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PCIC Europe 2016 Berlin Feeling the Pulse of Petrochemicals at PCIC Europe 2016

Author / Editor: Dominik Stephan* / Dominik Stephan

The PCIC Europe Conference 2016 in Berlin becomes the place to be for Petrochemicals — Big Oil under pressure: Changed markets, strong competition and new technologies demand efficient, streamlined and safe production processes. Neither operators nor engineers can resolve this Herculean task alone — professional exchange and interface technologies could become the cornerstone of tomorrow’s industry.

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Topics like industry 4.0 make the hearts of petrochemical industry experts beat faster.
Topics like industry 4.0 make the hearts of petrochemical industry experts beat faster.
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Sadara, shale gas, the decline in oil prices — hardly any branch is feeling the change as intensively as the petrochemicals industry. Be it new mega projects challenging established downstream players in the Middle East or cheap natural gas turning the value chains upside down, basic chemicals are always at the forefront of development. No wonder: Cruel oil is, and remains, the basic fuel of the industry.

Experts estimate that 10 % of the global oil consumption is used to produce basic and fine chemicals, polymers and intermediate plastic products. And even in a time when cheap US shale gas conjures visions of an ethylene-based chemical industry and analysts fear that typical naphtha products could become scarce, the “black gold” remains very important for Europe and Asia.

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Furthermore, the new downstream projects worth tens of billions recently launched in the US are under enormous profitability pressure due to the continuous descent of the oil price. And while experts like Ineos’ CEO Jim Ratcliffe consider the European basic and petrochemical industry already down for the count, this trend provides a breathing space for the old world — but nothing more. The gaps in investment between Europe and the mega projects in the Middle East as well as the shale gas belt in the Gulf of Mexico are too large.

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The Editor's Point of View...
Is Everything that Glitters (Black) Gold?

How long will the dirt-cheap oil prices last? Even with initial reports of a crisis meeting of oil producing countries making the rounds, crude will to remain cheap well into the foreseeable future. Though countries like the USA have substantially cut their production, Iran has emerged as a new player in the arena. And the Saudis do not consider pulling the plug. Motorists are pleased: Prices for petrol have not been that low since 2003 — plus the cheap oil acts like a economic boost for importing countries. But all that glitters is not gold: It’s not just that the development of more efficient technologies and alternative energy resources suddenly seem unprofitable. Even large-scale international projects with a combined 380 billion dollars worth are being reconsidered. Be it conveyor systems, pipeline, refinery or petrochemicals — the oil multi-nationals are nervous and are cutting down costs. This problem affects not only plant engineers, who are losing billions of dollars in orders. In the petrochemical sector, important investments are kept on ice. Of course, there is still good money to be earned in the downstream, but for how long? The price of basic chemicals like ethylene or propylene directly depends on the oil price.

In any case, the plant engineers are making a virtue out of necessity and are investing heavily in Iran — after all, the country with the fourth-largest oil reserves on the planet has considerable need in the downstream sector. The investment carousel is turning more slowly in Europe: Germany's BASF, the world's biggest chemical company, has announced a new round of cuts to compensate for the weak performance of its oil sector. Although the new modesty will have clear consequences in the short term, the true results of reluctance in investing will be apparent in the foreseeable future. Now is the time to develop technologies and processes, which will be at hand when the prices rise again. But with which money? And where to invest? We at PCIC Europe 2016 will surely not run out of discussion material.

PCIC Europe Sets the Course for New Shores

It is definite that the industry needs new stimuli: efficient processes and technologies, optimised production processes and secure technologies. These themes are the premier topics of the “Petroleum-and-Chemical-Industry-Committee” (PCIC) Europe Conference 2016. The PCIC, which understands itself as the “Voice of the process industry”, gathers industry experts, plant engineers and government representatives for the thirteenth time, so as to enable practical exchange of experiences as part of lectures, workshops and discussions.

Visit also our PCIC landingpage www.process-worldwide.com/PCIC-Europe

The focus of the event, which is being hosted in Berlin for the first time in 2016, is very clearly on the one interface technology that is supposed to become a great en­abler for the downstream industry: automation. The thematic framework of the event stretches from measuring, controlling, regulating, via integrated concepts, right down to safe operation.

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