Chemical brothers bond for strength
based chemicals major Ineos Group Ltd is banking on its upcoming projects in China to drive growth in the rapidly changing global energy market.
China’s huge petrochemicals market and steady demand are key factors propelling growth in the global markets, says Jim Ratcliffe, the 61-yearold founder and chairman of Ineos, the fourth largest chemicals company in the world in terms of revenue, after BASF, Dow Chemical and LyondellBasell. It is also the largest privately owned company in the United Kingdom
Ratcliffe says the eurozone crisis has made Europe’s energy market uncompetitive, while the development of shale gas has opened up new investment opportunities in the US. China, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly self-sufficient in petrochemicals, he says.
Ineos, which started operations 15 years ago, has 51 sites in 11 countries and employs 15,000 workers globally. The company reported revenue of $43 billion in 2012.
Over the past few years, Ineos’ profits have halved in Europe and tripled in America, largely because of the company’s investment in new shale gas assets in the US. According to Ratcliffe, more than two-thirds of the company’s assets are still in Europe and the falling yields there are a cause for concern.
Investments in China, however, have provided enough room for optimism, he says. Ratcliffe says the company is setting up two chemical plants in China next year, involving investments of more than $1 billion, to cater to the growing domestic chemical market.
The first project is a joint venture with Tianjin Bohai Chemical Industry Group Corp to produce acrylonitrile in Tianjin, while the second is a joint venture with Sinopec Yangzi Petrochemical Co to produce phenol in Nanjing.
Both acrylonitrile and phenol are important ingredients that could fuel China’s industrial boom. Ratcliffe believes Ineos can be a key player in the technology transfer process.
“Our principal contribution is technology. We’ve been the world leaders in phenol and acrynitrile production with 15 years of accumulated technology expertise,” Ratcliffe says.
Although both plants are still awaiting final approval from the Chinese government, Ratcliffe says this will happen soon and he expects work to commence next year and production to begin in 2016.
The phenol plant is designed to produce 400,000 tons of phenol and 250,000 tons of acetone every year. Ineos claims that the plant will be the largest of its kind in China.
However, phenol is also a harmful substance that can irritate eyes and skin. If absorbed in large amounts it can damage the liver and kidneys. It has also raised environmental pollution concerns in China in recent years.
In 2012, water supplies in the Yangtze River became polluted after phenol leaked from a South Korean ship that was docked in Zhenjiang, in East China’s Jiangsu province.
Ratcliffe, however, says Ineos places huge emphasis on the safe production of phenol. It will use the same quality standards it uses in the West in its Chinese facilities, he says.
Ineos also has huge expectations from Petroineos, the refining and trading joint venture set up in 2011 with PetroChina. Petroineos has two refineries, one in Lavera, France, and one in Grangemouth, Scotland. The Chinese energy company has invested $1 billion equity in these two refineries.
“We were looking for partners for these two refineries, especially companies that had a wider reach in the oil world. We looked at PetroChina five or six years ago. They were the best fit. It has been a good relationship since then,” Ratcliffe says.
PetroChina has brought capital, huge experience in refining and its access to crude oil from Asian markets to the joint venture. Ineos’ access to crude oil is focused more on Europe, he says.
The wider access to crude has helped the refineries reduce raw material costs and improve profitability, Ratcliffe says.
“I think it’s more of a twoway relationship. We learn a lot from PetroChina, and they learn something from us. I think they respect our manufacturing capability and they want someone locally to manage the refineries.”
Despite the promising prospects of the partnership, the joint venture has faced challenging times in recent years after the eurozone crisis made Europe’s energy market inefficient and uncompetitive, Ratcliffe says. Contact the writers through firstname.lastname@example.org.