The Forum for Partners in Iran's Marketplace

January 2004 / No. 27


44% Boost in Polymer Production

The Managing Director of the National Petrochemical Company (NPC) announced that the second Iran Plast Exhibition was received more enthusiastically than the previous year and was attended by 170 companies from 21 countries in addition to 287 domestic firms.

Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh also explained that holding the exhibition could pave the way for the elimination of monopolies in Iranian petrochemical industries.

"Many people think that since we are the biggest polymer production unit in the country, we want to monopolize the industry, but we invited our rivals, so that, consumers would become familiar with the quality of their work. Developing polymer industry is our long-term policy. Heavy investments have been made in the sector and we would become one of the biggest countries producing polymer in the future," he said.

The value of products of the Iranian petrochemical industries had been projected at $20 billion over a 10-year outlook.

Nematzadeh stated that polymer production capacity was to increase by 1.2 million tons next year. He added that the value of products of the Iranian petrochemical industries had been projected at $20 billion over a 10-year outlook.

"Of course, this would depend on growth of downstream industries. If they grew satisfactorily they could account for up to 50% of the figure. However, if the current growth trend continued, our exports would reach $15 billion over a 10-year period," he said.

The managing director of the National Petrochemical Company went on to note that presence in the global markets was a policy of the company. "We are going to sign a contract with a foreign consultant to study overseas markets. We are planning to capture a share of production outside Iran," he aid.

Nematzadeh said target markets for Iran’s petrochemical products included China, India and Turkey and "if possible" the European markets. He stated that there were no obstacles to presence in the Turkish market.

"However, since Turkey is considered to be part of Europe, import tariffs for products coming from Europe are lower in that country and, therefore, we have to cut our price by 7-8 percent to be able to compete with them," he said.

Nematzadeh added that Iran’s total petrochemical production would hit 50 million tons within the next 10 years and it enjoyed the most rapid growth rate in the world in terms of production capacity. "We would rank first in the Middle East in terms of petrochemical industries and our petrochemical exports are projected to reach 6-7 billion dollars by the end of the Fourth Economic Development Plan," he noted.

Petrochemical industries are among the world’s oldest industries. The first chemical was made many years ago by Al-Razi. After that, chemistry saw many ups and downs. Discovery of oil and efforts to refine it led to a big leap in manufacturing many kinds of chemicals. At last, after synthesis of urea by Friedrich Wöhler in 1828 through dissolution of ammonium cyanide, petrochemical industry entered a new phase and petrochemical products found a place in industrial, social and other aspects of human life. Plastics, rubbers and various fibers are some products that are very important in our everyday lives. Many new machines and tools used in a wide range of industries from aerospace to cosmetics are made of polymers. At present, many polymer alloys are made to be used as resistant plastic parts against erosion, shock, heat and impact of chemicals. For example such alloys are used in manufacturing automobile bumpers and study results indicate that they might even replace steel. Manufacture of various kinds of disposable dishes, television cases, automobile tires, sports instruments and toys are other applications of polymers without which the modern life would have been very difficult.

44% Growth in Polymer Production: Asia and, especially the Middle East have overshadowed the share of other parts of the world in producing such products by enjoying rich resources so much so that the Middle East is expected to become a production pole in this regard in the near future.

Polymer, in general, and PVC, in particular, was first produced in Abadan in 1970 to the amount of 36,000 tons and this was a prelude to introduction of this important product to the lives of the Iranian nation. Since that time, many developments have taken place. A glance at production figures for past years would be indicative. North America ranked first in polymer production in 1990 by accounting for 29% of global output followed by Asia and Western Europe. However since 1995, Asia has overtaken North America and now ranks first in polymer production by accounting for 33% of global output followed by North America. Share of Middle East in polymer production is expected to increase from 4% in 1990 to 8% by the end of 2005.

Polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and polystyrene, account for the lion’s share of global polymer production. Based on current projections, when the underway petrochemical projects are made operational, petrochemical production would increase from the current figure of 970,000 tons per year (produced by Tabriz, Bandar Imam and Arak petrochemical complexes) to 5 million tons per year in 2006. This would be a great leap, so that Iran would account for the highest production capacity in the region (44%) to be followed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia. This goal is to be realized through implementation of such projects as the 10th olefin by Jam Petrochemical Company whose olefin unit with the annual capacity of 1.32 million tons is the world’s biggest olefin unit, as well as downstream units that produce light linear polyethylene, heavy polyethylene and polypropylene, each with a capacity of 300,000 tons per year. Other projects including ninth and 11th olefins are underway at Pars Special Economic Energy Zone and are expected to boost polymer production.

Gas Reserves, an Advantage: Perhaps accounting for such a high share of polymer production and global trade of polymers and its considerable growth compared to previous years is appreciable, but given the fact that Iran enjoys one of the biggest gas reserves in the Middle East shows that attaining such a high production capacity in the Middle East and the world is not impossible. Based on the latest estimates, South Pars gas field contains gas reserves equivalent to 450 trillion cubic feet as well as 17 billion barrels of gas liquids. This huge field accounts for about 6.8% of global gas reserves. South Pars project includes many phases. For example, phases 9 and 10 have been allocated to gas exports to Turkey while phases 1 through 5 are supposed to meet domestic demand. Therefore, Iran enjoys enough raw materials for polymer production.

Iran to Rank 2nd in Polymer Production by 2005: Producing various polymers by taking advantage of gas reserves has two aspects. Firstly, development of downstream industries would lead to development of domestic industry, job creation and technology transfer. Secondly, exporting polymers would bring hard currency to the country and turn Iran into a polymer production pole in the world.

Statistics show that Western Europe and Asia were major polymer importers and would need about 6.5 million tons polymers in 2005. This fact combined with changing consumption model in Europe and high demand for such products can make polymers a focus of attention. At present, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar rank first to third in terms of polymer exports among Middle East countries and in view of underway projects, Iran is expected to rank the second in exporting polymers by 2005 that would account for about 5% of global polymer trade. However, total production in the Middle East would account for 29.8% of global output.

Perhaps information about price of polymer products would highlight the above figures. Take soft drink bottles for example. If we note that every ton of PET is sold for %850 in Japan, the value of this chemical would become more evident. PVC is a valuable polymer which is sold for 580-600 dollars per ton in the Asian markets and 610-640 dollars per ton in the Middle East. Both chemicals are among basic polymers in demand across the world. In view of the high added value of petrochemical products, it becomes clear that gas exports alone would be a waste of national resources.


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  Jan. 2004 / No. 27