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Propylene Oxide Makers Expand

Polymers: Projects in China, Saudi Arabia will boost polyurethane raw material

by Marc S. Reisch
November 19, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 47

Credit: CNOCC & Shell Petrochemical
Shell’s propylene oxide assets include this plant in Huizhou, China, owned with partner China National Offshore Oil.
Partners Shell and China National Offshore Oil claim their propylene oxide/styrene monomer plant (shown) in Huizhou, Guangdong Province, China, is one of the world’s largest.
Credit: CNOCC & Shell Petrochemical
Shell’s propylene oxide assets include this plant in Huizhou, China, owned with partner China National Offshore Oil.

Working with local partners, Huntsman Corp. and Shell Chemicals are planning new propylene oxide facilities to meet growing demand from Asian customers for the insulating foam raw material.

Huntsman’s technology will form the basis of a joint venture with Sinopec affiliate Jinling to build a 550 million-lb-per-year propylene oxide plant in Nanjing, China, by the end of 2014. The plant will also produce 1.6 billion lb of coproduct methyl tert-butyl ether, a fuel additive used to improve air quality.

Jinling will own 51% of the venture, to be known as Nanjing Jinling Huntsman New Materials, and Huntsman will own the balance. The two say the facility will cost $750 million to build.

The deal with Jinling will “further our global expansion,” says Huntsman CEO Peter R. Huntsman. A spokesman adds that increased propylene oxide production in China will support a rising standard of living there.

Shell’s propylene oxide technology will be the basis for a new plant to be built with Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) at the partners’ existing 50-50 Saudi Petrochemical joint venture in Jubail Industrial City on Saudi Arabia’s east coast. A Shell spokesman says the two firms have only begun to plan the “world-scale” unit, which will also make coproduct styrene. In addition, they plan to produce a range of polyols, which are propylene oxide-derived building blocks for polyurethane foams used in insulation and furniture applications.

The deal with Shell will also advance SABIC’s ambitions to expand into the polyurethanes business. Earlier this year, SABIC licensed Mitsui Chemicals’ technology for making the polyurethane raw materials toluene diisocyanate and methylene diphenyl diisocyanate.

Both Shell and Huntsman are using proven technologies to enlarge their propylene oxide businesses and satisfy demand in Asia, notes Chuck Carr, director of propylene studies at the consulting firm IHS Chemical. Dow Chemical’s Sadara Chemical project, now under construction in Jubail Industrial City with partner Saudi Aramco, also includes a propylene oxide plant, Carr points out.



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