India: Assembling a world-scale petrochemical industry
9:59 AM MST | February 10, 2014 | —Deepti Ramesh
India's petrochemical industry, which was hurt in 2013 by an economic slowdown and the depreciation of the Indian currency, is expected to recover in the near term, and the industry's long-term prospects are looking very positive, say experts and manufacturers in the country. A number of Indian state-owned energy companies are making major investments to boost their petrochemical activities and are expected to become significant players in the sector. Capacity expansions by several other manufacturers are moving ahead and gradually filling the gap between domestic demand and supply.
Economic growth is picking up once again in India after a slowdown during the past three years. IHS estimates that India’s GDP growth rate will increase from 4.6% in the fiscal year ending 31 March 2014 to 5.4% in the fiscal year ending 31 March 2015 (fiscal 2014) and 6.3% in the fiscal 2015.
However, the figures follow a recent downgrade of IHS’s GDP forecast for India in fiscal 2014 and fiscal 2015. IHS, in its previous estimates announced in December 2013, had predicted GDP growths of 5.6% for fiscal 2014 and 6.5% for fiscal 2015. “The downgrade reflects our view that the recovery of India’s consumer demand on the one hand and the manufacturing sector on the other will be more shallow than earlier anticipated,” Hanna Luchnikava, senior economist/Asia/Pacific at IHS tells CW. “The shift to a more accommodative monetary policy may also now be delayed, with the implications for credit and investment mostly affecting the fiscal 2014 outlook,” Luchnikava says.
The value of the Indian rupee depreciated substantially against the US dollar in 2013, bottoming out in August. This drop has had an impact on exports and imports in the country, experts say.
The rupee depreciation “has helped India’s exports to recover somewhat, with merchandise exports seeing double-digit growth in July–October 2013. The impact, however, is likely to be temporary, and, with only minor underlying improvements in external demand, the growth in India’s exports is likely to moderate in the coming months yet again,” Luchnikava says. “The sharp rupee depreciation has forced the authorities to take a proactive stance on import demand management. The most important measures taken were the imposition of restrictions on nonmonetary gold imports and other consumer durables, the beginning of monetary policy tightening by [India’s central bank] the Reserve Bank of India, and some temporary measures to manage the foreign currency use for oil imports. As a result of these measures, overall merchandise imports contracted steeply in July–December. Given that domestic demand remains muted and is unlikely to recover rapidly, India’s imports will remain moderate in the near term. Overall, the narrowing trade deficit has helped the current account to improve sharply, which, in turn, helped the currency to remain more or less stable in the past two months,” Luchnikava says.
A weaker currency also reduced investments in India. The depreciation “put additional pressure on domestic corporations and banks, particularly those with heavy foreign-currency denominated debt,” Luchnikava says. “With the second half of the fiscal year likely to show a mild boost from good agricultural output, improved net exports, and some preelection public spending [before general elections in the coming months], I would cautiously say that the worst for India’s economy is over, and we might see a very protracted growth rebound going forward. [But,] most of the high-frequency economic indicators still show weakness, particularly on the consumer side,” Luchnikava says.
Manufacturing is still weak, although growth finally returned in November, IHS says. Business sentiment has improved mildly but is still very fragile and sensitive to market sentiment. Industry has received some support from the government clearing a few dozen of stalled big-ticket infrastructure projects. However, industry overall remains weak, struggling with meager demand and investment, IHS says. Credit conditions remain tight, given that the Reserve Bank of India has raised its leading repurchase rate three times since September to curb stubbornly high inflation and arrest the currency’s depreciation. Going forward, inflation might finally start showing signs of easing, IHS says. “Any meaningful improvement in growth will still require deep structural reforms,” Luchnikava says.
India’s petrochemical industry, like the overall economy, faces near-term challenges, but the long-term growth outlook for the industry remains positive, experts say. “Petrochemical demand growth in India during 2013 was low compared to previous years, and, for a majority of the products, it was a single-digit growth rate between 5% and 10%. We do not expect it to improve significantly in the near term, as the manufacturing sector is struggling,” Sanjay Sharma, managing director/chemical consulting, Mideast and India at IHS, tells CW. “Persistently high inflation, policy paralysis, and the approaching elections in 2014 are expected to create uncertainty and new political risks, which will have an impact on the petrochemical industry. Manufacturing has suffered significantly due to the slowdown, and we do not expect it to improve in the near term. The long-term growth potential for the Indian petrochemical industry, however, remains high,” Sharma says.
Consumption of petrochemicals in India increased from 7.7 million m.t. in the fiscal year ended 31 March 2006 to 12.5 million m.t. in the fiscal year ended 31 March 2013—a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 7%, Indrajit Pal, secretary at the Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals, which forms part of the Indian government’s Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers (New Delhi), tells CW. Imports of petrochemicals into India increased during the same period from 1.2 million m.t. to 4.1 million m.t., a CAGR of 19%, and exports of petrochemicals from India increased from 1.0 million m.t. to 1.9 million m.t., a CAGR of 10%, Pal says.
Indian industry executives are optimistic about the near-term outlook for the country’s petrochemical industry. Siddhartha Mitra, executive director/petrochemicals at Indian Oil (New Delhi) tells CW that for polymers, “the market situation has been encouraging since November 2013. I think the overall growth would be about 8%, and in the fiscal year ending March 2015, we are likely to see double-digit growth,” he says. Indian Oil is the second-largest manufacturer of polymers in India, after Reliance Industries (Mumbai).
“Overall, the outlook for the petrochemical industry in India is somewhat more positive than it has been recently, as growth in GDP and industrial output is expected to be higher in 2014 than in the prior year, and key end-use industries like automotive, packaging, and consumer durables reflect this outlook,” Biswanath Bhattacharya, partner/chemicals strategy at KPMG tells CW. “However, relatively limited new domestic capacity is expected to come onstream, so import threats from Mideast and East Asian producers remain significant for Indian producers.”
The depreciation of the Indian currency has hurt the country’s petrochemical and downstream industries, experts say. “Rupee depreciation has had a direct impact on the converter industry in India, as a majority of petrochemical products pricing in India is based on an import parity price. The converter industry is essentially paying a higher price for resins and chemicals, and those serving the domestic market cannot easily pass on the price increases to end users,” Sharma says.
Given that India is constrained in feedstock, “the falling rupee has had a significant impact on the cost of production,” Bhattacharya says. “India overtook Japan as the world’s third-biggest crude oil importer in 2013. The ability of players to pass on cost increases within the domestic market has been limited, which has had a negative impact on margins. However, the drivers for the depreciation of the rupee, for example the sharp rise in the current account deficit, which occurred in 2013, appear to have stabilized over the past two months,” Bhattacharya says.
India relies on imports to meet demand for a number of key petrochemical products. This trend could provide good opportunities for companies to invest in India and build capacity there. Constructing capacity to produce “gas chemicals like methanol and urea [which could be a good investment but is hampered] by the availability of gas,” Sharma says. “Other products like butadiene [and] propylene derivatives offer good investment opportunities, as IHS believes that India’s growth is constrained by supply rather than demand,” he says.
Chemical multinationals such as BASF have made huge investments to the tune of billions of dollars in petrochemical projects in China. India’s petrochemical sector has yet to see that sort of interest from overseas companies. “Three years ago, I was very bullish on India, as the country and its chemical industry seemingly had many of the advantages and opportunities that have driven the exponential growth of the chemical industry in China over the last 10 years—high GDP growth; mass urbanization; growing middle classes bringing rising consumerism. However, if anything, chemical industry development in India is now regressing,” Paul Harnick, COO/chemicals and performance technologies at KPMG, tells CW. “The country remains constrained in feedstock; infrastructure has not been developed as quickly as it could have been; and the legal, tax, and regulatory regime—already complex—has become even more so. As a result, many of the foreign majors have delayed or canceled investment projects, and many senior industry executives have moved India lower down their list of priority locations for pursuing emerging market growth—still behind China, but increasingly also behind places like Eastern Europe and the Asean region,” Harnick says.
“Lack of business confidence, policy paralysis, poor infrastructure, and a difficult business environment are some of the reasons for no major petrochemicals [foreign direct investment (FDI)] in India. In order to attract multinationals to invest in India, major structural and policy changes are required. We do not expect that to change in the near future,” Sharma says.
BASF’s €150-million ($202 million) investment at a new multiproduct chemicals site at Dahej, India, which is expected to start production this year, is the company’s largest project in the country. “Despite the current volatility, the market fundamentals in India are convincing. However, industrial centers in India are still regionally fragmented; there are many industrial centers on the Indian mainland, and petrochemicals need clustering to realize Verbund [integration] effects and reach a world scale. I therefore believe that the path forward for India’s petrochemicals industry is to set up petrochemicals clusters. This is key to foster growth and will enable downstream integration by bringing together knowledge and competencies in one area,” Torsten Penkuhn, senior v.p./petrochemicals, Asia/Pacific at BASF, tells CW.
The Indian government is planning a number of clusters—the previously announced petroleum, chemicals, and petrochemical investment regions (PCPIR)—but the plans have been very slow to develop, and the PCPIRs have yet to really take off. India’s PCPIRs will be designated investment zones, each with a surface area of about 250 sq kilometers, featuring refineries and chemical and petrochemical plants, as well as utilities and infrastructure facilities. Each PCPIR will have a refinery and a petrochemical complex as its anchor tenant. The governments of states where PCPIRs are located are responsible for providing utilities such as power, water, and sewage, and the Indian central government is responsible for external physical infrastructure such as railroads, highways, ports, airports, and telecommunication facilities.
PCPIRs have been approved at four locations in India: Vishakhapatnam was approved in 2009, Dahej was approved in 2009, Paradip was approved in 2010, and Cuddalore was approved in 2012. Only the Dahej PCPIR has made any significant progress and is at an advanced stage. “PCPIRs are a very encouraging initiative, but it has failed to take off due to excessive interference and control of the state and failure to actively involve the private sector. Unless the state plays only an enabler role rather than an administrator role, we do not expect major FDI in PCPIRs,” Sharma says.
The Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals defends the slow progress made in developing PCPIRs. “The PCPIR policy was announced in April 2007, and PCPIRs have a long horizon of implementation of 15–20 years. The economic slowdown, which began in 2008, affected the development of PCPIRs like it impacted other sectors of the economy and investment decisions,” Pal says. “The PCPIR policy is infrastructure-driven and the governments in the states where they are located have a major role to play. The department is coordinating the implementation of collaboration with various ministries and departments dealing with infrastructure development and the respective state governments, to identify the bottlenecks on a quarterly basis, and it takes up the issues with the respective ministries and departments. The Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals is also promoting collaboration among all public-sector units and private companies to expedite the investment projects,” Pal says.
The investments by the anchor tenant units, “the pivotal projects to provide feedstock to the downstream industries,” are expected to be made by state-owned oil and gas companies in the form of integrated refinery and petrochemical complexes, Pal says. “The investment decisions are to be taken by the respective companies. The master planning; environmental clearances; and infrastructure projects, such as transport, port facilities, power, water supply, and effluent treatment have been progressing well.”
It is not all smooth sailing at the Dahej PCPIR despite the progress the project has made, Makarand Dixit, head/marketing at ONGC Petro additions Ltd. (OPaL; Vadodara) tells CW. OPaL is the anchor tenant at the Dahej PCPIR. “There are issues related to infrastructure, water, power, and skilled manpower in the PCPIR, but all-round efforts are being made to address these issues by all concerned,” Dixit says. “After taking due cognizance of these issues, both the central and the state governments have requested all stakeholders to give their suggestions for appropriate improvements in the existing PCPIR policy. The rehash of the PCPIR policy framework is expected to gravitate further downstream investments in the demarcated regions with better efficiencies and benefits of co-siting,” Dixit says.
The success of PCPIRs “depends on the governments in the states where they are located because there are many things that need to be followed up by these state governments, particularly related to infrastructure development, support, and incentivization,” Mitra says. “With all those things in place, these PCPIRS could develop into good investment hubs,” he says.
The Indian government, to help boost industry growth, also plans to establish plastics processing parks. The government has approved the establishment of two plastic processing parks—in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa—Pal says. The plastic park in Madhya Pradesh is being established at Raisen, and the plastic park in Orissa is being established at Jagatsinghpur. Special-purpose vehicles have been formed for the two plastic parks, and the Indian government will provide a grant to help fund the establishment of the parks, Pal says. Two more plastic parks, in the states of Assam and Tamil Nadu, are likely to be established Pal says.
Indian Oil, as well as Gail India (New Delhi), Oil and Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC; New Delhi), Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd. (BPCL; Mumbai), and Hindustan Petroleum Corp. Ltd. (HPCL; Mumbai) are the state-owned energy companies that have decided to expand their petrochemicals businesses and become more significant players in the Indian petrochemical industry. “Among state-owned energy enterprises, Indian Oil has already created a substantial [petrochemicals business], and, with [the proposed] acquisition of a stake in Haldia Petrochemicals, IHS believes it is on course to play a significant role in the Indian industry,” Sharma says. “Other state-owned energy enterprises too are active in the petrochemicals space, but they are constrained by access to expertise in the chemical industry, and their strategies are still mainly driven by their oil and gas businesses. IHS strongly believes that for state-owned energy enterprises to be successful in the petrochemicals business, a public-private partnership is critical,” Sharma says. Indian Oil says it is waiting for the state government of West Bengal to decide on the company buying the state government’s 39.9% stake in Haldia Petrochemicals.
Indian Oil says that integration between refining and petrochemical production will enable state-owned energy companies to become important players in the petrochemical industry. “Ultimately, refineries have to be integrated with petrochemical production because stand-alone refineries do not generate a lot of returns. State-owned energy companies in India are therefore likely to invest further in petrochemicals,” Mitra says.
Indian Oil’s petrochemicals business reported revenues of almost 156.3 billion Indian rupees ($2.5 billion) in fiscal 2012 compared with Rs112.2 billion in the prior fiscal year. Indian Oil’s petrochemical production volume increased 24.7% during fiscal 2012, to 1.93 million m.t.
The petrochemical business currently accounts for about 3.5% of Indian Oil’s total annual revenue. The company plans to increase the share of petrochemicals in the overall revenue in the next few years. “In the short term, the share of the petrochemical business in Indian Oil’s total annual revenue will reach about 5%. And, if all the projects that are being envisaged materialize according to plan, then in a decade the share of the petrochemicals business will increase to 10%,” Mitra says.
Indian Oil is likely to make a capital investment of Rs400–450 billion in the petrochemical business by 2020–22, Mitra says. The company is moving ahead with several petrochemical projects. Synthetic rubber is a particular focus area. India currently imports 200,000–220,000 m.t. of styrene butadiene rubber (SBR) annually, Mitra says. To meet domestic demand, an Indian Oil joint venture opened India’s first SBR plant at Panipat in November 2013. Indian Synthetic Rubber Ltd., the jv that owns and operates the 120,000-m.t./year SBR plant, is owned 50% by Indian Oil, 30% by TSRC (Taipei), and 20% by Marubeni (Tokyo). Indian Oil’s Panipat naphtha cracker complex provides the plant’s butadiene feedstock supply.
At Panipat, Indian Oil is also considering producing niche products based on the C4–C5 chain. The company is also building a refinery at Paradip that will form part of the Paradip PCPIR. Indian Oil is planning to approach the company’s board later in February for the approval of a previously announced polypropylene (PP) project at Paradip. The PP project will include two lines each designed to produce 350,000 m.t./year, and they are expected to become operational at the end of 2016. Indian Oil told CW recently that the company is studying a number of projects at Paradip based on ethylene. The company is contemplating a low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plant or an ethyl vinyl acetate facility. Other possibilities include plants producing styrene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and ethylene glycol (EG).
Indian Oil is building 1-million m.t./year acetic acid plant in a jv with BP, near Indian Oil’s refinery at Koyali, in the state of Gujarat. The acetic acid facility is expected to become operational in 2017. Indian Oil is studying a number of projects based on refinery propylene at Koyali. Facilities would make products including acrylic acid, acrylic esters, and oxo alcohols. The acrylic acid plant would be designed to produce 100,000 m.t./year, and the esters unit, producing mainly butyl acrylate, would have capacity for 160,000 m.t./year.
OPaL says that its petrochemical complex at the Dahej PCPIR is nearing completion. “OPaL is fully on track, and its earlier issues with power and water supply have been resolved. By the end of the first quarter of 2014, the precommissioning activities at OPaL will begin. By the third quarter or the fourth quarter of this year, we expect OPaL to begin production,” Dixit says.
The total investment in the OPaL complex is about Rs215 billion. “The dual-feed cracker in the complex that can produce 1.1 million m.t./year of ethylene and 340,000 m.t./year propylene has been completed. The 350,000-m.t./year high-density polyethylene plant at the complex has also been completed. The 340,000-m.t./year polypropylene plant in the complex is nearly complete. The two polyethylene lines are nearing completion, and we expect them to be complete next month by the time the precommissioning activities begin,” Dixit says.
ONGC holds a 26% stake in OPaL, Gail holds a 15.5% stake, and Gujarat State Petroleum Corp. (Gandhinagar, India) owns 0.5%. The remaining 58% stake in OPaL will be made available for strategic partners as well as the public. In line with government rules, 25% will be offered to the public. OPaL is looking at partners to own the remaining 33% stake.
Kuwait Petroleum signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year with ONGC that could lead to Kuwait Petroleum becoming a shareholder in OPaL. “Kuwait Petroleum has shown interest in acquiring a stake in OPaL. But, we are in discussions with a couple of other international companies for a possible acquisition of a stake in OPaL. A decision is expected shortly,” Dixit says.
The petrochemical business of Gail, a natural gas company, reports a 10% increase in sales for the fiscal year ended 31 March 2013 compared with the previous fiscal year, to Rs37.65 billion. Gail’s petrochemical production volume was 437,000 m.t. in that fiscal year, and polymer sales volume accounted for 427,000 m.t. of the total.
The polyethylene (PE) market in India is oligopolistic in nature, with four major producers dominating the industry, which is growing rapidly, 10–12%/year, Gail says. Reliance, Indian Oil, Haldia Petrochemicals, and Gail manufacture PE. Demand for PE in India surpasses domestic production, and the country relies on imports to fill the gap, Gail says.
The Brahmaputra Cracker and Polymer Ltd. (BCPL) facility at Lepetkata, in the state of Assam, is expected to be onstream later this year, Gail tells CW. BCPL is a jv in which Gail has a 70% stake, and the remaining 30% is shared equally among Oil India (New Delhi), Numaligarh Refinery (Guwahati, India), and the Assam government. The complex will produce a combined 220,000 m.t./year of high-density PE (HDPE) and linear LDPE (LLDPE), as well as 60,000 m.t./year of PP. The project is more than 95% complete, and mechanical completion of the plant is targeted by March 2014, with commissioning of the plant expected to be completed by September 2014, Gail says.
Gail will make a capital investment of about Rs25 billion in the company’s petrochemicals business in the fiscal year ending March 2014 and an investment of about Rs16 billion in the business in the next fiscal year, the company says. The company is currently expanding petrochemicals capacity at its Pata, India, site by adding a 450,000-m.t./year LLDPE-HDPE swing plant. “With this expansion, Gail will double its petrochemical capacity by the end of 2014. Gail will also market the entire production of BCPL and market 38% of OPaL’s products. Therefore, by next year, Gail will have about 1.71 million m.t. of polymers,” the company says.
The Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals provided CW an update on various other petrochemical projects under construction and in planning in India. Indorama Ventures’ (Bangkok) previously announced petrochemical project in India, consisting of plants producing purified terephthalic acid (PTA), polyethylene terephthalate (PET), and polyester staple fiber, will be located at Manali, near Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu, the department says. Indorama announced the plans in January 2012 and signed a deal with Indo Rama Synthetics India (Nagpur), an Indorama company that produces polyester fiber, to form a jv for the project. The project is expected to involve a total investment of about $700 million. The planned complex, which will include a 1-million m.t./year PTA plant, will be fully integrated with an upstream para -xylene ( p -xylene) facility operated by another company. The project is expected to become operational in fiscal year 2017–18, the department says.
HPCL’s 9-million m.t./year greenfield refinery and petrochemical complex at Barmer, Rajasthan State, India, was approved in October 2013. The project will involve a total investment of about Rs372.3 billion. HPCL signed a jv agreement in July 2013 with the government in Rajasthan for the construction of the complex. HPCL will hold a 74% stake in the jv, and the government of Rajasthan will hold the remaining 26%. The jv will be called HPCL-Rajasthan Refinery Ltd. The project is also expected to be commissioned in the fiscal year 2017–18, the Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals says. HPCL, as the anchor tenant at the Vishakhapatnam PCPIR, is looking for a jv partner for an expansion of the company’s refinery and for new greenfield investments there, the department adds.
BPCL, as previously announced, is planning a Rs60-billion petrochemical project adjacent to the company’s refinery at Kochi, in the state of Kerala, India. LG Chem, which had earlier agreed to form a jv with BPCL for the petrochemical complex, pulled out of the project last year. BPCL is moving ahead with the project and is exploring the possibility of a jv with another company or of going it alone and licensing the necessary technology. BPCL did not comment on the possible new partner for the jv when contacted by CW. BPCL is expanding refining capacity at Kochi and, as part of those plans, is establishing a fluid catalytic cracker that will produce 500,000 m.t./year of propylene to be consumed as feedstock by the proposed petrochemical complex. The petrochemical plant will produce “niche petrochemicals such as acrylic acid, superabsorbent polymers (SAP), acrylates, and oxo alcohols, BPCL says. The BPCL petrochemical complex, when operational, would be the first plant in India to produce SAPs. The Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals expects the complex to be onstream in fiscal year 2017–18.
ONGC Mangalore Petrochemicals Ltd. (OMPL; Mangalore, India) is building an aromatics complex in the Mangalore special economic zone (SEZ). OMPL is promoted by ONGC and Mangalore Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd. (MRPL; Mangalore), a subsidiary of ONGC. The aromatics complex will produce 900,000 m.t./year of p -xylene and about 300,000 m.t./year of benzene and is expected to become operational in the fiscal year ending March 2015, the department says. MRPL is separately building a 450,000-m.t./year PP plant at the Mangalore SEZ, which is also expected to be onstream in the fiscal year ending March 2015, the department adds.
Nagarjuna Oil (Chennai) is establishing a refinery at Cuddalore, India, and it will be the anchor tenant at the Cuddalore PCPIR. Nagarjuna Oil also plans to build a petrochemical plant at the site. Further details of that project have not been disclosed.
Reliance is significantly expanding its petrochemicals capacity with a range of projects. The company announced earlier this year the commissioning of a 395,000-m.t./year polyester filament yarn (PFY) facility at Silvassa, India. Other major petrochemical projects announced by Reliance include a 540,000-m.t./year PET resin plant at Dahej, which is expected to be online by March. Reliance is doubling p -xylene capacity at Jamnagar and will become the world’s second-largest producer of p -xylene.
Reliance says it will commission a 1.1-million m.t./year PTA plant at Dahej by the third quarter of 2014 followed by another plant of the same capacity within six months, taking total PTA capacity of the company to 4.3 million m.t./year, making Reliance the world’s fifth-largest producer of PTA. Reliance is expected to commission a 142,000-m.t./year SBR plant and a 40,000-m.t./year polybutadiene rubber plant at Hazira, India, by the second quarter of 2014. A 100,000-m.t./year butyl rubber jv facility at Jamnagar with Sibur (Moscow) will be online in 2015. Reliance is building a 1.5-million m.t./year ethylene plant at Jamnagar that is expected to start up in the second half of 2015.
The company is also building a 400,000-m.t./year LDPE plant; a 550,000-m.t./year LLDPE plant; and a 720,000-m.t./year EG plant at Jamnagar. Reliance, meanwhile, is planning a 1-million m.t./year acetic acid plant and a 300,000-m.t./year vinyl acetate monomer plant at Jamnagar. Reliance is also debottlenecking its PVC complex at Dahej by adding 100,000 m.t./year of capacity. Reliance’s projects “are all on track, and a majority of this capacity is expected to be absorbed by domestic demand in India,” Sharma says.