As a result of growing access to cheap ethane feedstock, U.S. ethylene is becoming more competitive in global markets given its feedstock price advantage over pricier naphtha.
Rising profitability is encouraging investment. Two new ethylene crackers are scheduled to come on stream between 2012-2016, and several existing plants are undergoing upgrades to absorb more ethane feedstock. “The implications are two-fold”, says ESAI analyst Vivek Mathur. “A lighter ethylene feedstock slate will displace heavier feedstocks from the petro-chemical pool. Rising petrochemical production will also reinforce the U.S’ position as a plas-tics exporter”.
With domestic demand for ethylene derivatives growing modestly in the U.S., expanding petrochemical capacity will be export-oriented. ESAI expects the annual surplus of ethylene derivatives to expand to over 4 million tons by 2016, a forty percent increase from 2011.
The natural target for U.S. petrochemical exports is the Latin American market, which is expected to face a continued shortage of ethylene derivatives. The emergence of the U.S. as a low-cost ethylene producer is therefore likely to deter, or further delay petrochemical invest-ment in that region.
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