Short essay on Petrochemicals


‘Petrochemicals’ are mainly the chemicals and compounds derived from petroleum through the techniques of thermal and catalytic cracking, oxida­tion, hydrogenation etc. These are used to manufac­ture synthetic fibers, plastics, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, synthetic rubber, dyestuffs, insecti­cides, drugs and pharmaceuticals and synthetic de­tergents.

Petrochemical industry is of very recent ori­gin in the country. The first plant was set up in the private sector by the Union Carbide India Ltd., at Trombay in 1966. This was followed by another plant in the private sector by National Organic Chemi­
cal Industries Ltd. at Thane in 1968. In the following year the first public sector plant was set up by the Indian Petrochemicals Corporation Ltd. at Jawaharnagar(near Vadodara). Since then number of public and private sector units have been in­stalled. Presently the petrochemical industry of the country has an annual turnover of Rs.20, 000 crores and assets worth Rs.25, 000 crores.

The petrochemi­cal industry is one of the fastest growing industries of the country. The production of major petrochemi­cals (synthetic fiber, polymers, elastomers and surfactant intermediate) increased from 6,553 thou­sand MT in 2002-03 to 7,007 thousand MT in 2003- 04, registering a growth of about 7 per cent (cf. 5 per cent growth last year).


The capacity utilisation of these over products was 97 per cent in 2003-04 as against 91.5 per cent in 2002-03. The capacity and production of major petrochemicals from 2001-02 to 2003-04 are given.

The consumption of all petrochemicals in­cluding synthetic fibers and intermediates recorded a growth of 16 per cent while the growth rate of thermoplastics was around 12% a year during the eighties. In quantitative terms, the consumption of petrochemicals has gone up from 7.5 lakh tons in 1975-76 to over 3.5 million tons in 1995-96.

The petro-chemical industry requires three types of raw materials, viz., gaseous, liquid and solid. These include natural gas and naphtha. Naph­tha requirements for the petro-chemical industries in Maharashtra and Gujarat are about 50,000 tons. It is mainly utilized for the production of aromatics (benzene, toluene, xylene) and synthetic fibers.

Following are the important plants associated with the production of petrochemicals in the country.


1. Union Carbide India Ltd.

This is the first petrochemical complex estab­lished at Trombay in 1966 with annual capacity of 60,000 tons naphtha cracker. It has capacity of producing 11,000 tons of petro-chemical products like polyethylene, butyl alcohol, acetic acid, ethyl acetate, ethyl hex anal and dactyl phthalate.

2. Herdillia Chemicals Ltd.

This plant was commissioned at Chennai in collaboration with the Distillers Co. Ltd. of U.K., and Hercules Powder Co. of U.S.A. It produces interme­diate products for nylon; phenols are resins, acetate rayons, solvents, plastics, plasticizers, P.V.C. etc.


3. National Organic Chemicals Industries Ltd.

It has been set up by Mafatlala at Thane (near Mumbai) in 1968. It is an integrated plant using latest technology and highly mechanised and auto­matic process for its working. The plant has naphtha cracking capacity of 225,000 tons to produce ethylene, propylene, benzene, butadiene, ethylene oxide, polythylene glycol, ethylene dichloride, V.C., P.V.C., is opropanol and 2-thyl-rexanol.

4. Indian Petro-chemical Corporation Ltd.

It is a public sector undertaking incorporated in March 1969 at Jawaharnagar (near Vadodara). It is responsible for the manufacture and distribution of various petrochemicals like polymers, synthetic organic chemicals, fibers and fiber intermediates. The plant consists of a number of units like aromatic plant, DMT plant, naphtha cracker and polymer plants. It annually produces 24,000 tons of DMT
21,000 tons of ortho-sylene and 2,500 tons of mixed xylene. The naphtha cracker plant manufac­tures 18,000 tons of butadiene, 130,000 tons of ethylene, 71,000 tons of propylene and 24,000 tons of benzene. It earned a net profit of Rs. 244 crore during 1997-98. The plant mainly draws its raw materials from the Gujarat refinery.


5. The Bongaigaon Petrochemicals Ltd.

It is the second public sector unit set up at Bongaigaon (Assam) as an adjunct to the one million tone Bongaigaon refinery. The complex envisages manufacture of 30,000 tons of polyester fiber, and 10,550 tons of ortho-xylene. The complex draws its raw materials from the Bongaigaon and Noonmati refineries.

6. The Petrofils Co-operative Limited (PCL)

It is a joint venture of the Government of India and Weavers’ Co-operative Societies whose three plants are located at Vadodara and Naldhari in Gujarat. The spandex plant at Naldhari manufactures spandex yarn for the first time in the country which is utilised in making swimming suits, underwear garments, etc. due to its elastic properties. The plant also produces polyester filament yarn and nylon chips.


7. The Reliance Industries, Hazira

The installation of a 7.5 lakh tons a year cracker complex of Reliance Industries at Hazira has brought the country very close to self-sufficiency in petrochemical building blocks.

8. Others

Petrochemical complexes have also been set up at Koyali, Haldia, Barauni, Jamnagar, Auraiya, Gandhar, Vishakhapatnam, Tengaghat (Assam), Payal (near Ludhiana), Mangalore etc. The estimated total investment in all these projects is around Rs. 50,000 crores. The industry has also been delicensed under the liberalisation programme as a result of which multinationals like Dow Chemical’s (USA), Mitsubishi (Japan) and BP (UK) etc are showing interest. In due course, the fight will be between the MNCs on one hand and domestic players led by RIL and IPCL on the other.

The Petrochemical industry with a com­pounded rate of growth of 15 per cent has a bright future. To withstand global competition it has to enlarge the existing capacities of medium scale unit’s so that these could become economically viable, and enjoy scale benefits. It should also diversify into high value added downstream business and/or into specialty chemicals. This will also reduce depend­ence on cyclical business. There is also a need for R & D to focus attention to make polymers such as PVC and polypropylene degradable to ensure envi­ronmental protection.

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