Petronas Looks Beyond Etro


SEOUL – Petronas, Malaysias national oil company, says its selling out its API Group III, Etro-branded base oils, and cannot significantly expand production. So its looking hard at bio- and petrochemical-based esters, PAOs, PIBs and even at coal- and gas-to-liquids.

The Petronas refinery in Melaka can make 300,000 metric tons per year of Group III, CEO Joe Rousmaniere told Lube Report in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the ICIS Asian Base Oils Conference here June 7.

Weve sold out the refinery, said Rousmaniere, and we have a distribution and marketing organization with terminals around the world. We cant build another refinery, but we hope to go further in the business, something other than petroleum Group III.

Petronas efforts, dubbed Beyond Etro, include looking at bio-based base stocks, Rousmaniere continued, including esters and polyalphaolefins. Petrochemical-based synthetics and PIBs are another option under consideration, as are gas-to-liquids and coal-to-liquids.

All go beyond Group III, Rousmaniere said, acknowledging that some of the options under study are more probable than others. Some are real, others are hypothetical.

When Petronas launched its Group III base oils, it was a merchant marketer, but today, following the companys 2008 acquisition of Italian blender FL Selenia – renamed Petronas Lubricants International – the company has a significant internal customer. In addition, said Rousmaniere, Petronas Lubricants International has joined the base oil team; its reselling Group IIIs from Petronas terminals in Italy, Brazil and China.

This year, Petronas also expects to ship 60,000 tons of base oils to Petronas Marketing Netherlands, where product can be resold by the truckload from the companys Antwerp terminal.

PLI takes a lot of our production, said Rousmaniere. They have a very strong position in Brazil, where they supply Fiat lubes. PLI has a base oil terminal in Santos, which is supplied directly from Melaka.

China is booming, and its Group III growth is explosive. We could sell out the refinery twice over in China. But, he noted, it would be suicidal to rely on one market.

Petronas has weathered the recession, Rousmaniere said. Europe suffered, but Brazil and Asia were almost unaffected. China pulled us through.

Looking at Group III producers, Rousmaniere mused, theres a new pantheon: SK, Shell and Neste. SK has three plants and is talking about two more, Shell has its Pearl gas-to-liquids plant ready to come online soon, and Neste has two new refineries under construction.

Beyond Etro is our answer. Weve had an excellent experience in the base oil business and will continue to expand, not just to supply PLI, which has vast ambitions, but also to supply the merchant market, Rousmaniere concluded.

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