Blog - Surfactant related news and opinion

Surfactants Monthly – November 2015

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Surfactants Monthly Review – November 2015 The highlight of November for me was, of course our 5th ICIS Asian Surfactants conference. With some new and familiar speakers, we learned a lot about China, India, Southeast Asia and the growing impact of the palm companies all the way down the surfactant value chain. Here’s some of the news that impacted surfactants during the month.: Pemex, in Mexico continues to attempt its transisiton from a government owned monopoly to a productive independent company. That was the company line at APLA, the Latin American Petrochemical Association Meeting.
Pemex controls not just energy and basic petrochemicals like ethylene, but also ethylene oxide (EO). 
The company has some ambitious project plans, including for an EO corridor. 
The corridor project will cost $200m, according to Alejandro Martínez Sibaja, general director of Pemex’s Industrial Transformation subsidiary. It will be built around the existing EO capacity in the Cangrejera and Morelos petrochemical complexes. Apparently EO demand exceeds supply (at least at the historically discounted Pemex pricing) and hence the need for the corridor. Sibaja has also hinted at a willingness to work with a JV partner on this. However, an executive said last year that Pemex was in the engineering…

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Surfactants Monthly – October 2015

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Surfactants Monthly – October 2015             For those that missed my “Open Letter to the Surfactants Industry” last month on LinkedIn. Here is the link. It addresses some themes that I have been thinking about for a while. I’d be interested in your comments. Some business items first: Coming up next week in Singapore, we have our 5th Asian Surfactants Conference with speakers from L’Oreal, Sime Darby, Croda, LMC, Momentive, Tata, Archroma, Buss, Nexant, Stepan and many others. This will be our biggest and best event yet and we have moved to the beautiful new Grand Copthorne Hotel, right on the waterfront of the Alexandra Canal. As usual prior to the conference, we have our one day training course on surfactant business essentials. As always in this monthly roundup most of the news comes to us courtesy of ICIS and their outstanding news service. I again encourage readers to consider a subscription. Kicking off this month with LAB news, a name which I am quite sure has not appeared in 7 years worth of our blog postings; Iran’s Entekhab Investment Development Group is planning to expand its business by adding new production facilities of expandable polystyrene (EPS), linear alkyl benzene…

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The Future of Oleochemicals – Neil Burns at PIPOC 2015

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As I said in the previous post, it was a great honour to talk in front of 2,500 people at this year’s International Palm Oil Conference (PIPOC), produced by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. Here’s a video of the talk. If you are expecting an exposition of Angelina Jolie, that’s not me, it’s Carl Bek-Nielsen of United Plantations (a superb talk and speaker). In my talk, however, you will get a story around little packets of salt and a hugely abbreviated history of oleochemicals from the time of the “big bang” to the present day. If you like some of the themes explored here and the manner in which I explore them, I encourage you to join me for a day and a half in Singapore, November 19 – 20th (Thursday and Friday) for our Fifth Asian Surfactants Conference.

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Malaysian Palm Oil Board’s PIPOC 2015 – Review

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Notes on MPOB’s PIPOC in Malaysia October 6 – 8th, 2015 The excellent MPOB’s international palm oil congress (PIPOC) attracted about 8,000 to the KLCC in central Kuala Lumpur this month. I was honoured to be asked to speak again after my last appearance there in 2011. This being Malaysia and Palm Oil, the event was a big deal. Oil palm represents about 6% of Malaysian GDP, over 60% of exports and an employer of over 600,000 people. The industry is a key driver of the country’s ongoing transition to beyond emerging market status. The event was attended and opened by the Minister of Planation Industries and Commodities, Malaysia, YB Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas. Numerous members of government and ambassadors to Malaysia attended the opening ceremony. The six plenary lectures in the opening session set the tone for the entire event and took place in front of an attentive crowd of around 2,500. Here a few comments and my take on each:” Carl Bek-Nielsen, CEO of United Plantations Berhad opened with a talk on sustainability in the oil palm business. A remark which has stayed with me is the following “Like it or not, the proboscis monkey and the…

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Surfactants Monthly – September 2015

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Surfactants Monthly Summary – September 2105 As I prepare to head back over to Southeast Asia for our plenary speaking engagement on day 1 of PIPOC in KL, the following news from earlier in September caught my eye. Apparently Wilmar is not doing enough deals! This according to…. Wilmar. This news may come as a surprise to those of us who have followed the prolific company’s activities in surfactants and oleochemicals alone. However, the Kuok family has decided they need to kick it up a notch and therefore have brought in the former head of Goldman Sachs Southeast Asia Investment Banking unit, Hsin Yue Yong in a dealmaking role. It probably doesn’t hurt that Ms. Yong is the wife of the nephew of Wilmar’s CEO, Kuok Khoon Hong. However, with an almost 20 career with Goldman behind her, she is clearly no lightweight. Look for more deals going forward like Wilmar’s acquisition with First Pacific Co., of Australia’s largest baker, Goodman Fielder Ltd. Who knows, we may soon see the much anticipated big move into the North American surfactant value chain by Kuok family. This is my speculation only, I must add. However, if you’ve read this blog or attended…

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Surfactants Monthly – August 2015

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Surfactants Monthly – August 2015 August was a somewhat slow month for the industry and the blog. Nonetheless, even as we write, I’m on the way to a board meeting in Chicago, then over to Europe for a bunch of things including, of course our 4th ICIS Surfactant Conference in Berlin, September 17 – 18th. If you have not registered yet, there is still time and you’ll join over 100 of the most informed and networked people in the industry from companies including L’Oreal, BASF, Henkel, Vopak, Houghton, Jiahua, Syngenta, Kao, SIBUR, Evonik, Unger, Buss, IMCD, PTT, Ecogreen and many more – is that diverse enough for you? I should also remind you that the day before the conference starts, I am teaching the completely revamped “Surfactant Business Essentials” one-day course and that in fact may not have room left as we seek some additional space to accommodate registration. Please check the website for the current status and hopefully you will be able to register. In another commercial plug, which I hope you’ll indulge, most of the news items and links in this blog are from (and to) ICIS News. You are getting here a miniscule sampling of what they…

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Surfactants Monthly Review – July 2015

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Here’s the news and some opinion from July. The summer is boiling over here with a focus on two big surfactant events coming up and these are of course, our fourth surfactant conference in Europe, September 157h – 18th in Berlin and our very first Middle Eastern Surfactant Summit in Doha, October 19 – 21. If you were’nt paying attention last month you missed Stepan restructuring the North American surfactant supply chain, Univar acquiring Chemical Associates, BASF launching an algal oil based betaine and more – all summarized for you below. Thanks again to ICIS News for much of the newsfeed and many of the links, some of which require a subscription, which I recommend, but in no way benefit from. Kicking off, as we often do, with ethylene oxide (EO) news; according to ICIS pricing, US EO contract prices for June fell by 1.0% because of a decline in the June contract price for feedstock ethylene. June EO contract prices were assessed at 56.00-65.50 cents/lb ($1,235-1,444/tonne) FOB, down 0.6 cents/lb from 56.60-66.10 cents/lb FOB in May. The June ethylene contract fell by 2.2% to 33.75 cents/lb DEL (delivered) from 34.50 cents/lb DEL for May, hitting its lowest price since…

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Surfactants Monthly – June 2015

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This month’s somewhat shorter than usual blog is mainly EO related. News items are supported largely by the ICIS news service and some of the link below require a subscription (which, by the way, I recommend). Rest assured, our quarterly surfactant newsletter remains under development and its delay is a function of my own travel schedule. We have secured a major corporate sponsor for the publication and we are in discussion with another. Please stay tuned for additional news regarding the availability of the sample. The beginning of June saw some increased activity on the EO and ethoxylate front. : Malaysia’s Petronas restarted its alcohol ethoxylates line in Kerteh after maintenance. The line is part of a surfactant plant that has a 30,000 tonne/year capacity. The line, along with PCG’s upstream ethylene oxide (EO) plant at the site, was shut for scheduled maintenance since the start of May. At around the same time, China’s BASF-YPC restarted its alcohol ethoxylates line. The 60,000 tonne/year Nanjing-based line was closed on 1 April for a scheduled month-long turnaround. Indonesia’s PT Polychem shut its ethoxylate line in Merak for scheduled maintenance around the beginning of June.  The line has a 45,000 tonne/year capacity. China’s…

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Surfactants Monthly – April & May 2015 and World Surfactants Conference Notes

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The beginning of April saw Shell lifting the force majeure (FM) on ethylene oxide (EO) out of Moerdijk, the Netherlands. The Anglo-Dutch petrochemical producer first shut down its EO plant and declared FM due to a damaged heat exchanger last September, 2014. An FM on upstream ethylene and propylene supplies from the site followed, on the back of operational issues caused by a steam leak.

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Surfactants Monthly Review – March 2015

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Big news from Solvay as they continue their relentless march into specialty surfactants. On March 12th, they announced that they had agreed to acquire the new joint venture alkoxylation facility of Emery Oleochemicals and ERCA Group in the Netherlands for an undisclosed fee. As readers know, the plant is supplied with EO by pipeline from Shell next-door. This is one of those rare occasions where both seller and buyer can be congratulated, so congrats and Kudos to Messrs, Seccomandi and Butsraen.

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Surfactants Monthly Review – February 2015

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Further upstream in the palm plantation, despite a recent uptick, falling palm oil prices since mid ’14 have started to take their toll on the plantation companies. Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK), which saw its net profit fall 26.8% to RM214.2mil in the first quarter ended Dec 31, 2014, announced that it expects profit from its palm oil business for the current financial year ending Sept 30 (FY15), to be lower than that of last financial year on weaker palm prices. However, a seasoned commodity player like KLK, with over 100 years in the business should not be fazed by this volatility. Expect continued downstream investment in surfactants in Europe, Asia and perhaps even North America (my speculation only).

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Surfactants Monthly Review – December 2014

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News from Croda, which in my view is huge in terms of the EO market for ethoxylates in personal care, cosmetic and food applications. Croda in North America (Atlas Point, DE) will use bio-ethanol to make ethylene and conver the ethylene into EO for use in its existing ethoxylation activities. This is builds on a small but growing interest in bio-derived EO we first heard about from Solvay and India Glycols (both, by the way at our surfactant conferences produced with ICIS).

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Surfactants Monthly Review – November 2014

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In news that did not seem to make it into our October review, INEOS, as of Oct 31, has suspended its EO/EG project in LaPorte, TX. …..Meanwhile, EO drama continues in Europe as Shell is working towards resuming production of ethylene oxide (EO) and ethylene glycol (EG) at its site in Moerdijk, the Netherlands, before the end of the year…….. Finally, In some absolutely fascinating news from Poland, Boruta-Zachem has signed a contract for the sale of all its planned 2015 production of bio-surfactants to a buyer in the United Arab Emirates.

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4th ICIS Asian Surfactants Conference – Singapore 2014

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Here are my thoughts and opinions on some of the highlights from our surfactant conference held recently in Singapore. This was the 4th in Asia and the 11th in the series of conferences, produced by me and ICIS. It was the biggest and, in my opinion, the best yet. Opening up the proceedings, I gave some introductory remarks, building on my theme for 2014, which is “What have Surfactants done for us?” This of course, building on a classic sketch from Monty Python.

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Surfactants Monthly Review – October 2014

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First, in news which hit the last week in October, Stepan’s third-quarter net income fell by 34% year on year, as a result of weak North American surfactants performance. According the company surfactant results were dragged down by lower workhorse surfactant volumes for its North American consumer products, specifically in the laundry sector. Now, this will have been no surprise to any of the ~200 of you who attended our Surfactants Conference back in May in NY. Our keynote speaker, Quinn Stepan, highlighted the challenges the company faced in the laundry sector as formulation trends have impacted surfactant loading. These trends, specifically the use of enzymes and the surge in monodose, took a big bite out of workhorse surfactant demand in this sector. Quinn frankly stated that the size, and speed, of this bite took the market by surprise. Having said that, Stepan, as Quinn emphasized, sees some compensatory upside in the future, particularly in the oil and gas sector.

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Surfactants Monthly Review – August 2014

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Neil A Burns LLC: Some of the information and opinion here was provided by my attending and chairing the 3rd ICIS European Surfactant Conference which finished today (Friday September 5th) in Berlin. An outstanding event which I am happy to co-produce with the ICIS conference team. A special mention and thanks to all the attendees at the Surfactant Business Essentials Training Course which I taught in Berlin on Sept 2nd. Some of their comments and questions provided some of the food for thought also for this review.

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Surfactants Monthy Review – July 2014

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The big news of the month was of course that Stepan has finally taken the plunge and sought out a site in the US Gulf Coast area. The company announced discussions about a site to make “surfactants intermediates” in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Of course the other famous occupant of this Parish in Louisiana is Shell’s Geismar site where, among other things, ethylene oxide (EO) and various Neodol alcohols are made. Stepan is a large user of both.

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Surfactants Monthy Review – June 2014

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Welcome again to our monthly surfactant news update. As usual, most items are sourced courtesy of my friends at ICIS and some of the links may require a subscription. Nonetheless, the responsibility for any errors or omissions is entirely mine. Also the opinions expressed are entirely my own. I hope you enjoy reading. For the latest information, analysis and unequalled networking around the surfactant value chain, please attend our 3-day surfactant event in Berlin, September 3 – 5th. We have partnered with the BIO-TIC group of CEFIC who are running a biosurfactants conference alongside our 3rd European Surfactants Conference. I hope to see many of you there.

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