Observations About The CMAI And DeWitt Conferences

I’m in Houston for the DeWitt and CMAI petrochemical conferences. According to modern journalist practice, I should have had a live Twitter feed from the conferences. I don’t do that. I’m not particularly ashamed. Feel free to cut and paste these observations into your own Tweets.

1) DeWitt was held at the Hotel ZaZa in the Museum district, an artsy hotel with giant booking photos of Frank Sinatra on the walls and stuff. There were about 40 attendees, not including speakers and journalists.

2010: It was a very good year

2) CMAI had about 950 or so, by my reckoning, if you don’t include the petrochemical workshop they put on the day before the actual conference. Overall figures were more than 1,000, and I think, a record. They held it at the Hilton Americas, a perfectly normal hotel near the convention center.

3) When I started going to these a decade ago, both were held in the Galleria area. In fact, you could shuttle through the mall between talks. Attendance was closer to even at the time.

4) The biggest theme at the conferences was the cheap natural gas in North America and the strong international advantage North American producers have by cracking ethane into ethylene. Some 25% or 30% of U.S. output of some petrochemicals is being exported, CMAI president Gary Adams said. It is being shipped, “not to Columbus, Ohio, or Houston, Texas, but to conversion facilities around the world.”

5) A big topic of conversation on the sidelines was who might invest in a new cracker in the U.S. and where. (Perhaps I was just bringing it up to people I talked to. I have such tendencies, being a reporter and all.) The juiciest thing I heard is that it would be a “foreign” firm. Whether that narrows it down depends on what is meant by foreign. Reliance Industries is foreign, but technically, so is LyondellBasell. Though I think the more foreign sense of foreign was meant.

6) Investments in chemicals other than ethylene is likely for the U.S. Dewey Johnson, who covers syngas chemicals for CMAI, said in his talk that new acetic acid capacity is needed in the U.S. Tison Keel, who leads ethylene oxide and derivative studies at CMAI, said ethylene oxide purification capacity for derivatives (as opposed to ethylene glycol, which is a different animal) might be needed. That’s nothing to sneeze at; EO purification costs tens of millions, if not upwards of a hundred million, dollars to install.

7) The World Makes, China Takes: The other big theme at the conference was that the booming Chinese economy will buy up all the excess tons of chemicals the world has to offer. You could fill a Gaylord with the polyethylene pellets from eviscerated Beanie Babies and a Chinese buyer would greedily take it off your hands. According to DeWitt’s Asian polyolefins analyst Mazlan Razak, Asian polyethylene demand increased 17% in 2009 and another 10% in 2010, ending up at about 32 million metric tons. That growth represents about 7 to 8 ethylene crackers worth of material.

Author: Alex Tullo

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