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Euro Chlor 2014 A Future without Chlorine? Industry Between Hope and Trepidation

| Editor: Dominik Stephan

The European chlorine industry has now reached a crossroads. An EU directive mandates the early phasing out of the conventional amalgam process. We were at the Euro Chlor Technology Conference 2014 in Madrid to listen in on what the European chlorine industry plans to do next..

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775,000 Tons – the total capacity of chlorine plants in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, that have to be modernized until 2017.
775,000 Tons – the total capacity of chlorine plants in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, that have to be modernized until 2017.
(Source: Eurochlor)

Have you used a chlorine-based product today? You really don’t think so? What about the soles of your shoes, the tires on the car or functional apparel made of synthetic fiber? Chlorine is all around you. It is used as a feedstock to make a large variety of materials –but it is also a key additive for chemical reactions. Chlorine is also widely used for diefferent purposes in pharmaceutical production. In fact, there is no reason to expect that the significance of this chemical will decline any time soon.

That being the case, chlorine producers should be popping the corks on the champagne bottles. And yet, the mood at the Euro Chlor Technology Conference 2014 was rather subdued. The event in Madrid, Spain, which was held at the beginning of April, was promoting only careful optimism among its participants.

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Little Reason to Celebrate

The fact that industrial production only contributes around 15% to GDP in the EU gives cause for concern, and it is bad news for everyone, reported Euro Chlor Chairman Alistair Steel. The chlorine industry working group, which is part of the European Cefic trade association, represents 97% of all chlorine producers in the EU and EFTA countries.

Without industry, we would have no plastics, and without chemical products, there would be no pharmaceuticals and no demand for chlorine. Following a turbulent 2011, chlorine production in the EU declined by 2.4 % in 2012 to 9 701 000 tonnes. Bad news from the PVC industry, traditionally a major consumer of chlorine, darkened the mood even further. This disappointing development tightened also the market for chlorine’s main by-product, caustic soda: With 252 000 tonnes, 2012’s average monthly stock levels were below the 252 000 tonnes of 2011.

Auditorium at Eurochlor 2014
Auditorium at Eurochlor 2014
(Picture: PROCESS)

Besides weak demand, energy costs are a major headache for the industry. Chlorine is produced in an electrochemical reaction, thus energy accounts for 45-60 % of the total production cost. Industry insiders report that regional differences and the constant increase in prices distort competition across markets in europe and abroad.

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