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Published: December 2012
The United States, the Middle East and Canada have long been the dominant producers and consumers of ethane. Western Europe and Asia have consumed much smaller amounts and Japan has essentially no market for ethane. China consumes negligible amounts of ethane. In the Middle East, ethane consumption has grown with additions to ethylene capacity. As a result of shale gas/oil developments in the United States, the country has witnessed a surplus availability of NGLs, including ethane. The abundance of ethane in the United States will result in domestic ethylene expansions and new unit additions from 2012 to 2020.
Of the ethane that is extracted from natural gas processing and that obtained from petroleum refineries, 99% is used as feedstock for ethylene production. Feedstock prices, ethane availability, and demand for ethylene and downstream petrochemical products will help determine what companies will be ethane producers and consumers, as well as future production levels.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of ethane:
Historically, North America and the Middle East have been the largest ethane consumers in the world and the largest consumers of ethane for ethylene in the world. Primarily, this is a result of their vast natural gas processing. Other regions such as Western Europe and most of Asia use other feedstocks such as naphtha for ethylene production. Supply and cost-competitiveness of ethane are key drivers of feedstock selection for steam cracking.