Celanese Planning More Ethanol Investments
Jun16

Celanese Planning More Ethanol Investments

Celanese can’t seem to plunge into the ethanol business fast enough. Back in November, the company announced it was building one, and possibly two, 400,000-metric-ton ethanol plants based on its new TCX ethanol technology. It is also planning a 40,000-metric-ton demonstration plant in Clear Lake, Texas. Now the company says it is installing 200,000 metric tons of ethanol at its Nanjing complex as early as 2013. How? The company’s release merely said it would “modify and enhance its existing integrated acetyl facility.” This doesn’t say anything more about the nature of the technology than the company’s earlier line that TCX was based on its “acetyls technology.” However, the news promised at least the potential for new clues. The company started the acetic acid complex in 2007 with 600,000 metric tons of acetic acid capacity. It expanded the plant to 1.2 million metric tons using its AO Plus 2 acetic acid process. The company is planning to push that to 1.5 million tons using something called AO Plus 3. I called the company with a question: Would Celanese lose acetic acid capacity as a result of the ethanol project? This would tell me if a portion of the acetic capacity was being repurposed for ethanol. And that might indicate how closely related TCX technology is to methanol carbonylation into acetic acid. “We’re not disclosing that information,” Celanese spokesman Travis Jacobsen told me. Rats! He was kind enough to direct me to a website that Celanese has on the topic. Even that didn’t offer the kind of information I was looking for. My heart thumped a little when I saw a diagram with an ethylene arrow going into a box that said “acetyl technologies” and “ethanol technologies”. I wondered for a second if that meant oxidation, which has long been an alternative technology to carbonylation. Then I realized that the ethylene was probably just a reference the reaction to make vinyl acetate. Plus, Celanese clearly states over and over that the technology is syngas derived, so the building blocks we are looking for are clearly carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and perhaps methanol. Celanese’s ethanol technology remains a black box. My next step will be checking the patent literature for...

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Reliance Planning Acetic Acid, More Rubber
Jun10

Reliance Planning Acetic Acid, More Rubber

Mukesh Ambani descended from his Bond-villain abode of Antilia, which apparently has a room with its own artificial weather, to deliver the chairman’s address before Reliance Industries’ annual meeting. Here are a few takeaways on its chemical business: 1) Reliance is planning to build a 1 million-metric-ton-per-year acetic acid plant at its Jamnagar refining and chemical site. It will derive its feedstock from petroleum coke gasification. “This will enable us to emerge as the largest manufacturer in India and amongst the top three globally,” he said. Acetic acid is used as a solvent in the manufacture of the polyester raw material purified terephthalic acid (PTA) from p-xylene. Reliance makes 2.4 million tons of polyester per year. It currently buys the acetic it needs. In addition, the company has announced it is expanding p-xylene by 1.8 million metric tons and PTA by 2.3 million metric tons. In other words, its acetic requirements will increase. To me, this also puts Reliance’s attempted acquisition of LyondellBasell into perspective. Reliance tried to purchase a controlling stake in Lyondell out of bankruptcy in 2009. At the time, I figured Reliance was just after a major international asset. And it probably was. But now I realize that there might have been an acetic angle to those overtures as well. 2) Reliance also has plenty of rubber expansions planned. Ambani disclosed that the company is expanding its Indian polybutadiene rubber capacity from 73,000 metric tons up to 115,000 metric tons. It is also planning a 150,000 metric-ton styrene butadiene rubber plant. This is in addition to the 100,000 metric-ton butyl rubber plant the company plans to construct with Sibur. These moves aren’t terribly hard to understand. Production of tires and other rubber products is booming in Asia. In addition, the name of the game seems to be access to heavy cracker and refinery based raw materials like butadiene. This is why there are so many synthetic rubber plans going up in nearby Southeast Asia. It would make sense that Reliance would lead the charge in South...

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