Big Picture for Synthetic Stocks


Nonconventional base stocks – polyalphaolefins, phosphate esters, polyalkylene glycols, Group III hydrocracked oils and others – are a growing part of the lubricants scene worldwide. And as they gain in volume and importance, production of such base stocks is becoming increasingly concentrated by region and ownership.

The past two years saw numerous shifts in owners of synthetic base stock assets, including the purchase of PAG and esters giant Uniquema by Croda, Chemtura’s addition of Hatco’s polyol esters to its already-diverse synthetic holdings, the divestiture of GE Silicones’ business, and the sale of Supresta’s phosphate esters to Israel’s ICL Industrial Products.

Capacity additions also made headlines in that time, as plant operators beefed up to meet global demand. Expansions were seen at Ineos’ PAO plants in La Porte, Texas, and Feluy, Belgium, at polyisobutene facilities operated by BASF in Antwerp and by Texas Petrochemicals in Houston, and at PAG units operated by Dow Chemical in Terneuzen, Netherlands, and South Charleston, W.Va., to name just a few.

These changes and many others are reflected in the updated 2008 Lubes’n’Greases Nonconventional Base Stocks Guide, a 22-by-33 inch wall chart and map identifying the locations, operators and in many cases capacities for 180 synthetic base stock plants worldwide. The annual guide traces seven major types of nonconventional base stocks, including PIB, phosphate esters, PAG, API Group III, PAO and PIO, silicones and esters.

In particular, the chart captures the boom in Group III refining capacity, including GS Caltex’s new refinery in Yeosu, Korea, SK-Pertamina’s in Dumai, Indonesia, and — coming next month — the Melaka, Malaysia, plant of Petronas. Together, these three represent a 40 percent spike in global Group III capacity since last year’s guide was published. Another Group III change, the wall chart shows, was the sale of Shell’s older Petit Couronne, France, refinery to Petroplus.

As in prior years, the 2008 Guide was created in close cooperation with Pathmaster Marketing Ltd. in Woking, U.K. David Whitby of Pathmaster points out that besides ownership changes, the guide helps to establish what the major types of synthetic lubricants are, where they are made, and which companies are the heavyweights in each product.

Who are the big players in nonconventional stocks? A glance through the 2008 listings shows that Dow Chemical is the undisputable leader in PAG capacity, while ICL Industrial Products (Supresta’s new owner) ranks first in phosphate esters. Ineos holds the most PAO capacity, thanks to recent construction, and it has the greatest amount of PIB capacity, too.

As Whitby points out, the 2008 chart shows that polyisobutenes are one of the largest-volume synthetic chemistries, at over 900,000 metric tons per year. Twenty-two plants around the world make PIB, and capacity has been growing rapidly in response to demand for the chemical as a lubricant additive, base stock and alternative to bright stock.

Polyalkylene glycols are another leading category, with over 730,000 t/y of capacity, he adds, and polyalpha and polyinternal olefins contribute another 460,000 t/y. These are relatively modest volumes by oil refining standards, but quite healthy in chemical industry terms, where value is measured by the pound, not the barrel.

The chart also shows facilities making esters used in lubricants. These plants use batch processes, ranging from about 1 to 20 metric tons, and turn out a wide variety of specialty fluid types. In terms of number of plants operated, leading companies in this segment include Chemtura, Cognis and Croda. The chart additionally shows those, like Quaker Chemical and Houghton International, who make esters to meet internal demand.

A look at the world map that accompanies the company and plant data also helps define this market. Of the 180 plants listed, almost 42 percent (75 plants) are located in Europe. Ranked by country, however, the United States leads with 47 facilities, followed by Japan with 30. Although more plants are being built in Asia, only eight plants are shown below the equator.

The 2008 Nonconventional Base Stocks Guide is one of three exclusive base stock guides from LNG Publishing Co., and was mailed with September’s issue to all print subscribers of Lubes’n’Greases magazine. In June, the magazine published its Guide to Global Base Oil Refining, and in July the regional Europe, Middle East and Africa Guide was distributed to Lubes’n’Greases Europe-Middle East-Africa subscribers.

For information about ordering the newly updated 2008 Nonconventional Base Stocks Guide, visit

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