Chinese surging crude imports mask weakness in the rest of Asia

MOSCOW (MRC) -- The ongoing flood of crude oil into China is obscuring the fact that demand in the rest of Asia remains weak, and that countries in the world's top-consuming region didn't join China is stocking up when prices slumped, reported Reuters.

China's crude imports set consecutive records in May and June, and will remain at high levels in July and likely August too, as the massive volumes of oil bought during a brief price war in April enter the country.

China imported 12.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in June, eclipsing the prior all-time high of 11.3 million bpd in May, according to official data.

Imports for July may set a new record high, with Refinitiv Oil Research estimating 13.04 million bpd will be offloaded in the month.

Tracking China's imports has been made more tricky by the sheer volume of tankers heading to, or waiting at, ports. Delays in discharging cargoes mean that August's figures may get a bit of a boost from the earlier buying spree.

Crude prices plunged to the lowest in 17 years in late April after Saudi Arabia and Russia, the leading producers in the group known as OPEC+, disagreed on whether to extend and deepen output cuts in a bid to support prices.

The Saudis said they would sell as much oil as they could, and the sheer volume of oil being made available, coupled with the economic hit from the spreading novel coronavirus pandemic, saw benchmark Brent futures drop as low as USD15.98 a barrel on April 22, some 78% down from this year's peak of USD71.75 in early January.

While the price war didn't persist, with OPEC+ agreeing to extend and deepen output cuts, it did last long enough to give refiners an opportunity to stock up with bargain-basement crude.

However, it appears that only Chinese refiners took up the offer, and perhaps trading houses with access to storage tanks, with many Asian buyers apparently more worried about the demand hit from the coronavirus than they were tempted by the low crude prices.

India, the second-largest crude importer in Asia behind China, is forecast by Refinitiv to have imported 3.68 million bpd in July, a recovery from June's 3.33 million bpd.

However, these levels are still well below the 4.1 million to 4.7 million bpd range of India's oil imports in the months leading up to the coronavirus pandemic.

Japan's appetite for crude is struggling to recover, with just 2.16 million bpd of imports expected for July, up slightly from June's 1.93 million. The weakness in Japan means that South Korea is overtaking its rival in crude imports, with Refinitiv estimating 2.47 million bpd of imports in July, up a touch from 2.45 million bpd in June.

However, both countries are still down by more than 10% from the import levels that prevailed prior to the pandemic.

A further sign of Asia's struggles outside of China is Singapore, the island state that is home to three refineries with a combined processing capacity of about 1.4 million bpd, and which produce mainly for export markets.

Singapore is expected to import 580,000 bpd in July, down from 870,000 bpd in June, which was already down on the more normal level of 910,000 bpd in April.

The weakness in Asia outside China begs the question as to what happens when the surge of cheap crude that China bought during the price war comes to an end?

Is the economic recovery from the coronavirus enough to boost demand across the region, or will the risk of a second wave, and the ongoing first wave in countries like the United States and Brazil, serve to dampen demand?

The rebound in crude prices since OPEC+ acted to lower production is also perhaps a factor in limiting potential demand growth, with refinery margins weak in Asia outside of China.

A Singapore hydrocracker refinery currently has a profit margin of USD1.15 a barrel, well below levels of around USD2-USD6 that prevailed in the first quarter of this year.

Refineries may be finding it challenging to pass on higher crude costs, given demand for refined fuels is still running well below pre-coronavirus levels.

As MRC wrote previously, rour large new crackers are poised to start operations in China in the next 3-6 months, in a sharp expansion of the country's petrochemical cracker sector. State-controlled Sinochem today said it has commissioned the 3mn t/yr condensate unit at its Quanzhou complex in Fujian province. The key upstream facility produces naphtha for use as a cracker feedstock.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports. At the same time, PP imports into Russia rose in the first six months of 2020 by 21% year on year to 105,300 tonnes. Propylene homopolymer (homopolymer PP) accounted for the main increase in imports.
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SK Capital to acquire specialty polymers business from Baker Hughes

MOSCOW (MRC) -- SK Capital Partners, a private investment firm focused on the specialty materials, chemicals and pharmaceuticals sectors, has announced it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the specialty polymers business from Baker Hughes, reported Chemweek.

The business, with manufacturing operations at Barnsdall, Oklahoma, produces specialty low molecular weight olefin polymers, including a range of differentiated functional polymers and premium, high melting point polyethylene waxes. Over its 85-year history, the business has been dedicated to innovation and has developed a strong reputation as a premium specialty supplier and solutions provider to its diverse customer base, SK Capital says.

Mario Toukan, a managing director of SK Capital, said, “The specialty polymers business is a pioneer in the development of specialized polymerization technologies. We see tremendous opportunity for growth by further developing functional, solutions-oriented products that solve problems and create significant value for customers.”

“SK has extensive corporate carveout expertise and we look forward to partnering with management to transform the business into a world-class independent specialty chemical company with an intense focus on operational excellence,” added Jonathan Borell, a managing director of SK Capital. “As an independent company, the specialty polymers business will be able to build upon and enhance its reputation as a reliable provider of innovative and high-quality polymers.”

SK Capital and Baker Hughes are working together to execute a seamless transaction plan to continue to serve the specialty polymers business’s customer base reliably and safely, the companies say. The transaction is expected to close in the second half of 2020. Morgan, Lewis & Bockius acted as legal counsel to SK Capital and committed debt financing was provided by KeyBanc Capital Markets. Evercore acted as financial advisor and King & Spalding served as legal counsel to Baker Hughes.

As MRC informed earlier, SK Capital (New York, New York) is acquiring a majority interest in Techmer PM (Clinton, Tennessee), a designer and producer of engineered compounds and polymer modifiers. John Manuck, president and CEO of Techmer, says access to the resources of SK Capital will allow Techmer to grow beyond North America.

We remind thatn SK Global Chemical, a subsidiary of SK Innovation, plans to shut down its production processes for ethylene and ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM) within its naphtha cracking center in Ulsan, South Korea. The 200,000-t/y naphtha cracker, which started commercial operation in 1972, and the EPDM unit, which began commercial operation in 1992, will be mothballed from December 2020 to shift the company's focus to high-value added chemicals.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports. At the same time, PP imports into Russia rose in the first six months of 2020 by 21% year on year to 105,300 tonnes. Propylene homopolymer (homopolymer PP) accounted for the main increase in imports.
MRC

Indorama brings its cracker at Louisiana offline after lightning strike

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Indorama Ventures (IVL; Bangkok, Thailand) says a lightning strike on 1 August at its steam cracker at Westlake, Louisiana, resulted in a plant trip of the facility and subsequent flaring, reported Chemweek.

The plant is currently offline and being assessed by personnel. All appropriate regulatory officials have been notified, it says. There is no danger to the site, employees, or surrounding community, it adds.

The facility, which has an ethylene production capacity of 440,000 metric tons/year, is covered by a comprehensive insurance policy, Indorama says. The olefins gas cracker, operated by IVL's subsidiary Indorama Ventures Olefins LLC, began commercial production operations in January this year.

As MRC informed earlier, in March 2020, Indorama Ventures Limited announced that the company decided to extend the pre-construction period of the purified terephthalic acid-polyethylene terephthalate (PTA-PET) plant in Corpus Christi, Texas through the end of 2020. Christi Polymers LLC (CCP), a joint venture among certain subsidiaries of Indorama Ventures Holding, Alpek and Far Eastern Investment (Holding) Limited was created to acquire and complete construction of an integrated PTA-PET plant in Corpus Christi. The completion of the project is expected to be in 2023.

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports. At the same time, PP imports into Russia rose in the first six months of 2020 by 21% year on year to 105,300 tonnes. Propylene homopolymer (homopolymer PP) accounted for the main increase in imports.

Indorama Ventures Public Company Limited, listed in Thailand, is one of the world's leading petrochemicals producers, a global manufacturing footprint with 59 sites in 20 countries across Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. The company's portfolio is comprises necessities and high value-added (HVA) categories of polymers, fibers, and packaging. Indorama Ventures has approx. 24,000 employees worldwide and consolidated revenue of USD 11.4 billion in 2019.
MRC

LG Chem to expand carbon nanotube production by 1,200 tons

MOSCOW (MRC)-- LG Chem announced that it will invest about 65 billion KRW (USD54 million) by Q1 of next year to expand production of carbon nanotubes (CNT) by 1,200 tons at the company’s Yeosu plant, according to Kemicalinfo.

Once the expansion is made, LG Chem will have a total production capacity of 1,700 tons by adding to the existing 500 tons.

CNT is a next-generation new material having the same electric and heat conductivity equivalent to copper and diamonds, and its intensity is 100 times of steel. Its superior properties over existing materials make it suitable for use in batteries, semiconductors, automobile parts, aircraft fuselages, etc.

Regarding this extension, LG Chem stated that this measure was taken to not only target the global EV market, but also the CNT market that has recently been rapidly growing for use in anode conductive additives for lithium ion batteries.

By using CNTs as anode conductive additives, it is possible to realize high conductivity greater than 10%, compared to existing carbon black, while reducing the use of conductive materials by about 30%, and that space can be filled with necessary anode materials to increase the capacity and life of lithium ion batteries.

Thanks to these features, CNT demand is expected to post explosive growth of an annual average of about 34% to rise from 3,000 tons last year to 13,000 tons by 2024 mainly centering on the global EV market.

In particular, as the world leader of EV batteries, LG Chem plans to further strengthen product competitiveness by actively utilizing CNT lithium ion batteries.

It also plans to gradually increase sales to global IT materials companies and end-car makers in North America, Europe and China and it is also scheduled to review plans for additional extensions in 2022.

Through this investment, LG Chem will be able to accelerate its product structure advancement strategies based on distinguished technologies that it is pursuing in the petrochemical sector.

Through the world’s largest fluidized bed reactor that it developed, it constructed a massive production system and it is actively targeting the market through various CNT products ranging from existing powder forms to compressed forms that are convenient for clients to use.

Plans are also in place to develop a variety of new uses for applying CNT, such as gang forms (large casts for construction), semi-conductive layers inside high-voltage cable sheaths, high strength concrete for architecture, and commercialize these in the market.

Noh Kug-lae, head of the Petrochemical Company, said, “We must lead the market with distinguished technologies and products to survive in the global materials competition,” while adding, “We will become a dominant market leader in the next-generation high-value materials including CNTs based on our unique proprietary technologies and experiences in mass production.”

As MRC wrote previously, LG Chem, a South Korean petrochemical major, reduced its operational rates of its cracker to around 90-95% starting January 2020 due to weaker economic fundamentals. Based in Daesan, South Korea, the cracker is able to produce 1.27 million tons/year of ethylene and 650,000 tons/year of propylene. The company increased capacity utilisation at this cracker to 100% on 10 March, 2020, in order to supply ethylene to Lotte Chemical.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports. At the same time, PP imports into Russia rose in the first six months of 2020 by 21% year on year to 105,300 tonnes. Propylene homopolymer (homopolymer PP) accounted for the main increase in imports.

LG Chem Ltd., often referred to as LG Chemical, is the largest Korean chemical company and is headquartered in Seoul, South Korea. According to ICIS report, it is 15th biggest chemical company in the world in 2011. It has eight domestic factories and global network of 29 business locations in 15 countries. LG Chem is a manufacturer, supplier, and exporter of petrochemical goods, IT&E Materials and Energy Solutions.
MRC

ABB new analytics and AI software helps producers optimize operations

MOSCOW (MRC) -- The ABB Ability Genix Industrial Analytics and AI Suite is a scalable advanced analytics platform with pre-built, easy-to-use applications and services, said Hydrocarbonprocessing.

It collects, contextualizes and converts operational, engineering and information technology data into actionable insights that help industries improve operations, optimize asset management and streamline business processes safely and sustainably.

Analyst studies suggest that industrial companies typically are able to use only 20 percent? of the data generated, which severely limits their ability to apply data analytics meaningfully. ABB’s new solution operates as a digital data convergence point where streams of information from diverse sources across the plant and enterprise are put into context through a unified analytics model. Application of artificial intelligence on this data produces meaningful insights for prediction and optimization that improve business performance.

"We believe that the place to start a data analytics journey in the process, energy and hybrid industries is by building on the existing digital technology – the automation that controls the production processes," said Peter Terwiesch, President of ABB Industrial Automation. “We see a huge opportunity for our customers to use their data from operations better, by combining it with engineering and information technology data for multi-dimensional decision making. This new approach will help our customers make literally billions of better decisions."

ABB Ability Genix is composed of a data analytics platform and applications, supplemented by ABB services, that help customers decide which assets, processes and risk profiles can be improved, and assists customers in designing and applying those analytics. Featuring a library of applications, customers can subscribe to a variety of analytics on demand, as business needs dictate, speeding up the traditional process of requesting and scheduling support from suppliers.

Scalable from plant to enterprise, ABB Ability Genix supports a variety of deployments including cloud, hybrid and on-premise. ABB Ability Genix leverages Microsoft Azure for integrated cloud connectivity and services through ABB’s strategic partnership with Microsoft.

“The ABB Ability Genix Suite brings unique value by unlocking the combined power of diverse data, domain knowledge, technology and AI," said Rajesh Ramachandran, Chief Digital Officer for ABB Industrial Automation. "ABB Ability™ Genix helps asset-intensive producers with complex processes to make timely and accurate decisions through deep analytics and optimization across the plant and enterprise.

"We have designed this modular and flexible suite so that customers at different stages in their digitalization journey can adopt ABB Ability Genix to accelerate business outcomes while protecting existing investments."

A key component of ABB Ability™ Genix is the ABB Ability Edgenius Operations Data Manager that connects, collects, and analyzes operational technology data at the point of production. ABB Ability Edgenius uses data generated by operational technology such as DCS and devices to produce analytics that improve production processes and asset utilization. ABB Ability Edgenius can be deployed on its own, or integrated with ABB Ability Genix so that operational data is combined with other data for strategic business analytics.

"There is great value in data generated by automation that controls real-time production,” said Bernhard Eschermann, Chief Technology Officer for ABB Industrial Automation. "With ABB Ability Edgenius, we can pull data from these real-time control systems and make it available to predict issues and prescribe actions that help us use assets better and fine-tune production processes."

As MRC informed previously, global oil consumption cut by up to a third in Q1 2020. What happens next in the oil market depends on how quickly and completely the global economy emerges from lockdown, and whether the recessionary hit lingers through the rest of this year and into 2021.

Earlier this year, BP said the deadly coronavirus outbreak could cut global oil demand growth by 40 per cent in 2020, putting pressure on Opec producers and Russia to curb supplies to keep prices in check.

And in September 2019, six world's major petrochemical companies in Flanders, Belgium, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, and the Netherlands (Trilateral Region) announced the creation of a consortium to jointly investigate how naphtha or gas steam crackers could be operated using renewable electricity instead of fossil fuels. The Cracker of the Future consortium, which includes BASF, Borealis, BP, LyondellBasell, SABIC and Total, aims to produce base chemicals while also significantly reducing carbon emissions. The companies agreed to invest in R&D and knowledge sharing as they assess the possibility of transitioning their base chemical production to renewable electricity.

Ethylene and propylene are feedstocks for producing polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP).

According to MRC's DataScope report, PE imports to Russia dropped in January-June 2020 by 7% year on year to 328,000 tonnes. High density polyethylene (HDPE) accounted for the main decrease in imports. At the same time, PP imports into Russia rose in the first six months of 2020 by 21% year on year to 105,300 tonnes. Propylene homopolymer (homopolymer PP) accounted for the main increase in imports.
MRC