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Surfactants Monthly Review – December 2015

If you are reading this over the New Year’s holiday can I ask you to click over to the 2016 Surfactant Value Chain Survey and do it now while things are quiet. It’s about 10 minutes. All respondents (who identify themselves) and attendees at my conferences in the coming year will see an analysis of the results.

December was quiet, personally, professionally and industry-wise and that is just fine by me. Except of course, for the usual brace of force majeures (or should that be forces majeure? French readers please opine!) in EO and related products. Is it my imagination, or perhaps more complete reporting, or is the hardware out there in our corner of the chemical industry getting pushed harder than it has been in the recent past? Is this necessarily a bad thing? As we all know, when utilization is high, money is made and a side – effect can be an uptick in unplanned outages. Maybe these forces majeure are just a small tax on a more profitable operation. Conversely of course, they could be interpreted as symptomatic of neglected assets protesting after years of under-investment in preventive maintenance. I don’t have the data to hand and it’s New Year’s eve, but if any readers have thoughts or opinions on this question, I’d love to hear them.

First out of the FM (Force Majeure) blocks this month on Dec 2nd, Shell Singapore with FM on a bunch of products including EO, due to a problem at its cracker in Pulau Bukom. It was the second time since mid-October that Shell had to disrupt supply of base chemicals to customers from its Bukom site. The bulk of the company’s ethylene output in Bukom goes into its own downstream MEG production (750,000 MT of Capacity ) and EO (140,000 MT of Capacity).

Shell Singapore

Shell Singapore

No sooner had Shell declared FM (actually a day before according to ICIS), than Sasol lifted its own FM on EO and derivatives at the Marl site. Apparently, EO production returned to normal after problems affecting distillation were solved. The FM came into effect on EO and certain EO derivatives on 9 November due to the shutdown of the EO facility for technical reasons..
Sasol has a nameplate capacity at Marl of 215,000 tonnes/year for EO, 27,000 tonnes/year for ethanolamines and 15,000 tonnes/year for MEG, according to ICIS plants and projects database.

Also lifting an FM on EO in Europe, INEOS in Cologne, Germany Production resumed over the weekend of 22-23 November, after having been down for technical reasons.

We’ve been keeping a close eye on developments out of Saudi Arabia’s Sadara Chemical. Earlier this month they started up their first plant on the Jubail site; that is LLDPE. The 26 manufacturing assets at the site are scheduled for a sequenced start-up process, beginning with polyolefins followed by EO/PO and their derivatives, with the polyurethanes (PU) portfolio in the final phase.
Sadara Chemical is a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Dow Chemical.

Another mega-project made a bit of news by announcing a schedule and that is China’s Sinochem Quanzhou Petrochemical who is expected to start up its petrochemical complex at Quanzhou, Fujian province, in the first half of 2018. 
The complex, which mainly comprises of a 1m tonne/year naphtha cracker and an 800,000 tonne/year paraxylene (PX) plant, will also include a 400,000 tonne/year high density polyethylene (HDPE) plant, a 260,000 tonne/year acrylonitrile (ACN), a 200,000 tonne/year ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) plant, along with a 200,000/500,000 tonne/year ethylene oxide/ethylene glycol (EO/EG) plant, a 100,000 tonne/year methyl meth acrylate (MMA) plant, a 120,000 tonne/year butadiene plant, and a 100,000 tonne/year methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) plant, among others. 
The petrochemical project will be implemented together with a refinery expansion project, which will increase the capacity of the company’s refinery to 300,000 bbl/day from the existing 240,000 bbl/day.

In EO pricing news, US contract prices for November saw a slight increase of 0.35% because of a 0.90% increase in the November contract price for feedstock ethylene. In Europe, EO increased by €19/tonne from November following an increase on upstream ethylene.
 EO prices lifted to €1,105-1,275/tonne FD NWE.

Continuing its relentless pursuit of ever more specialized specialty chemicals, Croda is acquiring Netherlands-based seed enhancement firm Incotec Group for €155m. Incotec develops and supplies a wide range of proprietary and sustainable technologies for both vegetable seeds and field crops. “Seed enhancement has been identified as a key market opportunity for Croda’s crop care business,” Croda said in a related release.

The kid (El Nino) is back! And it may not all be bluff and bluster. Fatty alcohol producers expect Q1 2016 prices to increase due the impact of El Nino on lauric crops and the weaker Euro.

In other Shell news, Shell and China National Offshore Oil Corp (CNOOC) have agreed to expand their CNOOC and Shell Petrochemicals Co (CSPC) petrochemical JV at Huizhou in China’s Guangdong . The main petrochemical process units in the expansion will include styrene monomer/propylene oxide (SM/PO) and ethylene oxide/ethylene glycol (EO/EG).

And in even more Shell news, Shell Chemical announced the final investment decision to increase Alpha Olefins (AO) production at its chemical manufacturing site in Geismar, Louisiana , making the site the largest AO producer in the world. Shell will construct a fourth AO unit, adding 425,000 tonnes of capacity. Time for AOS to make a come-back or, more correctly, to approach some of the late 90’s hype around its use as a sulfonation feedstock for workhorse AOS surfactants? Maybe.



From the end-user sector, a great piece on Henkel in Handelsblatt. Persil, a childhood staple in our home in England, is now in the US market and got rated by Consumer Reports as the top laundry detergent this year. Yes, and knocking off Tide in the process. Huge news for Henkel and you know what, I am happy for them. The company has been a regular contributor at my surfactant conferences and many other events and I have always found them to be simple, straightforward and, yes, even humble in their approach.




That’s it for December. Looking ahead to 2106, we have just published our surfactant related events calendar. 2016 will be another great travel year with engagements and meetings around the globe on our favorite topics, which are of course, surfactants, oleochemicals & fragrances. If you plan to be at any of these events, please do get in touch.  The ICIS/Neil A Burns Surfactant Conferences and the training courses, which we co-produce and chair, have another full schedule. This year, we have added a Bio-Surfactant seminar in NYC in front of the World Surfactant Conference. At each of our ICIS Conferences, I will be presenting the briefing book put together from the 2016 Surfactant Value Chain Survey. This is the second year of the survey and so we start to see some trend data. If you are curious about our Surfactant Conferences, I encourage you to watch this short video, where friends from BASF, Solvay and many others talk about what they think of these events. Perhaps we will see you at one in the coming year?


We are also back on the speakers roster at the Bio-based and Sustainable Products Summit in San Diego, January 13th. My topic will be oleochemicals. If I don’t see you there, I’ll see you at ACI in Orlando.


Happy New Year!

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