Reuters news agency reported that Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) buyers are set to benefit another year of abundant supplies in 2020 but naphtha as a competing fuel in the petrochemical sector could come under pressure.
Global supplies of LPG, a mixture of propane and butane, will rise by about 5% year-over-year to 325 million tonnes in 2020, data from consulting and research company IHS Markit showed.
Of this, about 28% will be from the United States and around 20% from the Middle East, said Houstan-based He Yanyu, executive director for Asia/Middle East NGL Service of IHS Markit, who also leads the firm’s global NGL pricing analysis.
“We saw a severe surplus this year, and expect the surplus situation to stay with us for a few more years... U.S. is the most significant market that drives incremental supply,” he said.
Asia will account for nearly 45% or 145 million tonnes (4.6 million barrels per day) of the total global demand, said He.
Wood Mackenzie pegged Asia’s demand in 2020 at about 4.4 million bpd, up from 4.2 million bpd in 2019, with China accounting for nearly 43% of the share.
About 60% of Asia’s LPG demand comes from the residential/commercial sector, said He, where the fuel is used for cooking among others.
Demand from the petrochemical sector accounts for about 20% of the total Asian demand, said He, but this will be a significant outlet.
Unlike Propane Dehydrogenation Plants (PDH), which rely on propane to make propylene, a building block for plastics, Asian naphtha crackers can choose between naphtha and LPG.
Crackers typically replace a portion of naphtha with LPG when the latter is about 93% of naphtha prices or when it is at least $50 a tonne cheaper than naphtha.
As LPG supply expands, the price gap between the two fuels will widen and this could set off a chain reaction within the light distillates complex, said Sushant Gupta, downstream research director at consultant Wood Mackenzie.
The average LPG prices in 2020 are expected to be more than $100 a tonne lower than naphtha compared to $70 to $80 this year, said Gupta, and as LPG pressures naphtha, that would affect gasoline.
“If naphtha does not find enough outlet in chemical production, refiners will start blending it into gasoline,” he said, adding that condensate splitters margins will not be spared as some 40%-50% of these units’ yield is naphtha.