

Artlant PTA said its key market is Europe, but added that its target regions also include Africa, the CIS and Baltic States, the Middle East, India and Brazil.

“With this capacity, Artlant PTA will become the second largest European producer with the most recent and modern industrial unit in the whole of Europe,” according to the statement.

Spanish industrial plastics and packaging group La Seda de Barcelona (LSB) began building the Sines PTA plant in March 2008 with an initial investment of more than €400m ($541m), including €100m of aid from EU funds.

As part of its restructuring, LSB sold 59% of its stake in Artlant to three Portuguese investment funds in September 2010.

PTA is used as the feedstock in the production of polyester polymers, commonly designated PET and mainly used in the manufacture of packaging for the food industry and in the manufacture of polyester fibres for the textiles market.

Additional reporting by Helena Strathearn

($1 = €0.75)

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By Caroline Murray