Chemical Industry Trends Understanding Raw Materials is Key
Trends in the chemical industry relate strongly to progress in process technology, said Dechema chairman Prof. Rainer Diercks at a pre-Achema press conference on 6 May. “That’s why I am looking forward to this year’s Achema to get an overview of the latest development and for an exchange of knowledge with industry experts.”
Diercks, who is also president of the Petrochemicals Division of BASF, explained how it is vital to understand the changing landscape of global feedstocks when trying to predict the future of commodity chemicals.
Although low oil prices have helped keep Europe’s naphtha-fed ethylene crackers competitive, Asian olefins producers are much less profitable than their counterparts in North America, who have the advantage of cheap shale gas. In China, plants to turn coal into chemicals are becoming increasingly important.
The move away from oil brings technological challenges, Diercks said, such as a shortage of aromatics where naphtha gives way to gas. But, he added, the biggest technological hurdles will come with the greater use of renewables.
Though the world has plenty of biomass, just 1% is currently used as a chemical feed. Easily processed oils and fats make up half this total. The complex mixture known as lignocellulose, of which woody plants are made, is much harder to process economically – at least as far as bulk chemicals are concerned. Biorefineries could be the answer, Diercks noted.