China to Revise White Oil Standards

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China will introduce new national standards for industrial white oils as soon as the middle of this year, according to a Sinopec representative at a recent industry event.

The new standard, drafted by Sinopecs Fushun Research Institute of Petroleum and Petrochemicals, updates the current version, which was launched in 2002. Its now awaiting National Energy Administration approval.

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The new standard aims to better regulate the industrial white oil sector and improve the quality of Chinese-made white oils, said FRIPP R&D Director Yao Chunlei at Enmores White Oil Industry Summit held in Guangzhou last month.

Major changes include adding grades lower in the viscosity range, such as ISO viscosity grades 5 and 26, and in the higher reaches as well – including 100, 150 and 220 viscosity grades. The draft also adds parameters for indicators such as sulfur content, aromatic content and mechanical impurities.

In China, six categories of white oils are recognized, and each has individual standards: light white oil, white oil feedstock, industrial white oil, cosmetic white oil, food-grade white oil and pharmaceutical white oil.

Many sectors requiring specialty grades of white oils must be served by imports, Yao said, urging suppliers at the summit to improve quality to reduce dependence on foreign sources.

Lucrative industries like cosmetics, pharmaceutical, food processing and crops storage see few Chinese white oil suppliers, he said. China cannot always rely on foreign suppliers.

A few Chinese companies have made notable progress. One is Maoming Petrochemical Shihua, a Sinopec subsidiary in Maoming, Guangdong province. The Shenzhen-listed company produces a variety of chemicals, including ethanolamine and dearomatic solvents.

Shihua supplies white oils with a viscosity grade of 36 to the healthcare company Mentholatum China for the manufacturing of lip balms. Like its peers in China, Mentholatum used to buy white oils from foreign suppliers only, said Shihua sales manager Lin Rixing at the summit. We are proud to be its major Chinese supplier, because its proof of how competitive our product is.

Price is another one of Shihuas advantages. For example, Lin noted that, on average, Shihuas offer for hydrocracked white oils is about 3,000 (approximately U.S. $462) per metric ton cheaper than ExxonMobils price for grades produced using similar technologies.

Compared to cosmetics, Chinese suppliers have more opportunities when it comes to applications in injectable veterinary vaccines, for example. Chinas Ministry of Agriculture requires veterinary vaccine manufacturers in China to source from domestic white oil suppliers whenever possible.

Injectable veterinary vaccines use food-grade white oils as emulsions acting as immunological adjuvants. Therefore, its not an overstatement to say that the vaccine quality relies heavily on the quality of the white oil, said Miao Yuhe, vice deputy chief of Fujian Shengwei Biological, a veterinary drugs manufacturer.

There are only 89 manufacturers making veterinary vaccines in China, but they demand around 20 percent of all food-grade white oils produced in China, Miao said. The market is split evenly between foreign and Chinese suppliers, but Miao believes thats not something to be proud of. Price is the problem, he continued. Foreign suppliers prices are up to 70 percent higher than Chinese companies, he said.

Major foreign suppliers like ExxonMobil, Seojin Chemical and Sonneborn are known for supplying white oils with high stability. Also, their products are usually approved for safety by the United States Food and Drug Administration and other international regulatory bodies. Compliance is especially important when the downstream clients are multinationals such as KFC and McDonalds, Miao added.

When it comes to global compliance, Indian suppliers have the advantage over China, said Pramod Omprakash Rathi, director of Mumbai-based specialty lube producer Unicorn Petroleum.

Unicorns pharmaceutical-grade and cosmetics-grade white oils, for example, comply with pharmacopeia in India, the U.S., Great Britain, European Union and Japan, and come with Halal and Kosher certifications. Unicorns clients include Revlon, Unilever and Pfizer.

Many Indian suppliers not only have the research and development capacities, but also are familiar with regulations in the EU and U.S., he continued. In addition, there are few language barriers. Thats why its easier for multinationals to work with Indian suppliers, he said.

Unicorn has capacity of 40,000 metric tons per year, and wants to expand to China. With our expertise and global experiences, we hope to serve Chinese clients, especially those who have the ambition to play in the global market, Rathi said.

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