Catalysts: Petroleum and Chemical Process
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Published: September 2010
Process catalysts, a $13 billion-per-year business worldwide, play a vital role in the economy. The value of products dependent on process catalysts, including petroleum products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, synthetic rubber and plastics, and many others, is said to be around $500–600 billion per year. About 90% of chemical manufacturing processes and more than 20% of all industrial products employ underlying catalytic steps. Petroleum refining, for example, which is the source of by far the largest share of industrial products, consists almost entirely of catalytic processes.
This report covers two types of catalysts—petroleum refining catalysts and chemical processing catalysts. The distribution of the various catalyst consumption values between the U.S. and Western European markets differs significantly. The petroleum refining industry is much more important in the United States than it is in Western Europe, while chemical processing catalyst consumption is similar in both regions.
The following pie charts show world consumption of petroleum refining catalysts and chemical processing catalysts on a value basis.
The definition of catalyst coined in the nineteenth century is still used today: a substance that alters the velocity of a chemical reaction without itself being consumed. Although that is theoretically true, in practice catalysts decrease in activity with use and suffer losses in material handling, thus requiring periodic replacement. These factors, together with economic growth and discoveries of new uses for catalysts, contribute to the continued growth of the catalyst business.
The other side of the picture is the drive to find ever-more-efficient, long-lived, active and selective catalysts. Economic and practical considerations provide incentives for the development of new catalysts and greater understanding of catalysis in general. Development is further driven by the need for new sources of energy and chemicals, concern over environmental pollution, the desire for new types of products, and the cost of and potential restrictions on the availability of the noble metals used in many catalysts.
The largest petroleum refining catalyst segment in terms of value is catalytic cracking, while the largest-volume products are alkylation catalysts. Other major refinery catalyst market sectors in terms of value include hydrotreating, reforming and hydrocracking. Refinery catalyst production was traditionally an expanding business, but in recent years, it has become a mature market in developed countries; the major growth is occurring in developing countries, especially Asia and the Middle East. Among Asian countries, China is the largest consumer of catalysts, with high growth rates.
Worldwide environmental regulations now mandate the production of cleaner fuels. Consequently, refiners are experiencing severe pressures from market forces that demand a change in the product mix, aside from quality. On the regulatory side, stringent product specifications limit sulfur content and gasoline and diesel composition. Major technological challenges to refining include the achievement of "zero" or heavily reduced sulfur content in all types of fuel in almost all countries around the world.
The chemical processing catalyst segment (excluding polymerization catalysts) consists of organic synthesis, oxidation/ammoxidation/oxychlorination, hydrogen/ammonia/methanol synthesis, and hydrogenation/dehydrogenation market segments. Most of these chemical market segments are facing slow growth prospects for the next five years. The elimination of dangerous chemical components and the creation of entirely new chemistries (requiring new catalysts) to make the same products in a more benign manufacturing environment is a general trend in developing new chemical processing catalysts. Steps are being taken by industries such as polyurethane to reformulate away from dangerous feedstocks such as phosgene and HCN, resulting in safer manufacturing sites.
For a number of catalysts, the strongest growth in demand through 2014 will occur in regions other than North America, Western Europe and Japan. Emerging and developing countries in the Asia Pacific region and Latin America will become important markets for process catalysts. Rising incomes will drive demand for motor vehicles and transportation fuels in Asia and Latin America. Industrial chemical production, particularly petrochemical production, is growing faster in Asia and the Middle East than in North America, Europe and Japan. This growth will be reflected in increased demand for a number of catalysts in the refinery segment, such as for catalytic cracking and hydroprocessing. Low-sulfur mandates are also becoming more widespread in these regions.
Legislation is driving growth in catalyst consumption in the developed countries in North America, Europe and Japan, while economic growth is the major driving force in the emerging and developing countries of Asia. These four regions are covered in detail in this report. More-stringent vehicle emissions standards are resulting in the development of advanced automotive catalysts that require low-sulfur fuel, thus driving demand for hydroprocessing catalysts (and refinery hydrogen). Increased use of hydroprocessing catalysts is also forecast for Western Europe. Overall catalyst demand growth in Japan will be more modest because of the continued shift of the manufacturing base overseas to other Asian countries. Catalyst consumption in both petroleum refining and chemical processing will grow rapidly, reflecting high GDP growth in China.