Chemical Profile: Europe ethanolamines

16 May 2014 09:57 Source:ICIS Chemical Business

There are three main ethanolamines: monoethanolamine (MEA), diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA), which is available as two types, depending on purity and color: TEA85% and TEA99%.

Ethanolamines uses are diverse and span a large number of end markets. MEA’s major use is in production of ethylene amines and chelating agents. It is also used as feedstock in the production of detergents, emulsifiers, polishes, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, corrosion inhibitors (eg wood treatment) and other chemical intermediates.

DEA is primarily used in the production of glyphosate, a herbicide, but is also used as a surfactant in personal care applications, in polyurethane production, in gas treatment and as a corrosion inhibitor. A large portion of TEA goes into detergents and personal care, followed by engineering/metal working and concrete manufacture. The latter tends to be lower grade TEA85%.

Ethanolamine demand is relatively stable, with limited seasonality due to its diverse applications. This year demand has been described generally as good, but not spectacular.

Supply tends to be more crucial for pricing. Supply in Europe is influenced both by European producers and globally as Europe is a net importer of ethanolamine (although an exporter of DEA). Product tends to come in from North America, Asia, South America and the Middle East.

In 2014 imports have been more limited than historically due to shutdowns in other regions, as well as strong demand in North America. Russia’s Sintez OKA had ongoing production problems through Q1, which limited product movement into western Europe. In May, a number of major shutdowns are expected, which could limit availability. However, the impact is expected by the market to be minor, as producers and consumers were well prepared.

Ethanolamines contracts are diverse, with some indexed to raw materials ethylene and ammonia, some linked to market reports and some freely negotiated. Freely negotiated prices are becoming decoupled from raw material movements, with supply and demand increasingly important.

Through 2014, monthly contract prices have been steady, with limited imports slowing the downward pricing pressure seen in 2013. MEA and TEA have seen small movements with MEA April at €1415-1465/tonne, up €10/tonne and TEA at €1460-1520/tonne, down €0-10/tonne from January.

DEA has experienced better demand both within Europe and overseas, which led to tighter availability and an upward movement in pricing. April saw monthly prices of €1200-1250/tonne, up by €50/tonne from January.

All prices are assessed on a free-delivered (FD) north-west Europe (NWE) basis.

Ethanolamines are produced by adding ethylene oxide (EO) to ammonia. Excess ammonia is removed in the first column and recycled, before water is removed and the homologues are separated. The product mix can be varied. MEA is usually the most abundant and can be up to 70% of the end product stream. In addition, recycling of the various products to produce more DEA or TEA can further alter the end-product mix.

European demand is expected to increase at 1-2%, in line with GDP. New markets include applications such as emissions control. MEA and DEA can be used to scrub acidic gases, such as carbon dioxide or hydrogen sulphide, reducing the greenhouse impact of industrial processes.

European supply is unlikely to increase and new global capacity is expected to be built elsewhere. This is because global shale gas economics continue to favour cheaper ethylene and ammonia supply in other regions, particularly North America and the Middle East.

Sadara, a joint venture between Dow Chemical and Saudi Aramco, is building a world scale petrochemical complex in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, including an ethanolamines plant.

The first production units are slated to come on line in the second half of 2015, with all units expected to be up in 2016. Dow will have responsibility for marketing product outside of the Middle East.

Europe should therefore see increased imports of ethanolamines into the region, particularly MEA and TEA. DEA trends will depend to a large extent on glyphosate patterns. Growth in application in the Americas has been driven by genetically modified (GM) crop planting.

The extent of GM adoption globally, and within Europe remains to be seen. Glyphosate production in China, has traditionally used glycine, instead of DEA. However DEA use seems to be growing and supplanting the older process.

By Rhian O'Connor