Total Boosts Bright Stocks


PARIS – Total promises to supply Europe with new volumes of bright stock and heavy grades of base oils in 2012 to 2013 from its 540,000 ton per year Gonfreville plant.

Totals Aidine Bagherzadeh gave the European Lubricating Grease Institutes annual general meeting here last week an overview of base oil trends, and said that development of bright stocks and heavy neutrals production is part of our long-term strategy.

The refiner will increase its production of bright stocks and heavy neutrals, and will make less light products, by changing crudes, Bagherzadeh told Lube Report. It will not be introducing any new technologies nor will it significantly increase total base oil capacity at the Gonfreville refinery in the Normandy region of France.

Bright stock has been in short supply in Europe and much of the world in recent years, and rising bright stock prices have reflected that tightness. According to Pumacrowns Ray Masson, bright stock traded in the range of $1,510 to $1,600 per metric ton last week, basis FOB mainland Europe. A year ago it was $1,010 to $1,020 per ton, while in early May 2009 it was $610 to $640 per ton.

There are three categories of base oils, Bagherzadeh reminded the ELGI delegates:

-Light grades, from 60 SUS to 450 SUS (10 to 75 centiStoke);
-Heavy grades, from 500 SUS to 900 SUS (90 to 200 cSt); and
-Bright stock, 450 to 1200 cSt.

And refined mineral oils are further classified into API Groups, Bagherzadeh continued:

-Group I, manufactured by solvent extraction, with good solvency. A very wide viscosity range of Group I base oils is available, from 15 to 1200 cSt.
-Group II, manufactured by mild hydrocracking and isohydromerization, with medium to poor solvency, and a limited viscosity range from 20 to 100 cSt. No bright stock and only limited volumes of heavy neutrals are available.
– Group III, manufactured by severe hydrocracking, with poor solvency and a very limited range of viscosity from 10 to 50 cSt. There is no Group III heavy neutral or bright stock production.

The global lubricants market, excluding marine oils, declined from 39 million tons per year in 2007 to about 35 million tons in 2009, recovering to 36 million tons in 2010. Poor refining margins are impacting base oil units, Bagherzadeh continued. This is driving closure decisions at some refineries, and base oil plants are casualties. Other plants are reducing production to reduce losses – base oil plants alone cannot justify the refinery running costs. In addition, refineries are optimizing crude selection, but the best crude for fuels is not always the best for lubricants.

Announced 2011-2012 closures, he said,include Chevron in Australia (195,000 t/y of base oil); Shell in Canada (140,000 t/y); and ExxonMobil in Canada (291,000 t/y); with other closures likely.

In the mid-term, said Bagherzadeh, there is a worldwide overcapacity of light grades (Groups II and III) and a tight situation for heavy grades.

In Europe, he went on, fully 77 percent of base oil demand is for light grades, 18 percent for heavy grades and only 5 percent for bright stocks. Africa, however, presents a stark contrast. There, heavy grades account for 57 percent of base oil demand, bright stocks for 14 percent, and light grades only 29 percent.

As the price of heavy neutrals continues to increase, monograde engine oil prices will rise, probably reaching the cost of multigrades, said Bagherzadeh. Technical upgrades will raise demand for multigrade oils, especially in Africa.

In 2010, Total produced 65,000 tons of bright stock and 220,000 tons of heavy neutrals. Total is committed to increasing production of these products in coming years.

Focusing on base oils for grease manufacturing, Bagherzadeh noted that Europe consumed 110,000 tons of Group I base oils – of which 82,000 tons was bright stock – for grease production in 2008. In addition, Europes grease manufacturers used 50,000 tons of naphthenics and nearly 7,000 tons of synthetic stocks.

Total offers four grades of heavy neutrals and bright stocks for grease manufacturing, Bagherzadeh concluded, including a new high-viscosity bright stock.

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