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Australia's Chemical Industry - Overview

This section provides an overview of Australia's chemical industry.

More detailed information also through the following...
bulletAustralian States
bulletHistorical development
bulletEconomics and performance
bulletProducts
bulletCompanies

See also 

bullet Introductory overview.
bulletOpinions, notably on role of government

Industry today

1. Organic chemicals

Overview
Australia has two ageing petrochemical complexes - one at Altona in Victoria dominated by Qenos (formerly Kemcor Australia including the JV with Orica in polyethylene resins) and another at Botany, in New South Wales owned by Orica. Orica's operations now only produces polyethylenes in competition with Qenos, and ethoxylates and polyols. Qenos also produces polypropylene and synthetic rubbers. 

The Altona complex

bulletThe Altona complex today has seen the progressive domination of Qenos (former Kemcor Australia) that includes the former Altona Petrochemical Company. The Altona complex uses less than its requirements of competitive Bass Strait gas. Though variously announcing plans to substantially increase polyethylene production, these have not come about.

Altona complex

Product Company Details
polyethylene resins Qenos LDPE
polypropylene resin Qenos former Hoechst Australia plant
synthetic rubber (SBR and BR) Qenos local butadiene.
propylene glycols Dow Chemicals imported propylene oxide
acrylic and styrene-butadiene dispersion latices. BASF Australia imported acrylic esters
PVC resin Australian Vinyl Corporation imported VCM. Joint company of Orica and Auseon.

The Botany complex

The Botany complex has consolidated its activities through by its JV owner Qenos (former Kemcor and Orica) in polyethylene resins (LDPE and LLDPE). The complex also produces ethylene oxide and its ethoxylate derivatives (surfactants, polyols, hydraulic fluids and triethanolamine), caustic soda and chlorine which is now owned by Huntsman Corporation.

In 1996 Orica began to use ethane by 1400 km pipeline from South Australia that now offsets its fundamental feedstock disadvantage having previously used LPG (shipped from Bass Strait) and naphtha (from the Kurnell Refinery). Its move to using ethane promoted Orica to close its polypropylene plant (though continuing to refine propylene from Kurnell which it sells to Basell at Clyde).  

Other major petrochemical operations

Huntsman Chemicals operates a styrene and styrene derivative plant at West Footscray, Victoria (near Altona) also producing some phenol and acetone. The key raw material, benzene, is 80 per cent imported.

Basell Australia operates two polypropylene plants at Shell refineries in Geelong Victoria and Clyde New South Wales. It uses propylene produced as a by-product of Shell's refining operations plus some purchased from Orica (that refines propylene acquired from the Kurnell refinery since closing its polypropylene plant).

Incitec ammonia, urea and ammonium nitrate operations at Newcastle New South Wales and Brisbane Queensland.

Wesfarmers ammonia and ammonium nitrate at Kwinana Western Australia.
bulletPetrochemical capacity summary

Other organic chemicals

Note: Follow the links under the Product heading!
Product Company Details
2,4-D, trifluralin, metham sodium Nufarm at Laverton Victoria and Kwinana, Western Australia. see carbon disulfide).
Acetone Huntman Chemicals at West Footscray, Victoria. Acetone (cumene route) 12 000 tpa.
Acrylic-based flocculants and viscosity modifiers (resource development industry) Nalco Australia, Allied Colloids at Wyong NSW andCiba Specialty Chemicals (formerly Imdex Chemicals) located in Kwinana, Western Australia.
Rohm and Haas at Point Henry Victoria produces acrylic polymer emulsions in water from imported acrylic esters.

SNF Australia with acrylic polymers.

See also acrylic acid.

Acrylic acid (acrylic esters and acrylamide) is imported.
Ammonia Incitec (72 per cent owned by Orica, the balance listed) plants at Newcastle, New South Wales and Brisbane, Queensland (plus ammonium nitrate and urea) and
CSBP at
Kwinana, Western Australia
Ammonia
Benzene as BTX BHP coking plants. Benzene production (20 000 tpa) for Huntsman Chemicals manufacture of styrene and phenol
Carbon black Hydrocarbon Products at Altona and Continental Carbon Petroleum at Kurnel in NSW These purchase creosote tars to manufacture carbon black. Carbon black is sold as pigment and stabiliser for plastics and rubbers. Each supply about one-half the Australian market
Creosote Koppers Australia Creosote is produced as a component of oil refinery tars and from BHP coke ovens. Koppers Australia at Newcastle NSW purchases crude tar from BHP supplemented by imports (one-third?) of these tars. Koppers produces binder pitch, creosote oils, naphthalene, and crude tar acids.
Dimethyl ether CSR Distilleries Group, Pyrmont, NSW About 3 000 tpa using methanol. Since 1988 as an aerosol propellant.
Ethanol (ethyl alcohol) Manildra Group in Victoria and by CSR Distilleries in Qld. Produced by fermentation. Australian market around 50 000 tonnes
Esters of fatty acids Megachem Wide range of fatty acid esters from imported fatty acids.
Ethylene glycol and ethoxylates Huntsman. Botany NSW.
Ethylene oxide Huntsman Botany NSW.
Fatty acids (stearic and oleic acids) Symex Holdings at Port Melbourne Acid hydrolysis of animal and vegetable fats. 

Oleine. From tallow, palm oil and olive oil with total production of 15,000 tonnes (2000 representing 9 per cent of world production). Major applications are as additives for polymers (35%), textile auxiliaries (25%), surfactants (20%) and lubricants.

Stearine. Total production is around 22 000 tpa (representing 1.3% of world production). Major applications are in rubber, plastic lubricants, candles and cosmetics).

Glycerol, co-produced with fatty acids, is also imported.

Aside from the use of vegetable oils, Symex uses 60,000-70,000 tonnes annually of tallow representing 95 per cent of fats used.

Symex also produces Distilled fatty acids from coconut oil, canol oil and tallow. 

Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-based adhesive resins Four plants operated by Orica (Deer Park Victoria - iron oxide catalyst), Borden Australia 
bulletLaverton North in Victoria - (silver catalyst process) and 
bulletMurarne in Queensland) and 

Dyno in Western Australia.

These plants purchase methanol for conversion to formaldehyde and the urea is purchased from Incitec. (Formaldehyde is not traded being unstable). The two Victorian plants purchase the methanol on-line from the BHP plant.
Glycerol (glycerine) Symex Holdings at Port Melbourne By acid hydrolysis (splitting) of fats (tallow and imported palm oil). Principally producing fatty acid co-product, production is inadequate to supply Australia's needs.
Latex emulsions BASF at Altona Victoria.
Dow Chemical at Altona
BASF purchased plant and market from Huntsman. Styrene purchased from Huntsman, butadiene from Kemcor.
Metham Sodium Nufarm Western Australia Soil fumigant
Methanol (methyl alcohol) BHP Petroleum (with Orica Katalco of the UK) Wyndham 20 km west of Melbourne, Victoria About 60 000 tpa methanol supplying about 70 per cent of Australia's needs.
Naphthalene BHP’s steel plants recovered (separation by distillation process) by Koppers Coal Tar Products operating at Newcastle NSW. 6 000 tonnes is purchased by Albright and Wilson at a new plant at Wetherill Park in New South Wales to produce a specialist surfactant (naphthalene sulfonate formaldehyde condensate) for use in mortar, cement and concrete.
Naphthalene sulfonate formaldehyde condensate Albright and Wilson at Wetherill Park in NSW. About 13 000 tpa (used as cement additive)
Phenol Huntsman Chemicals at West Footscray, Victoria. Phenol (cumene route) 20 000 tpa
Polyethylene resins Orica (LLDPE & LDPE) and Kemcor (LDPE) LLDPE, LDPE, HDPE
Polyols, ethylene oxide oxide-based Orica at Botany Australia Used to produce ethoxylates (non ionic surfactants (inc. nonyl phenol)
Polyols, propylene oxide-based Dow Chemicals From imported propylene oxide
Polypropylene resin Shell Refineries at Geelong, Victoria and Clyde, New South Wales. Kemcor at Altona Victoria Polypropylene
Polystyrene and other styrene polymers Huntsman Chemical Corporation at West Footscray and Dow Chemicals at Altona, Victoria under JV of Polystyrene Australia. The company has a joint venture with Dow Chemical for marketing and distribution of general-purpose and high-impact PS in Australia and New Zealand. 80 per cent from imported benzene. Some 60 per cent of the 80 000 tonne polystyrene market is produced by the Polystyrene Australia.
Polyvinyl chloride Australian Vinyls Corporatio with a 90 000 tpa plant at Altona and Orica with a 140 000 tpa plant at Laverton Victoria). From imported vinyl chloride monomer (200 000 tonnes
Specialist chemicals and preparations Dow Chemicals and BASF for textiles, leather and paper
Styrene rubbers Qenos at Altona, Victoria SBR and BR. Latex emulsions are prepared by BASF and Dow Chemical.
Vanadium pentoxide Australian Vanadium, NW WA
Xanthate chemicals Coogee Chemicals 5 000 tonnes capacity. See also carbon disulfide

Inorganic chemicals 

Inorganic chemical manufacture in Australia is represented in particular by sodium carbonate, superphosphate fertiliser, titanium dioxide pigment, sodium polyphosphate and sodium cyanide.

Note: Follow the links under the Product heading!

Product Company Details
Alumina (Alcoa of Australia and Worsley Alumina in Western Australia, Queensland Alumina and Nabalco in Queensland) and hydrated alumina by Alcoa in WA. Alumina
Aluminium fluoride Proposed by Alichem, Kwinana Western Australia Aluminium fluoride proposed 40 000 tpa.
Ammonium chloride Coogee Chemicals produces 8 000 tpa in a 25 per cent solution form. Ammonium chloride
Ammonium phosphate Queensland phosphates MAP, DAP fertiliser
Caustic soda and chlorine Around eight 5 000 to 20 000 tpa chloralkali units operate around Australia to produce chlorine including two dedicated to the two titanium dioxide plants in Western Australia. More information Caustic soda and chlorine.
See also our reports on
caustic soda and chlorine
Gallium chloride Rhodia Pinjara Western Australia Gallium chloride (currently closed)
Industrial gases BOC, Air Liquide, Linde Industrial gases
Lime (calcium oxide) Various Lime (calcium oxide)
Lime sulfur (calcium polysulfide) Balhan Industrial, at Moolcap Victoria. Used as agricultural fungicide, metal plating waste recovery and mineral flotation aid.
Lithium carbonate Gwalia Consolidated. Currently mothballed
Magnesium oxide Causmag at Young NSW
QMAG at Rockhampton
Manganese dioxide/sulfate Sovereign Resources Has manganese ore deposit in Nullagine region of WA. Can mine 20 000 tpa. Proposed leaching with sulfuric acid to sulfate (fertiliser grade) and possible plant at Port Hedland to produce electrolytic grade dioxide.
Manganese dioxide (Electrolytic) Delta Electrical Industries of South Africa at Newcastle, NSW About 23 000 tpa suppying about 10 per cent of world production (used in dry-cell batteries - value US$1800 per tonne). Sold by BHP for A$57m
Mercurial fungicides (alkoxy mercury compounds) Alpha Chemicals at Dee Why, NSW. Used on sugar cane crops.
Nickel Production in Western Australia Nickel section
Peroxides Solvay Interox in Banksmeadow, New South Wales Products include hydrogen peroxide, peracetic acid and sodium perborate (tetra and monohydrate).
Phosphates Albright and Wilson (Australia)

Western Mining Corporation (WMC)

A&W: Inorganic phosphates (food and industrial grades)
WMC: Ammonium phosphate fertiliser.
Silicates, aluminates, sulfates PQ Australia in NSW,
Coogee Chemicals (in WA
Hardman Australia in NSW.
Coogee Chemicals produces a sodium silicate at Kwinana Western Australia (dissolving silica in sodium hydroxide) for use by the Millennium Inorganic Chemicals titanium dioxide pigment plant
Silicon metal Simcoa at Kemerton). Silicon metal for metal alloys
Sodium carbonate (soda ash) Penrice Soda Products at Osborne, South Australia Sodium carbonate (soda ash) by solvay process producing around 400 000 tpa.
Sodium cyanide Orica and Ticor in Queensland and Australian Gold Reagents in Western Australia Sodium cyanide - production capacities of about 30 000 tonnes each,
Sulfuric acid at metal smelters
Superphosphate fertiliser manufactured in all states Superphosphate fertiliser from imported phosphate rock and sulfuric acid,
Titanium dioxide pigment MIC Chemicals at Australind and
Tiwest at Kwinana (each producing about 80 000 tonnes).
Titanium dioxide pigment
Zirconia, Zirconium hydroxide and sulfate Hanwha Advanced Ceramics at Kwinana

 

Company Location Feedstock Products Capacity (nameplate tpa)
Australian Vinyls Corporation
Altona, Victoria
vinyl chloride monomer (imported)
polyvinyl chloride resin
PVC resin 220,000
(Orica 140 000 and Auseon 80,000)
BHP Wyndham, Victoria natural gas methanol methanol 60 000
Dow Chemical Altona Victoria propylene oxide (imported), butadiene. Styrene (Huntsman) polystyrene, polyols, SB latex, epoxy and vinyl ester resins 62,000 propylene oxide applied to polyols.
20,000 polystyrene (JV with Huntsman)
Huntsman Corporation Botany ethylene (ethylene oxide) Ethoxylate surfactants, glycols, ethanolamines 35,000 ethylene oxide that is converted to the derivatives
Huntsman Chemical Co West Footscray (near Altona) Victoria benzene (80% imported), ethane, propylene styrene (exports) polystyrene, phenol, acetone,
phenolic resins, unsaturated polyster resin polymers
styrene 100,000
polystyrene 45,000
phenol 20,000
acetone 12,000 variable
Orica Botany, New South Wales ethane ethylene LDpolyethylene, LLDpolyethylene, ethylene 260,000
LDPE 90,000
LLLDPE120 000
Kemcor Australia Altona, Vic gas oil & ethane ethylene butadiene ethylene propylene butadiene LLD polyethylene HD polyethylene SBR rubber BR rubber ethylene 220,000
propylene 60,000
(LDPE 30,000 closed Nov 2000)
HDPE 100,000 & 90,000
polypropylene 45,000
(SBR 20,000 closed 2000.)

BR 10,000 

Basell Australia Clyde, NSW & Geelong, Victoria refinery gas polypropylene resins Geelong 120,000 & Clyde 70,000

Key petrochemicals - by company

Petrochemical Company Production
Ammonia Incitec two 250 000 plants (Newcastle and Brisbane)
Wesfarmers (WA) 240 000
Ethylene Kemcor 220 000
Orica 260 000
Huntsman 30 000
Propylene Basell (Shell Oil) 200 000
Kemcor 60 000
Australian refineries 70 000
LDPE Orica 90 000
LLDPE Orica 120 000
HDPE Kemcor 100 000 & 80 000
Polypropylene Basell 120 000 (Geelong) & 70 000 (Clyde)
Kemcor 45 000
Polystyrene Polystyrene Australia 60 000 (40,000 &20,000)
Rubber  (BR) Qenos now Kemcor 10 000 tonnes butadiene rubber
VCM Australian Vinyls 120 000 and 80 000 (est.)
Styrene Huntsman 100 000
Ethylene applications in Australia.
LDPE 130 000
LLDPE 110 000
HDPE 170 000
Ethylene Oxide 35 000
Styrene 30 000
Total 430 000

Outlook.

With abundant oil and gas reserves, coal and minerals in an increasingly competitive country, Australia has outstanding potential to manufacture a broad range of chemicals. World class capital-intensive titanium dioxide pigment and alumina manufacturers, sometimes even using inferior raw materials, are successfully selling into a highly competitive world market.

The rationalisation is anticipated to slow with offsetting growth in new projects, notably in Western Australia. Orica's Botany plant increasingly moving to ethane-derived petrochemicals with access to South Australian ethane.

There are many opportunities (see also Western Australia). Australia is the worlds largest importer of caustic soda (used for alumina production). Yet though simply manufactured from common salt and energy, Australia still imports nine-tenths of its needs. In Western Australia salt and energy are produced along side each other for export as raw materials and energy (at the Burrup Peninsula in the north west). An inadequate market for co-produced chlorine is claimed as an obstacle for a world scale chloralkali plant with Australia becoming increasingly competitive, this may change.

Presently seven-eighths of Australia's production of titanium minerals are processed overseas. The evidence with expanding production suggest vast export potential.

Opportunities

The chemical industry has improving opportunity to expand based on Australia's resource endowments and the nearby fast growing Asian markets. There are many favourable influences as for example the deregulation of the gas industry in Western Australia with prices falling by one-half. In response, BHP has made a US$1bn investment for production of direct reduced iron). Lower raw material and operating costs will favour world-class energy-intensive activities that may include a petrochemical project and the production of magnesium metal.

The opportunities for manufacture will be described in updates to this section. This will include caustic soda. During 1995, Australia imported 1.1 million tonnes of caustic soda valued at A$385 million. Not only indicating potential, it also points to the awkwardness of the industry. Australia is a major exporter of energy by way of natural gas (and coal) and salt, in addition to caustic soda, it also imports some A$100 million of vinyl chloride monomer containing some 100 000 tonnes of chlorine. There are many opportunities.

Comments and suggestions welcomed. info@


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