BASF CHEMICALS FOLLOWS VERBUND

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    BASF CHEMICALS FOLLOWS VERBUND German firm's North American chemicals business is practicing the integration strategy honed at the mother site in Ludwigshafen

    Michael McCoy C&EN Northeast News Bureau

    L udwigshafen, Germany, is the showcase site for BASF A.G.'s strategy of total integration, known as Verbund, but continued investment is gradually transforming the company's operations on the North American Gulf Coast into something of a New World replica.

    BASF Corp., the German firm's North American subsidiary, will invest about $4 billion over the next five years in expansions and new plants that capitalize on Verbund. About half of this sum will go to the chemicals division, mostly at its big, integrated sites in Freeport, Texas, and Geismar, La.

    The company detailed how these investments will fit into the overall Verbund strategy on a recent press tour of BASF operations in Altamira, Mexico; Freeport; and Geismar.

    BASF's single biggest North American investment is its 60% share in a $1 billion joint-venture ethylene cracker being built in partnership with Fina in Port Arthur, Texas. Although it won't be on a BASF site, the cracker will be connected by pipeline with Geismar and Freeport to supply existing plants and new projects.

    About $1 billion worth of these projects will occur in Geismar. They include a new acetylene unit that will feed butanediol operations, nitrobenzene and aniline units to supply a new methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI) facility being built by BASF's polymer division, co-generation and wastewater treatment upgrades, and about $250 million in investments yet to be announced.

    Freeport, which has received the bulk of investment in recent years, will get the

    Jennings: Verbund in mind

    other $400 million, including a new oxo alcohol facility that started up earlier this year; a cogeneration facility; a 1,6-hex-anediol plant; and others under study.

    Carl A. Jennings, president of BASF's North American chemicals division, ex

    pects that these projects, internal growth, and acquisitions should combine to take chemical division sales from an expected $1.7 billion this year to $2.7 billion in 2001.

    As sales and production grow, so do Ver-bund-based savings. BASF executives say integration at the huge Ludwigshafen site saves the company more than $600 million a year versus production at a nonintegrated location.

    In the U.S., BASF has calculated that it will save about $50 million per year by integrating the new steam cracker with Fina's refinery in Port Arthur. Jennings says this is partly because low-value cracker products such as C4 raffinate can be sent to the refinery, w iile low-value refinery products such as\ naphtha feed the cracker.

    A Verbund savings calculation hasn't been made for the Geismar and Freeport sites, but examples of integration economics abound.

    At Freeport, the company is constructing a hex-anediol plant that will consume as feedstock an adipic

    acid-rich stream that would otherwise require costly purification; the stream is produced during the oxidation of cyclohex-ane, a raw material used to make the nylon 6 intermediate caprolactam.

    A second diol facility, for Neol brand neopentyl glycol (NPG), hasn't been finalized, but a project is under study to triple current NPG capacity to 60,000 metric tons per year.

    The expanded NPG facility will consume isobutyraldehyde, a by-product of the oxo alcohol (1-butanol and 2-ethyl-hexanol) operations in Freeport. Today, most isobutyraldehyde is converted to isobutyl alcohol, a low-priced alcohol, but almost all of it will move into the much higher value NPG application if the expansion goes ahead.

    In Geismar, Verbund is also practiced "cross fence," by integrating other area chemical companies into BASF operations such as isocyanates.

    Air Products & Chemicals is constructing a $70 million dinitrotoluene facility that will supply BASF's toluene diisocyanate (TDI) plant with its key feedstock. In addition, Air Products is constructing a plant that will process off-gas from BASF's planned acetylene facility into a hydrogen-carbon monoxide feedstock used by its MDI, TDI, and butanediol operations.

    Near the Air Products dinitrotoluene plant, on land acquired from BASF, Air Liquide is building cogeneration and air separation plants that will supply needed steam and oxygen.

    And completing the integration of iso-cyanate operations, William J. Lizzi, head

    BASF invests heavily in

    Product

    Acrylic acid Oxo alcohols Polystyrene Caprolactam Styrenics Acetylene Aniline Methylene diphenyl

    diisocyanate Nitrobenzene Ethylene Propylene Hexanediol Neopentyl glycol Toluene diisocyanate Source: BASF Corp.

    Expansion (thousands

    metric tons per year)

    150 150 110 40

    130 50

    120 140

    160 860 860 25 40

    140

    North America

    f

    Site

    Freeport, Texas Freeport, Texas Joliet, III. Freeport, Texas Altamira, Mexico Geismar, La. Geismar, La. Geismar, La.

    Geismar, La. Port Arthur, Texas Port Arthur, Texas Freeport, Texas Freeport, Texas Geismar, La.

    Completion

    1997 Q2 1998 Q4 1998 Q2 1999 Q2 1999 Q4 1999 Q2 2000 Q2 2000

    Q2 2000 Q4 2000 Q4 2000 2001 2001 2001

    OCTOBER 12, 1998 C&EN 23

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    Sticking points on Mexican investment

    BASF wants to develop its new Altamira, Mexico, site into a full-fledged Verbund (total integration) complex while ex-panding into other chemical businesses in Mexico. Before proceeding, however, it must first resolve certain issues with the state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

    BASF acquired the Altamira site on the Gulf of Mexico in 1988, after several years of searching for a Mexican production base. Infrastructure at the site was laid in 1991 and 1992, and it has been expanding ever since.

    By 1995, it was producing acrylic and styrene-butadiene dispersions in a 27,000-metric-ton-per-year plant; textile, leather, and paper auxiliaries in a 10,000-metric-ton plant; and expandable poly-styrene in a 35,000-metric ton plant that is a joint venture with Mexico's Alfa Group.

    Production was stepped up further in Jury 1997 with the start of a 143,000-met-ric-ton general-purpose polystyrene plant. By early 1999, when BASF com-pletes a new 130,000-metric-ton styrenic copolymers facility, the company will have invested $360 million at Altamira.

    At that point, Altamira will be by far the biggest piece of BASF in Mexico. Other units include BASF Pinturas, a paints sub-sidiary; a glycols/surfactants facility in Lerma that is part of the Polioles venture; and Quimica Knoll, a bulk pharmaceuti-cal plant in Mexico City. All told, BASF Mexican sales last year were $448 mil-lion, making BASF the third largest chem-ical company in Mexico after Pemex and

    Hoechst, according to Dietz Kaminski, executive director of BASF Mexicana. Ka-minski expects sales in 2000, when the styrenics plant is fully onstream, to reach $850 million.

    Recent Mexican investment has been in polymers, but BASF has plans for other divisions as well For example, Altamira is the intended home for global produc-tion of one of several new herbicides BASF is developing.

    However, to further invest in core BASF chemicals such as acrylics, oxo al-cohols, ethylene glycol, and butanediol, a change is needed in Mexico's laws gov-erning petrochemical feedstocks. Written into Mexico's Constitution is that oil- and gas-based petrochemical feedstocks such as ethane, propane, and naphtha can be produced only by Pemex.

    Mexico has significant reserves of both oil and gas, but because Pemex profits tend to be directed to social programs, rather than reinvested, the country's exploration and refining sectors are woefully underde-veloped, and foreign companies are gener-ally skittish about building plants that would rely on them.

    Also, despite a surplus, Kaminski says Pemex gas is not priced competitively with product from other gas-rich regions such as Canada and Saudi Arabia.

    Foreign companies like BASF have other problems when it comes to investing in existing Pemex petrochemical assets. For example, on Sept 14, the country revisited plans to privatize its petrochemical sector by putting Petroquimica Morelos, its most

    modern and perhaps only desirable facili-ty, up for sale. The plant's main products are ethylene, ethylene oxide, ethylene gly-col, polyethylene, and polypropylene.

    The catch to privatization is that inves-tors can acquire only 49% of the new companies; the rest stays with the gov-ernment. Furthermore, non-Mexican firms can participate only in less than 50% of that 49%. In other words, a com-pany like BASF could acquire less than 24.5% of Petroquimica Morelos.

    BASF's Kaminski says this kind of par-ticipation is not of great interest to for-eign companies, especially since they would still be dependent on Pemex for feedstocks.

    Still, Morelos' products would all be welcome additions to BASF in Mexico. For example, the Polioles venture with Alfa urgently needs more ethylene oxide for surfactants production, and Alfa needs ethylene glycol for its polyester business.

    Kaminski says BASF's options on Mo-relos are to sit out the auction and see if it fails, as some observers have said it will, or bid with a partner like Alfa and work for a change in the laws governing foreign own-ership and feedstocks. Potential bidders must express interest by Oct 26; bids are due and will be opened on Feb. 19,1999.

    Whatever happens, Kaminski and other BASF executives in Mexico, while bullish on their own company's pros-pects, lament the lack of development of the Mexican petrochemical industry. They look at the progress of l

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