Synthetic Base Stocks Flow From Asia

Compared to Europe and North America, the Asia-Pacific region does not consume much synthetic base stock, but it produces a growing and broadening volume of them, according to LubesnGreases 2015 Global Nonconventional Base Stock Guide.

Synthetic or nonconventional base stocks - which constitute API Group III oils plus all non-mineral oil-based base stocks- make up approximately 8.5 percent of the worlds market, according to United States-based consultancy Kline & Co.

LubesnGreases chart lists plants producing seven of the most prominent synthetics: Group III oils, silicones, polyalphaolefins, polyisobutenes, esters, phosphate esters and polyalkylene glycols. The United States and Western Europe have the greatest concentration of these plants - 66 and 70, respectively. Since 2009, the number of plants in Asia has grown from 40 to 66.

In general, Asian plants are smaller than their counterparts in the U.S. and Europe, but Asia has a wide spectrum of synthetics, from SK Lubricants Ulsan, South Korea, base oil plant, which has capacity to produce 1.3 million metric tons per year of Group III to niche lines such as polyisobutene, of which it has 11 facilities - as many as the rest of the world combined.

Asia trumps places such as the Middle East, which only has two Group III refineries; South America and Russia, which have only a handful each of nonconventional facilities; and Africa, which has zero plants capable of making synthetic base stocks.

Europe and the U.S. each have several PAO plants with capacity of between 50,000 and 125,000 metric tons per year, while Asia's hover around 15,000 t/y.

The number and type of synthetic plants varies significantly throughout Asia. China and India stand out in terms of growth, with new plants having sprouted rapidly since the 2009 edition of the Nonconventional Base Stocks Guide. China and Taiwan had only 10 known facilities in 2009, but now feature at least a dozen more. There was only evidence of two plants in India on the earlier chart, but the 2015 edition has eight.

PAOs highlighted the growth trend in China, as Naco Synthetics opened a new plant in each of the past two years. Japan produces all seven types of prominent synthetics and with 29 plants has nearly as many as the rest of the region combined. However, Japans supply base saw little growth the past six years.

South Korea commands attention because of its sheer magnitude in the Group III arena. SKs plant in Ulsan - part of which is a joint venture with Japans JX Nippon Oil & Energy - is the worlds largest Group III source, and S-Oils plant in nearby Onsan, which has Group III capacity of 20,500 b/d, follows closely behind.

Korea also puts out significant PIB volumes through Daelims 140,000 t/y plant - which is far more than any other such facility globally and which is now being expanded - but does not produce any other type of synthetic base stocks.

Since 2009, Southeast Asia has also remained the same in terms of number of facilities, at seven total.

The wall chart lists more than 190 plants worldwide based on data gathered in cooperation with British consulting firm Pathmaster Marketing Ltd. The 2015 chart can be ordered here.