Guide Takes Measure of Synthetic Stocks


When it comes to mineral base oils, the bulk of global supply is firmly in the hands of multinational oil majors, like ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and SK Lubricants, and government-controlled national oil companies (think Aramco, Petrochina, Sinopec). Those seven players hold over 40 percent of conventional base oil refining capacity.

But what about nonconventional base stocks?

If you include API Group III stocks in the tally, a few oil majors and NOCs remain in the picture. But narrow the frame of focus to Group V stocks such as polyalkylene glycol, synthetic esters, polyisobutene, etc., and to Group IV polyalphaolefins, and a very different landscape emerges.

Now youre in the realm of the chemical industry, as LubesnGreases new 2017 Nonconventional Base Stocks Guide makes clear. Published this week, the fully updated guide lists some 210 chemical plants around the world that produce base stocks used in synthetic lubricants. Prominent on the lists are heavyweights like BASF and Dow Chemical, Ineos and Lanxess, Cargill and Clariant, Daelim and TPC Group, Huntsman and Emery Oleochemicals, in addition to scores of specialized players.

They all compete in a market that Kline & Co. recently pegged at 3.7 million metric tons a year, or roughly 10 percent of global base oil supply. The Parsippany, New Jersey, consultancy foresees demand for synthetic lubricants continuing to grow at better than 3.5 percent a year through 2021, much faster than conventional lubes, so having access to these tailor-made molecules is important for lubricant formulators, blenders and marketers.

The yearly Guide covers seven leading types of specialty base stocks (Group III, PAO, PIB, PAG, Esters, Phosphate Esters and Silicones), listing producers and plants around the world. Their locations are pinpointed on a map of the world, with capacity information in most cases.

As the 2017 edition shows, the single largest volume of nonconventional stocks is Group III, nameplate capacity for which now tops 149,000 daily barrels (7.2 million metric tons a year) from 31 facilities. (Given Klines estimate of the markets size, this suggests a lot of Group III is going into products not labeled as synthetics.) PIB and PAO are next in the rankings, together having capacity to make 1.8 million tons a year at 35 plants.

The 2017 Guide recorded a number of shifts in this arena and its participants:

  • South Koreas Daelim Industrial Co. has catapulted into first place in PIB, ahead of BASF, Infineum and Lubrizol, thanks to an expansion of its plant in Yeosu that was completed last fall.
  • New information from ExxonMobil Chemical put its global PAO capacity at 284,000 t/y, a daunting lead over its rivals. That footing could change, however, since Ineos is promising to add another 120,000 tons of PAO at an unnamed U.S. location by 2019.
  • Germany-based Lanxess is now the top supplier of phosphate esters, thanks to its 2.4 billion (U.S. $2.9 billion) acquisition of Chemtura in April. That deal also brought Lanxess a trio of North American and European facilities making high-viscosity PAO and polyolesters.
  • The esters segment continues to see change and growth, too. Emery Oleochemicals added a plant in Malaysia, for example, and Inolex Chemical sold its esters business to Zschimmer & Schwarz, which moved the operation from Philadelphia to a new facility in Milledgeville, Georgia.

Further change is ahead, too: Huntsman and Clariant are on track to merge into a $20 billion company that will create the worlds number-two producer of PAG, challenging the lead of BASF.

The 2017 Nonconventional Base Stocks Guide is a colorful 33-by-22 inch wall chart produced by LubesnGreases editors in close cooperation with Pathmaster Marketing Ltd. of Surrey, U.K. Data is collected from sources at individual companies and from experts in each specialty. In cases where companies choose not to disclose their capacity data, estimates are provided where possible.

The copyrighted Guide was distributed by mail last week to all LubesnGreases print and digital subscribers in the U.S. and Canada. Additional copies may be ordered now in print or as a digital download, at

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