Lucite International first invented the process to produce MMA with ethylene. The company named it Alpha and built two plants which would use this method, in Singapore and Saudi Arabia.
The 250,000 tonne/year MMA plant in Saudi Arabia started commercial operations in April, and is a joint venture with Japan’s Mitsubishi Chemical (MCC) and Saudi major SABIC.
In the US, Lucite's parent company MCC is also planning to build another plant of the same scale using the technology. The plant is expected to come online from 2020 onwards.
Germany’s Evonik also announced in 2017 that it was working on a new production method, also using ethylene.
Evonik’s plans, while in the early stages, come to highlight again the chemical industry’s interest in alternative methods to produce MMA, especially with the increase in ethylene availability linked to shale gas.
New capacity also came on stream in China in during 2017, with more expected this year, and once again some of the plants are using the C4 method which does not require acetone.
There were concerns from acetone players about this increasing trend, and whether the industry was moving away from the acetone cyanohydrin (ACH) route.
The sources were speaking in the sidelines of the 10th ICIS Phenol and Acetone Conference, which runs in Vienna on 6-7 June.
Approximately 25% of acetone produced globally goes into the MMA market, with the constraints in supply for MMA over the last two years increasing the sector’s acetone consumption.
Going forward, most sources agreed the MMA industry will reduce its needs for acetone, compared to current levels.
Acetone demand is expected to soften as the market supply and demand balance stabilises, and because of the new capacity in the Middle East, added Will Cameron, a senior consultant at Nexant.
Cameron estimated that during the period 2017-2022 there would be a 2% increase in demand for acetone from the MMA industry.
That figure, he added, stood at 4.5% during the period 2015-2017.
Picture source: Jochen Tack/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock
Focus article by Katherine Sale