Petrochemical Industry

Petrochemical Industry




Brief History of the Petrochemical Complexes in Brazil

The history of Brazil's petrochemical industry began in the early 50's, when intense demand emerged for a new product: plastics. Amid this development and modernization period, consumption grew rapidly, signaling the need to create a national industry capable of meeting this demand. Until then, the country had met its needs through imports. Currently, the main petrochemical complexes, which are integrated with the feedstock cracking units, are: Capuava in São Paulo, Camaçari in Bahia, Triunfo in Rio Grande do Sul and Duque de Caxias in Rio de Janeiro.

Capuava Complex (São Paulo state)

The first complex established in Brazil, started operations in 1972. The project was funded by private capital from a São Paulo business group (União), in partnership with the government and with the participation of foreign capital, which came to be known as the "Tripartite" model. The government's investment was made through Petroquisa, a Petrobras subsidiary for the petrochemical industry, while the foreign capital was important for providing the required technology.

Today the complex comprises producers of petrochemical products used to make thermoplastic resins, rubbers, paints and other products. The complex has ethylene production capacity of 700 kton.

Camaçari Complex (Bahia state)

The Camaçari Complex, Brazil's first planned petrochemical complex, started its operations in 1978, and also adopted the "Tripartite" funding model.

The complex is composed of producers of petrochemical products used to make thermoplastic resins, fertilizers and copper metallurgy, as well as other applications. The petrochemical complex has ethylene production capacity of 1,280 kton.

Triunfo Complex (Rio Grande do Sul state)

After the complex in the state of Bahia, this was the third naphtha-based petrochemical complex built in Brazil in the 70s. The Triunfo complex cracker - Copesul (today Braskem) - started operations in 1982. Today the Triunfo Complex has annual ethylene production capacity of 1,452 kton.

Duque de Caxias Complex (Rio de Janeiro state)

Brazil's first integrated gas-chemical complex was built in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro. Operations started up in 2005, and the gas cracking unit has annual ethylene production capacity of 520 kton.

Overview of the Brazilian Petrochemical Industry

The petrochemical chain is divided into first, second and third generation producers, based on the manufacturing phase of the various petrochemical raw materials or inputs. The chain represents the transformation of sub-products obtained from the refining of crude oil, primarily naphtha or natural gas, into consumer or industrial products used for a variety of purposes.

The main raw material used in Brazil's petrochemical chain is naphtha, followed by natural gas. Petrobras is the only producer of naphtha and natural gas in Brazil, meeting domestic demand through its own production as well as imports. Petrobras monopoly was broken in 2002, and since then local petrochemical complexes have begun to import these products directly to meet their.

The naphtha and/or gas undergo a process called cracking, which results in the basic petrochemicals such as ethylene, propylene and aromatics. The type of feedstock (i.e., raw material) used results in various different yields and product mixes.

First Generation Producers

In Brazil, first generation producers, known as "crackers", fracture or "crack" the naphtha (a byproduct of the oil refining process) or natural gas, the two main feedstocks used, transforming them into basic petrochemicals. The crackers buy their naphtha mainly from Petrobras, but also from foreign suppliers. Crackers using natural gas as feedstock are supplied exclusively by Petrobras. The basic petrochemicals produced by naphtha cracking units include:

  • olefins, mainly ethylene, propylene and butadiene; and
  • aromatics, such as benzene, toluene and xylenes.

With the acquisition of Quattor, Braskem became the only Brazilian company of first generation, which operate four cracking units and sell basic petrochemicals to second generation producers, promoting the integration of the chain. Basic petrochemicals, which have gaseous or liquid forms, are transported through pipelines to second generation producers, which in general are located near cracking units, where they undergo additional processing.

Second Generation Producers

Second generation producers process the basic petrochemicals purchased from naphtha cracking units to make intermediate petrochemical products, which include:

  • polyethylene, polystyrene and EDC/PVC (made from ethylene);
  • polypropylene and acrylonitrile (made from propylene);
  • cumene and ethylbenzene (made from benzene): and
  • polybutadiene (made from butadiene).

Intermediate petrochemicals are produced in solid forms in pallets or in powdered form and are usually transported by truck to the sites of third generation producers, which generally are not located near second generation producers. Braskem is the only integrated first and second generation thermoplastic resin producer operating in Brazil.

Third Generation Producers

Third generation manufacturers purchase intermediate petrochemicals from second generation producers and transform them into final products, including:

  • plastics (made from polyethylene, polypropylene and PVC);
  • acrylic fibers (made from acrylonitrile);
  • nylon (which in Brazil is made from phenol);
  • elastomers (made from butadiene); and
  • disposable packaging (made from polystyrene and polypropylene).

Third generation manufacturers make a variety of consumer and industrial products, including containers and packaging materials such as sacks, shrink wrap and bottles, fabrics, detergents, paints, auto parts, toys and consumer electronics. Brazil currently has more than 11,500 third generation manufacturers.

The Role of Petrobras

Prior to 1995, Brazil's constitution gave the government a monopoly, exercised through Petrobras, in the research, exploration, production, refinement, importation and transport of all crude oil and refined petroleum products (excluding petrochemicals) in Brazil. The constitution also stated that byproducts of the refining process, such as naphtha, could only be supplied in Brazil by Petrobras or its intermediary. Naphtha is the primary feedstock used in Brazil in the production of basic petrochemicals such as ethylene and propylene.

In 1995, Brazil's constitution was amended to allow oil and oil-related activities to be exercised by private companies through concessions or licenses granted by the federal government. Since 1995, the federal government has implemented a number of measures to deregulate the country's petrochemical industry.

In 1997, Federal Law 9,478/97 regulated the constitutional amendment of 1995 by creating the National Energy Policy Council and the National Petroleum Agency, which were charged with regulating and overseeing the country's petroleum and energy sectors. With the creation of the National Petroleum Agency, new rules and regulations were introduced to eliminate gradually Petrobras' monopoly. Brazil currently depends on imports for close to a third of its naphtha consumption.

Thermoplastic Resins Market


Brazil is Latin America's leading producer of basic petrochemicals and also leads the region in second generation petrochemical capacity. Brazil's importance in the region is the result of the reorganization of the country's petrochemical industry and growth in domestic demand. Apparent consumption of thermoplastic resins in Brazil (domestic production plus imports less exports) has grown over the past few years at an average annual rate of 4.7%, driven by Brazil's economic growth, better distribution of wealth and higher purchasing power in the C, D and E income groups. Considering only the resins market (PE, PP, PVC), the potential for growth in plastics consumption in Brazil is demonstrated by a comparison with consumption rates in developed nations such as the United States, where in 2014 resin consumption stood at 68 kg per person, compared with just 25 kg per person in Brazil. Since the introduction of the Brazilian real in 1994 and the subsequent stabilization of the country's economy, resin consumption has registered strong growth.

Prices in the Brazilian Market

Prices for petrochemical products in the Brazilian market follow international benchmarks.


World Petrochemical Market

The recent industry scenario has been characterized by structural changes that range from the commissioning of new petrochemical complexes to the formation of new global groups made up of strategic alliances, acquisitions and/or mergers. The pursuit for feedstock availability, cost competitiveness and presence in large commodity consumer markets has driven the industry restructuring at the global level.

In recent years, the use of ethane as a feedstock for the production of ethylene has increased as a result of the divergence between the cost of natural gas and naphtha, especially in the Middle East and United States.

In 2015, the global ethylene capacity is estimated at 165 million tons. Between 2015 and 2019, several petrochemical companies have announced plans to build additional capacity of ethylene, mainly in Asia, Middle East and North America, totaling 24 million tons, with 9 million tons in China and 8 million tons in USA. However, expansions of ethylene capacity are frequently subject to delays and it is not possible to predict when, and if, the planned additional capacity will be commissioned.

Crackers Profile

The main process in ethylene production is hydrocarbon cracking, which accounts for 98% of the world production. Ethylene can also be obtained through the recovery of refinery gas currents, ethanol and coal.

The cracking process accepts a variety of hydrocarbons, whose source can be natural gas (ethane, propane and butane) or petroleum (naphtha and condensate).

The use of different types of feedstock results in different products in the cracking process.

Comparison of ethane-based and naphtha-based crackers - yield and products.

Utilization Rate

The operating rates reflect the balance between supply and demand, characterizing the petrochemical industry's up and down cycles. Usually, decisions on new investments are made in the up-cycle periods, when industry margins are more attractive. As a result of the investment maturity period and considering that the plants have a minimum scale of economic feasibility, when these new plants come on stream, there is surplus supply in the short and medium terms and a consequent reduction in the operating rates.

Resin Capacity by Region

The world's annual resin capacity production (PP/PE/PVC) is approximately 183 million tons, led by Asia and followed by Europe and the United States. It is estimated that by 2019 there will be a capacity increase of around 46 million tons, mainly driven by the growth in polyethylene (PE) production, concentrated in the Middle East, China and United States.

Main Players in the Americas

In 2015, the American continent produced approximately 40 million tons of resins (PE, PP and PVC), 20% of the world's production. Braskem ranks first among the leading petrochemical players, with annual production of 7,080 thousand tons.

Historical Spread of Resins

The thermoplastics resins (PE, PP and PVC) are commodities that are sold in global markets. Prices of these resins are influenced by global macroeconomic factors, the cost of raw materials, demand trends in the industries that consume these resins and transportations costs. In order to have an idea of the industry profitability, the "spread" (difference between resin price and cost of feedstock for production) is used as a tool.

The following graph shows the resin spreads, using the price of High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) in Europe (the world's largest resin production) less the cost of naphtha-based feedstock.

The last down cycle in the sector was in 2002, when spreads were below US$500/ton. The global economic crisis affected the profitability of the petrochemical industry at the end of 2008 witnessed a recovery from the second quarter of 2009. However, Europe's sovereign debt crisis adversely impacted the global financial system in the second half of 2011, leading to slowing demand for petrochemicals. In Brazil, the demand for thermoplastic resins fell 1% in 2014, due to the challenging economic scenario.