Halix to provide drug substance for AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine candidate

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Halix (Leiden, Netherlands), a biopharmaceutical contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO), says it has signed an agreement with AstraZeneca to provide large-scale commercial manufacturing of drug substance AZD1222 for the COVID-19 vaccine candidate co-invented by the University of Oxford, UK, and its spin-out company Vaccitech, said Chemweek.

Halix says it has expanded production at its 6,700 square-meter current good manufacturing practice (cGMP) facility at the Bio Science Park at Leiden with two additional viral vector production lines, to meet the increased demand.

Halix continues its role as one of the original partners in the University of Oxford’s consortium for the manufacture of AZD1222, the company says. “Through the consortium, the partners are bringing their collective expertise and manufacturing capabilities to support vaccine production and combat this evolving crisis,” says Alex Huybens, COO at Halix.

As MRC informed earlier, Wacker will support production of CureVac’s COVID-19 mRNA-based vaccine candidate at its biotech site in Amsterdam, with production scheduled to start in the first half of 2021.

As MRC reported earlier, Wacker Chemie operates a 90 ktpa EVA compounding plant at the Ulsan site, consisting of two lines. The second line with a capacity of 40 thousand tons of products per year was launched in 2013.

According to MRC's DataScope, September EVA imports to Russia fell by 30,32% year on year to 2,38 tonnes from 3,420 tonnes a year earlier, and overall imports of this grade of ethylene copolymer into the Russian Federation dropped in January-September 2020 by 9,85% year on year to 26,340 tonnes (29,220 tonnes a year earlier).

Valero McKee refinery Sunray, Texas, shuts CDU, other units for work

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Valero Energy Corp shut the large crude distillation unit (CDU) and other units at its 195,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) McKee refinery in Sunray, Texas, for planned work, reported Reuters with reference to sources familiar with plant operations.

The 95,000-bpd CDU, 30,000-bpd hydrocracker and 28,000-bpd reformer were shut for planned work expected to take at least two weeks to complete, the sources said.

A Valero representative was not immediately available to discuss operations at the McKee refinery.

CDUs do the initial breakdown of crude oil into feedstock for all other units. Hydrocrackers convert gas oil into diesel and other motor fuels. Reformers convert refining by-products into octane-boosting components added to gasoline.

As MRC wrote before, Valero Energy Corp restarted the large crude distillation unit (CDU) at its 335,000-bpd Port Arthur, Texas, refinery the first week of September, 2020. The 268,000-bpd CDU was shut with all other units at the refinery on Aug. 25 because of the threat from Hurricane Laura.

We remind that in June 2020, Valero Energy Corp’s Memphis, Tennessee, crude oil refinery was operating at two-thirds of its 180,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) capacity because of low demand in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Memphis refinery cut production by as much as 50% in early April and has been raising production gradually since then.

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

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, Russia's estimated PE consumption totalled 1,760,950 tonnes in the first ten months of 2020, up by 3% year on year. Only high density polyethylene (HDPE) and linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) shipments increased. At the same time, PP shipments to the Russian market reached 978,870 tonnes in January-October 2020 (calculated using the formula: production minus exports plus imports minus producers' inventories as of 1 January, 2020). Supply of exclusively of PP random copolymer increased.

SIBUR starts manufacturing new PP grades to produce raffia

MOSCOW (MRC) -- SIBUR started manufacturing new PP grades to produce raffia, specifically PP H043FF/3 and PP H063FF/3, which boost equipment performance and processing stability while being used for the high-speed production of flat film thread for soft woven packaging such as bags and big bags, waterproof roofing underlays, and twines, said the company.

The new grades greatly speed up the processing equipment performance owing to an improved melt flow rate, thus boosting production by up to 15% for heavy threads and by up to 23% for light threads. Processing companies can save on electricity costs on the back of a 5% lower temperature across extruder layers, pressure reduced by 10 bar for the extruder die and filter, and a better mix of chalk concentrate.

A selection of special additives developed by SIBUR PolyLab’s Compounding division helps bring reject rates down to zero when manufacturing film threads. The range of controlled parameters of PP batches is quite narrow, which ensures processing stability, reduces the frequency of process mode adjustments and results in a consistently higher quality of finished products. The new grades have also been praised by equipment manufacturers for their efficiency.

"We at Starlinger and also our customers who use new SIBUR polypropylene grades H043FF/3 and PP H063FF/3 for raffia production on Starlinger equipment report excellent processing capabilities. Together with SIBUR, the Starlinger extrusion specialists tested the new grades on the company's tape lines and circular looms. The grades achieved the best results in the extrusion process on Starlinger high-speed tape production lines: they ensure very stable production even at the top speeds of 550 m/min and the highest quality in raffia tape production. The excellent tape quality pays off during the weaving process: less tape ruptures and machine downtime greatly increase production efficiency. We recommend PP H043FF/3 and PP H063FF/3 to our customers, especially for AD*STAR block bottom bag production and other lightweight woven bags."

Peter Schmalholz, Head of R&D at Windmoller & Holscher Machinery: "The new SIBUR PP grade H063FF/3 for raffia has proven to run very well in test production on TIRATEX high-speed tape lines, offering excellent process reliability and achieving good tape quality at production speeds of 550 m/min, matching today’s increasing demands for economical production. Windmoller & Holscher Machinery therefore decided to include this grade in our reference list of recommended materials for the manufacturing of AD PROTEX® LS box-shaped sacks and other PP fabric products."

Pavel Lyakhovich, member of the Management Board, Managing Director at SIBUR’s Basic Polymer Division, said: “The new grades are our regular products which have already secured a loyal customer base and enjoy appreciation both in Russia and beyond. We are delighted to have been able to provide our partners with a solution that ensures a consistently high quality of their products and enhances manufacturing efficiency."

As MRC informed earlier, SIBUR, Russia’s top petrochemicals company, has ramped up its ZapSibNefteKhim plant in western Siberia to full capacity, signaling a shift in supplies of LPG away from Europe as more products are sold to Asia, said the company. SIBUR signed a deal in June to sell up to 1 million tons of polyethylene a year to China’s Sinopec from ZapSibNefteKhim, which uses LPG as a feedstock. The Russian company, one of the biggest petrochemical companies in the world, has been gradually cutting LPG exports to Europe as it boosts ZapSibNefteKhim’s capacity.

MRC's ScanPlast report said, Russian plants' total PP production dropped to 152,000 tonnes in October from 158,200 tonnes a month earlier ZapSibNeftekhim and Poliom"s production capacitites were shut for maintenance. Russia"s overall PP production reached 1,529,000 tonnes in January-October 2020, compared to 1,170,300 tonnes a year earlier. Six out of eight producers raised their capacity utilisation, with a new producer - ZapSibNeftekhim - accounting for the main increase in the output.

COVID-19 - News digest as of 08.12.2020

1. South Africa to review petroleum product supplies after refinery shutdown

MOSCOW (MRC) -- South Africa will urgently conduct an assessment of petroleum products supply, the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy said on Saturday after the country's second-largest crude oil refinery shut down following a fire, said Hydrocarbonprocessing. The 120,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) Engen refinery in Durban, majority-owned by Malaysia's Petronas, ceased operations as investigations started into the cause of the fire on Friday. Engen said it was taking measures to ensure security of supply. The refinery shutdown comes at a crucial time for South Africa as it looks to kickstart an economy walloped by the COVID-19 pandemic. The South African Petroleum Industry Association (SAPIA) warned in May that the country was facing a diesel shortage due to a spike in demand as restrictions on movement eased.


Crude oil futures dip as most of California enters lockdown

MOSCOW (MRC) -- Crude oil futures ticked down during midmorning trading in Asia Dec. 7 as the rally spurred by OPEC+ partially extending production quotas tapered off after most of California entered into a lockdown, reported S&P Global.

At 11:02 am Singapore time (0302 GMT), the ICE February Brent contract was down 18 cents/b (0.37%) from the Dec. 4 settle at $49.07/b while the NYMEX January light sweet crude contract was down 18 cents/b (0.39%) at $46.08/b. Both markers rose 2.07% and 1.60%, respectively, in the week ended Dec. 5, with the rally driven by the OPEC+ easing production quotas Dec. 3 by 500,000 b/d in January 2021.

The alliance will set output levels every month, aiming to release crude gradually onto the market without tipping it into a supply glut during an uncertain recovery from the pandemic, ministers said Dec. 3.

However, the sentiment soured Dec. 7 after the reimposition of lockdown measures in Southern California and large parts of the Central Valley on Dec. 5. The restrictions came after intensive care capacity in these regions fell below a 15% threshold, and are expected to remain in place for at least three weeks, according to media reports.

"Some of the shine is coming off the OPEC rally as the reality of Xmas lite sets in with the bulk of Californians, one of the US's biggest road fuel demand states, are set to enter wide-sweeping new virus lockdowns," said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiTrader, in a Dec. 7 note.

"Oil being a prompt contract, it does not have the luxury to look through "Grinchy" holiday season-imposed lockdowns, like other forward-looking assets," he added.

Meanwhile, oil prices could also be influenced by news about the US stimulus package, seen by the market as key to injecting life into the ailing US economic picture and shoring up demand for oil.

The increasing agreement in the political sphere that further fiscal response is needed for a US economic recovery portends well for ratification of a US stimulus bill.

"The prospect for another US COVID-19 pandemic stimulus package before end-2020 rose substantially as senior Republican lawmakers warmed to the US$908bn proposal put forth by a bipartisan group of lawmakers as a basis for a deal," UOB analysts said in a Dec. 7 note.

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have already endorsed using the bipartisan proposal as the basis for negotiations while several Republican senators, including South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, said that it contained elements for an agreement," they added.

As MRC invofmed previously, global oil demand may have already peaked, according to BP's latest long-term energy outlook, as the COVID-19 pandemic kicks the world economy onto a weaker growth trajectory and accelerates the shift to cleaner fuels.

Earlier this year, BP said the deadly coronavirus outbreak could cut global oil demand growth by 40% 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 PE and PP.

According to MRC's ScanPlast report, Russia's estimated PE consumption totalled 1,760,950 tonnes in the first ten months of 2020, up by 3% year on year. Only high density polyethylene (HDPE) and linear low density polyethylene (LLDPE) shipments increased. At the same time, PP shipments to the Russian market reached 978,870 tonnes in January-October 2020 (calculated using the formula: production minus exports plus imports minus producers' inventories as of 1 January, 2020). Supply of exclusively of PP random copolymer increased.