Propylene Industry Embracing On-Purpose Technologies to Counter Supply Shortage

Date: 29-Apr-2014
On-purpose technologies have risen in importance as the costs of heavy feedstock used in steam crackers and Fluid Catalytic Crackers (FCC) have increased substantially, driven by crude oil price increases. These two sources account for the largest shares of propylene production, but high costs have deterred producers from using heavy feedstocks in steam crackers. In regions where ethane feedstock provides a much cheaper alternative to heavy feedstock for steam crackers, the propylene industry is likely to suffer, as light feedstock produce negligible quantity of propylene. In FCCs, increases in gasoline price drive producers to use chemical grade propylene for octane blending, rather than selling it to be made into polymer-grade propylene.

These difficult operating conditions have encouraged producers to use on-purpose technologies to manufacture propylene as main product, with lower-cost feedstocks. The most popular on-purpose technologies are Propane Dehydrogenation (PDH), Olefin metathesis and Methanol to Olefins/Propylene (MTP). In the Middle East, plants based on these technologies already account for more than one-third of propylene capacity, while in Asia-Pacific, North America and Europe, the number of plants based on these technologies is increasing slowly. According to GlobalData forecasts, plants based on on-purpose technologies are forecast to account for 63.1% of capacity expansion globally over the next five years.

Asia-Pacific will Continue to Drive the Global Propylene Industry

China will lead the global propylene industry over the next five years, with the largest consumption and production increases. The largest end-use sector of propylene is polypropylene, which is a commodity plastic used in sectors such as automotive, packaging and electronics. With a rapidly industrializing and urbanizing economy, these sectors have grown at a fast pace in China. The economic growth is expected to continue for the next five years, albeit at a slower pace than in recent years, and propylene demand is also expected to increase.

China will expand its propylene capacity at the fastest pace of any country over the next five years. Despite being the second-largest producer of propylene, it is unable to meet its own rapidly growing domestic demand, forcing the construction of more capacity. China is forecast to account for 68% of the Asian capacity addition and 45% of the global capacity addition over the next five years.

China to Expand Coal Based Propylene Capacity through MTP Plants

The global propylene industry will witness expansion of coal-based propylene capacity with the construction of many MTP plants in China. Globally there are currently only five MTP plants, all of which are situated in China, which use methanol feedstock derived from domestically available coal. Since China has one of the largest coal reserves in the world, producers can readily obtain coal for propylene production. The availability of methanol production units also creates an environment conducive to the use of MTP plants. This has encouraged potential investors to invest in MTP plants and has resulted in many new announcements of planned propylene plants. It is forecast that China will build 13 more MTP plants in the next five years.

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