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Versalis accelerates transformation

October 19, 2015
Chemical Value Chain

Versalis (Milan), the chemicals subsidiary of ENI (Rome), has achieved a major turnaround since its creation some three years ago.

The restructuring includes reducing petrochemicals capacity in Italy and the United Kingdom, converting some of its assets to biobased chemicals, and a significant push into Asia. The refocusing should lead to specialty products accounting for 50% of Versalis’s total sales in 2018. The company is now profitable and plans to complete its transformation as soon as possible.

Daniele Ferrari, CEO, is upbeat about progress so far. “We are making a good profit. Last year, we lost €182 million [($206.0 million)] in the first half, and this year we are making €95 million of profit in the first half,” Ferrari said on the sidelines of the recent Cefic General Assembly meeting in Brussels. Versalis was closing its 490,000-m.t./year cracker at Porto Marghera, Italy—near Venice—when an outage at Shell’s Moerdijk, Netherlands, operations led to the Versalis plant gaining a new lease of life by supplying ethylene to Shell. After Shell’s operations restarted, Versalis signed a deal with another, unidentified customer for the offtake of the ethylene output from Porto Marghera. The new deal is expected to keep the cracker operating up to 2016, and Ferrari hopes that it could keep running afterward provided market conditions allow. Versalis uses the propylene from Porto Marghera captively to produce ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber and sells the rest on the market.

The cracker’s restart has not stopped Versalis from setting up a new biobased chemicals platform at the site. “We are not stopping the green chemicals project in cooperation with Elevance, which is providing the technology. Final investment decision will be taken by the end of the year. Engineering and work on the infrastructure and logistics is ongoing,” Ferrari says. The complex, scheduled onstream in 2018, will make biochemicals for use in detergents, lubricants, and oilfield chemicals. “Our aim for Porto Marghera is to make the most of our assets, seizing new business opportunities for long term sustainability,” he says. Another project in development is for a biobutadiene plant in collaboration with Genomatica. The project is currently in the research and technology assessment stage with a location yet to be determined.
A previously announced conversion of the 420,000-m.t./year naphtha cracker at Dunkirk, France, to consume 50% of ethane imported from the United States is on hold because of lower oil prices, however. “Longer term, it is still the best solution, but because of today’s economics and perspectives, we prefer to keep the project on hold,” Ferrari says. He notes that the project is being revisited quarterly and that Versalis is having discussions with US gas suppliers.

Versalis’s first green chemistry operation is Matrica, a joint venture with Novamont (Novara, Italy) at Porto Torres, Italy. The facility, already operating, is expected to reach its full capacity, 70,000 m.t./year, next year. “We are extending the product range to include biobased specialties for applications in biolubricants, oilfield chemicals and bioadditives for rubbers and polymers, Ferrari says.

Versalis has entered into two partnerships in Asia, one with Lotte Chemical in South Korea and the other with Petronas in Malaysia. “We have extended the scope of the project with Lotte with a new unit and are starting the plant construction this month,” Ferrari says. But the Malaysian project depends on the bigger Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development complex that Petronas is planning, which is delayed. In April, Versalis and Lotte announced that their 50-50 elastomers jv at Yeosu, South Korea, will be extended to include styrene isoprene styrene and styrene butadiene (SB) styrene with a combined capacity of 50,000 m.t./year, using Versalis’s technology. The products will target applications such as hot-melt adhesives, technical goods, bitumen, and plastics modifiers. Lotte will supply isoprene feedstock from its Yeosu plant, scheduled onstream in the second half of 2016. The original agreement between Lotte and Versalis, signed in 2012, covers constructing facilities for several synthetic rubbers based on SB and ethylene propylene with a combined capacity of 200,000 m.t./year.

Versalis’s other initiatives in Asia include marketing SB rubber in China from Reliance Industries’ 140,000-m.t./year plant at Hazira, India, based on Versalis’s technology and a project to develop green tires using breakthrough technology in an alliance with Ecombine and EVE Rubber Institute in China.

“At the end of the turnaround plan, Versalis aims to be more resilient to market volatility and will benefit from an optimized industrial asset, a more diversified portfolio in specialties, and a continuously innovating technology know-how, which is the basis for new partnerships,” Ferrari says.

By Natasha Alperowicz

Source: Chemical Week

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